Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How the Beast Took Over the Beauty

Mix easy money with public indiscipline and what you get is ugly

Unplanned commercial complexes deface Srinagar; SMC expresses helplessness

Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil (Kashmir Images)

Srinagar: Gone are the days when there was some demarcation between commercial and residential areas in Kashmir; today the unparalleled growth of commercial ventures are pushing business activities deep into the interiors of city’s residential areas.

No wonder that some of the posh erstwhile residential areas like Karan Nagar and Balgarden and Jawahar Nagar have already turned commercial hubs that house huge and modern commercial complexes.

Some people perceive the trend as a sign of development, while others are more worried about its implications on the social fabric.

Be it Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, Karan Nagar, Boulevard Road, Bishember Nagar, or even Haiderpora, Bemina or any other place, all these former residential areas have lost their calm to the noise of buzzing business activity.

“Just a decade back, these were amongst the best residential colonies in the city. But then some of the wealthy families moved out towards the places like Nishat, Shalimar and Harwan. They sold their residential property to some business houses and from there started the gradual transition,” says Showkat Shafi, a resident of Rajbagh.

“As these areas remain abuzz with commercial activities, most of the residents have now turned their houses into hotels and guest-houses, especially in the areas of Raj Bagh and on the banks of Dal lake to earn some quick bucks from tourists,” Shafi adds.

Owing to their location, all these areas are the most expensive areas of the city in terms of property prices. Despite the sky-rocketing prices of land in Srinagar, especially in the city, interested parties are ready to give any price to secure rare plots of land or spaces for running their businesses.

Probably such investments are made to avail long-term benefits given the growing business enterprises in the Valley. Besides, the loans provided by the banks have also encouraged the business people to buy properties even in expensive areas of the City.

“Over the years there has been an exponential growth in land prices in areas like Barzulla, Bemina, Karan Nagar and Lal Bazaar. The plot of land that would fetch Rs 6-7 lakhs per kanal some years back, is now fetching crores. Obviously this is proving quite an attractive incentive for many people who are disposing off their properties in city and moving to live in suburbs or even in the countryside,” comments Abid Bhat.

“Actually peoples’ purchasing power has increased manifold and they are just there to do whatever they feel can ensure their economic development, without actually bothering to think about the any social implications whatsoever,” he added.

Commenting on the issue, social activist Zarief Ahmed Zarief blamed Srinagar Municipal Corporation for the problems facing the city, particularly in terms of its unplanned and haphazard development.

“Municipal and police officials have become corrupt; they are just there to earns money in whatever manner they can, nobody bothers about the violation of rules,” Zarief says. He says not only Municipal laws but even the Ranbir Panel Code (RPC) is violated with impunity.
“If the current pace of private commercial ventures (building of shopping malls) continues, the time is not that far off when a major portion of the city will turn into business centre with its former citizens residing on the outskirts and the suburbs of the city,” Zarief warned.
While talking to ‘Kashmir Images’, SMC Commissioner, Showkat Ali said, “We have filed cases against all those who have violated Master Plan and have misused building permissions, but the problem is that they move to the court which gives them relief in the form of stay orders (order to maintain status quo until the case is settled), and we are helpless.”

On being asked about a particular patch of land at Wanbal area of Rawalopora belonging to a former Mayor of the SMC, who constructed a commercial complex over it even though the permission sought from SMC was for residential building, Commissioner said, “We have demolished the structure number of times but its owner is building it again and again.”
But, he added, “action will be initiated against it soon.”

They say charity begins at home. Let SMC set a precedent by taming its former Mayor, for if it is able to do so, people will have a reason to believe that despite its failures and shortcomings, the civic body is not as hopeless as it is generally believed to be!

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