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.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Yesterday's Life Line is Today's Sewage Line

Ather sees a tragedy unfolding right in front of people and makes some good suggestions

(Syed Ather Qayoom Rufia, 26, was born in Srinagar, and received his initial schooling from the Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School, Srinagar, and Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. He graduated as an Architect from the Rizvi College of Architecture, Mumbai. He is currently a partner in an architect and real estate development company in Srinagar. His personal interests are reading, writing and surfing the internet.)


Throughout the history of humankind, rivers have always played an essential part in its development. Almost all the early human settlements have been on riverbanks. Humans settled along the river Nile, Sabarmati River in India supported human settlement. History’s one of the greatest civilization, Indus valley civilization settled around the river Indus. River played many roles. For some it was a source of irrigation, for some it was used for navigation and for others it became so important that it achieved the status of holiness.

River Jehlum in Kashmir, which is known as Veath in Kashmiri, Vitasta in Sanskrit and Hydapass in Greek achieved such an importance that it became the lifeline for Kashmiri people and was rightly known as the highway of Kashmir. It meant more than a river for Kashmiris. It was the major source of transportation until the frequent use of tongas and motor vehicles through roads. Its regular ghats were generally crowded. Almost all the important buildings in Srinagar are facing rivers, be it Shah Hamdan mosque, Budshah’s tomb, SPS museum, J&K arts emporium building, which was the resident’s residence during the Dogra period; Shergarhi palace, which at present is the assembly; old secretariat; Church Missionary School, popularly known as Tyndale Biscoe school.

All of the above mentioned buildings have their front side facing the river Jehlum with graceful flight of steps which would lead towards the main building. As a result of these important buildings along the river, the river bank would always be maintained for royal visits. In fact in 1921, when British viceroy had to visit this summer capital of Kashmir, he made his visit via river Jehlum. That seemed to be the usual route for the royal visits. In the same year, the arrival of the royal barge of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir at the Church Mission School in Srinagar was made through this famous river of Kashmir, i.e. the river Veath.

Today the same lifeline of Kashmir is in total disarray. The same river banks have lost their glamour and sheen, and the main reason is the way they have been abandoned because they do not serve the same function anymore. Today this great river is fast becoming as the great sewage line of Kashmir instead of the lifeline. It is facing the same fate what other water bodies have met with in this part of the world, which was once known as the Venice of the East. The only difference between Jehlum and other water bodies is that money is not being spent on it lavishly in the name of conservation.

For the development of riverbanks, there needs to be a comprehensive conservation plan with both short term and long term goals. Today, public access to the waterfronts has achieved a great importance all around the world. A renewed waterfront offers investors a promising return on capital. Cities enjoy increased tourism, employment and growth. Residents gain new recreation opportunities and an expanded awareness of the natural aspects of river life. A riverfront conservation plan needs to have a holistic approach towards the development of the riverbank. By just making pathways and fencing will not do the job. Apart from engineering solutions, which seems to be the only way in Kashmir when dealing with the conservation of water bodies, there needs to be ecological as well as environmental approach. The Rivers conservation plan should assess the ecological status of the riverfront and determine how best to preserve and enhance an environmentally diverse habitat. Based upon this assessment, recommendations should be developed on how to best maintain the current ecosystem. The findings will influence future development projects. One more very important aspect is the social aspect which would deal with the participation of the local community in conserving the riverfront. A riverfront that supports and connects all aspects of urban life (housing, recreation, commerce, industry, transportation) requires both public and private effort. Before a community can achieve such cooperation and investment, all the players involved must first articulate a shared vision. This can best be achieved through an open process: to invite discussion between neighborhood and environmental groups, the development and design community, and various government agencies and departments. Each organization and individual contributes level of technical expertise that informs the discussion and ultimately influences development decisions. Ultimately it is the local community which has to look after the riverfront if the conservation plan has to become a successful one in the long term. If there is a proper participation of the local people, that would prevent, wherever possible, inappropriate uses and practices from the rivers’ edge. This is something which is lacking at present in the riverfront development of Jehlum.

Authorities need to have a long term plan for this great river of Kashmir. As a way to create some continuity for policy and for riverfront character, the riverfront can be divided into a series of zones. These would be areas that share common elements of topography, character, use and relationship to the river. Each of the Riverfront zones will have a series of land use and design policies, and access and recreation goals. Uses may change over time, but the policies laid out can remain consistent guides to the relationship between buildings, streets and riverfronts. This great waterfront can become a desired address for new communities, cultural venues, commercial development and outdoor recreation. River Jehlum can become a great tourist attraction if its great potential can be tapped. One idea would be to arrange a motorboat ride under the banner of “river taxi” for the tourists to different traditional and cultural important places and buildings such as Shah Hamdan mosque, Budshah’s tomb and SPS museum.

A heritage walkway can be planned from Budshah’s tomb till Shah Hamdan mosque, which would pass through our traditional gale koche. Same policy is being used in other parts of the world with great success. Many tourism related shops and showrooms can be opened along its banks, which would be one more attraction for the tourists and that can open new avenues for people related to this profession. For this purpose, many old shops along the river banks in different zones, especially in downtown area such as Zaina Kadal, which are closed since many years, can be revived with the same policy. Because the early settlement was all along the river Jehlum, one could find one of the oldest buildings along its banks which are at present in bad shape because they have been abandoned by their owners. These old buildings if acquired by the tourism department can be remodeled with the traditional Kashmiri architecture and can be used as art galleries, arts and craft workshops which would not only help in conserving these old structures with traditional architecture that depict our past, but would in turn help in preserving the riverfront too. Not only tourism related businesses but commercial transport via this great river can also be revived as was done in the past which can come under the banner of green or sustainable tourism.

This great river Veath of Kashmir has tremendous potential but only if properly planned, and more importantly, properly executed. It needs both short term and long term plans and goals for its proper development and usage. Let’s hope that this great river’s conservation plan does not end up with the same fate as the other water bodies of Kashmir did.

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