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, June 20, 2010

Beautifying an Ugly City

Hassan Mukhtar has a plan to clean up Srinagar and bring out its beauty

(Mr. M.G. Hassan Mukhtar, 44, was born in Thandipora, Chowkibal, in Kupwara. He attended Government middle and high schools in Thandipora, Panzgam, and Kralpura in the Kupwara district, and completed his school education from the Government Higher Secondary School in Sopore, standing first in his class consistently. Though selected for admission to the REC Srinagar, he joined the M.S. University of Baroda, Gujarat, for a 5-year degree course in Architecture in the College of Technology and Engineering. After graduation he worked with the internationally eminent architect Hafeez Contractor in Mumbai, and Karan Grover in Baroda. He subsequently completed post graduate diploma courses in disaster management, environmental and sustainable development, rural development and in human rights. He has raised serious issues regarding Kashmir's vulnerability to earthquakes, highlighting inadequate design considerations in building seismic-resistant public buildings in Kashmir. He is presently pursuing a thesis titled, "Disaster Mitigation and Urban Land Use Planning," for a Master's degree in Town and Country Planning.)


Srinagar city has grown manifold from King Ashoka’s period (272 BC- 231 BC) till date. The city witnessed many ups and downs during various periods in history including Mughal, Afghan, Sikh and Dogra rule. Growth in population and physical expansion increased the urban problems related to development due to scarce finances.

Srinagar city is the largest urban entity in the entire state in terms of population and constitutes the most urbanized district as well. It has the status of being summer capital of the state and has a centralized location value in the entire Kashmir valley. Not only this, we also name it as the heritage city due to the fact that it contains the maximum number of heritage buildings whether in the custody of government or private owners. Apart from this, it is also known as a tourist city because of the most preferred tourist destination in the entire country.

Having the above mentioned attributes, the city needs to build up its the image to withstand the attributes as are being attached to it off and on. Therefore the first requisite criterion has to be that of a clean and aesthetically sound city so that it upholds its character with the global image of Kashmir being known as the Paradise on earth. Srinagar city in any case must not turn into an ugly city of paradise. The issues related to ugly characteristics are mismanagement of solid waste, increase in slum areas, congestion of buildings due to violations/ deviations of building norms, Change of land Use, poverty, crime, traffic mess, reduction of green spaces, encroachment of water bodies, unplanned and unauthorized colonies etc.

Last time, the State figured second in the list of corrupt and now the capital city stands fourth dirtiest. It's a moment to think. One can imagine future tags in coming years if the state of affairs continues. This also signified the fluidly character of our urban management. We need to take solid decisions, frame a vision and a goal with clear cut objectives in this direction. Solid waste management has been an important issue presently due to the fact that it can either build an ugly image or recreate the positive face of the city. Solid waste management is not an isolated problem on its own. It is day by day becoming comprehensive and integrated due to modern techniques in urban planning, technology, transport and processes. That is why an unnecessary increase in the number of buildings in a particular area leads to growth in solid waste and when the non-compatible uses keep on changing, the problem worsens. For example the unauthorized commercial buildings in residential areas have not only created traffic mess and bottle necks but has put tremendous pressure on the solid waste scenario of the particular area. The unauthorized commercial establishments e.g.; clinics/polyclinics, nursing homes, schools, shops, professional offices in residential buildings have added to the misery of solid waste management and created a sense of uneasiness among the neighbors of such establishment. Though certain aspects of commercial nature are permitted under mixed land use category (which are compatible) but the impact of such activities in terms of solid waste management is yet to be mitigated.

Solid Waste Management is a municipal function under the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986.It is hard to find a dumping site in Kashmir if we strictly go by the guidelines for Landfill Sites because the valley has the fragile environment and Srinagar city is no exception. The guidelines specify the landfill sites must be away from mountains, lakes, springs/ streams, residential areas, flood prone areas, highways natural scenic spots, forests, monuments, national parks, wet lands and also away from places of important cultural, historical or religious interests. The landfill sites should be away from airports as well. There is hardly a place in Kashmir which could be used as dumping site if we strictly adhere to those guidelines. It won’t be an exaggeration to affirm that if modern methodology of waste disposal is used; dumping wouldn’t be a problem even in Lal Chowk. Lack of co-ordination between various agencies and departments concerned also hinders garbage disposal.

The Master Plan of Srinagar city (2000-2021) has specified three additional sites for garbage dumping apart from Achan (Saidpora). These are strategically located at Batapora (Zakura) on Northern direction of city, Summerburg (Rakh Shalyna) on South East and Hakermulla (Rakh Arth) on South West side. The Master Plan being a cabinet approved document needs to be implemented in letter and spirit and unless there is a strong reason to change it. To reiterate a perfectly feasible site will not be available in the city and particularly when land is scarce, therefore SMC should roll up its sleeves and get to work on these sites. Before the land mafia arrives, the SMC can prevail upon the government to ban any construction on the vacant land in these Master Plan sites and recommend creation of buffer zones for dumping sites.

All the three proposed landfill sites for in the Master Plan need to be studied in terms of feasibility as per the requirements of the solid waste management Wing in Srinagar Municipal Corporation and detailed projects reports to be prepared in consultation with Srinagar Development Authority, Pollution Control Board, Environment and remote sensing Department and Economic Reconstruction Agency. The GIS technology could be useful in the overall sense and all these departments do have the capacity building in this technology. In any case, there has to be a scientific method for garbage disposal to be placed for a city like Srinagar so that the stigma of being ugly will be no more.

SDA Local Area which is beyond municipal limits but within the Master Plan boundary also has to be taken immediately for redressal of the problem. Once an area is declared for development under Master Plan and approved by cabinet, there is no justification for the same to continue to be neglected on the issue of solid waste management. SMC can extend its area of operations for the SDA Local Area in terms of solid waste management. SMC on its part can use JnNURM scheme to deal with issues of financial support and in case, city is not rejuvenated towards progress and prosperity under the national programme, we need not to put the blame elsewhere. JnNURM is a onetime program with huge financial support from the Central Government to elected municipal bodies. Srinagar & Jammu being the two cities from J & K under the program.

Srinagar Master Plan has laid following policies with respect to Solid waste management:
1. Compositing-vermiculture to be promoted at institution and household level.
2. As for the problem created by dairies, cattle forms should be created outside Master Plan Local area limits so that pollution on account of live stock in the city is reduced and stray cattle problem on streets and roads of the city is eliminated.
3. As to the disposal of street (stray) dogs- incineration plants be established outside the Local Area on the Karewa beyond Ompora in the Budgam District or else sterilization of street dogs be enforced so that this nuisance is eliminated or reduced.
4. Incineration plants to be provided in all existing hospitals and those which will come up in future apart from industrial estates. A common incineration plant for private nursing homes be established by State pollution Control Board.
5. Factories for reprocessing these solid wastes be established by the Industries Department.
6. Paper, Glass and Plastic materials can be recycled locally. Other materials like metals etc. could go outside the State till such type of factories are established here.

One can imagine the need of comprehensive measures like involvement of Industries Department to provide incentives/support to young entrepreneurs to establish such units which will also generate employment opportunities in the state.

In addition to what is being stated above on the problems of garbage disposal and mitigation of the problems, I would like to extend the debate to further towards a new issue like Debris Management in terms of disasters for which Srinagar city is prone to. Srinagar city is one of the two cities (Gowhati in Assam being other) in the country to be falling in highest risk of earthquake zone-V. Therefore in light of debris during earthquake disasters, the solid waste management wing of Municipal Corporation needs to think beyond its routine schedule. Earthquake disasters not only affect population in terms of human loss but include building and infrastructure damage, equipment and personal property from collapsed walls and roofs, sediment from earthquake induced landslides. In case of floods, often all possessions are destroyed including clothes, furniture. Personal affects etc. In case of High velocity Winds, which can debark trees, throw vehicles and severally damage structures from wood framed to reinforced concrete. Similarly Fire disaster, civil unrest and terrorist activities too cause piling of debris in an unwanted situation.

Therefore the concerns for debris management must form the part and parcel of Solid Waste management during emergency situations and a holistic approach needs to be adopted for the issue on a comprehensive basis not only in terms of futuristic increase in population and urban expansion but also in case of disasters.

No comments: