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.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Conserving old Heritage

Shafat, an ordinary citizen with a concern for planning, expresses his views in the Greater Kashmir. His point finds resonance in the Rising Kashmir editorial attached below, and a painful commentary in the Greater Kashmir about a decaying heritage building in Gulmarg

(Mr. Shafat Ahmed Reshi, 45, was born in Brane, Nishat, Srinagar. He completed his basic schooling from Shaheen Public School, Srinagar, and his advanced schooling from MPML Higher Secondary School, Srinagar. He completed his diploma in civil engineering from the J&K Government Polytechnic, Srinagar, and a planning diploma in Town and Country Planning from the Central Institute of Tecchnology, Chennai. He is employed in the State Roads & Buildings Department in town planning organization. He works on traffic management issue. Highly conscious about preserving Kashmir's environment, Mr. Reshi is a member of the "Tree Talk Campaign" and "Green Kasheer.")

While you Plan, Don't Ignore Heritage

This refers to news item published in the Greater Kashmir dated about a walkway to come up from Amdakadal to Nigeen and conservation of heritage at Kalai. I want to bring to the notice of our concerned Ministers Nawang Rigzin Jora minister for tourism and our culture and Nasir Aslam Sahab minister of State for Tourism and Culture. The new development is a must for better living but restoration and conservation of our age old heritage and culture is equally important.

I like your idea of constructing a new walkway (bund) along Nigeen Lake from Amda Kadal to Nigeen Club. It shall come up as a new feature in Kashmir as a walkway concept of the West. People need it, will like it, use it for morning and evening walks besides a short cut route to university, Hazratbal, Nigeen Club and NIT for the pedestrians which will also minimize the traffic load on the main. The walkway will definitely act as a boundary between land and water body [Nigeen Lake] hence save it from further encroachment. I congratulate both the ministers for this beautiful idea and planning, but we should not let our age old walkway 'the bund' (Srinagar) from Amar Singh club to new Amira Kadal or from Zero Bridge to old bridge become a road.

The Rising Kashmir Editorial

Ugly City?

Srinagar city, once known for its beautiful environs, is fast turning into a concrete jungle with rampant and unorganised constructions going all around. Unfortunately, the successive governments have also turned blind eye to the far-reaching consequences of construction-mania.

The city has also been witness to gross violations of Master Plan with culprits going scot free. As a result, one can find hospitals, coaching centres, shopping malls and other commercial enterprises coming up in residential colonies. The government on its part seems to be going for experimentation spree. We often find ourselves blaming former city planners for “shortsightedness.” Very often commuters stranded in a traffic jam curse the “lack of planning” behind the construction of narrow roads which are grossly insufficient for the burgeoning traffic load. The successive governments have been struggling to compensate for this lack of planning. With the ambitious road-widening project underway on some of the congested city routes (Lal Chowk), enormous amount of money is being earmarked for undoing the damage caused due to unrestrained constructions over the years.

The old adage “a stitch in time saves nine” holds good as far as checking the illegal and unorganised structures is concerned. With the focus on reclaiming space for roads, the government should also be cautious in launching new projects. Last year’s drive to beautify Lal Chowk, Ghanta Ghar and its surroundings has not gone well. Some question the development of the park at the site as Pratap Park is quite close to the place. Besides, any trading centre like Lal Chowk needs ample parking space that has been taken up by the park. The authorities, at that time, claimed that the completion of the project would help in preserving the pristine glory of Lal Chowk and its hustle and bustle. How after the completion nothing has been done in that regard.

Srinagar, besides being the summer capital, also has the privilege of being a prime tourist destination. However, the aesthetics, which holds key to the promotion of any tourist place, has been a casualty at the hands of official callousness. We have become used to dusty and garbage-littered streets. The greenery is reducing and lots of buildings are coming up. The state government can learn from the dramatic transformation of Delhi from a polluted metro to a better planned and greener city. For making Srinagar a clean and orderly city, the contribution of people is vital. Without people’s active support, any ambitious project in revamping the city will fall flat.

The government should launch vigorous public awareness programmes for preventing Srinagar from turning into an ugly city. Srinagar recently was named as the forth dirtiest city in India. The government should seek assistance of experts in city planning and draw a comprehensive plan to save Srinagar from further ignominy.

Gulmarg Palace in Ruins, Courtesy Official Apathy
Conservation Plan Gathers Dust For 3 Years

Gulmarg: When Maharaja Hari Singh constructed a Palace over a hillock here in early 20th century, he would not have thought even in his wildest dreams that this confluence of colonial and traditional Kashmiri architecture would be in ruins mainly due to the apathy of his successors.

An on-the-spot assessment of the Palace revealed that in absence of any conservation measures, it has turned into a fa├žade of decayed wood with broken windows, uneven floor, collapsed front deck and gables. If anything remains of the building, it is its name.

The stable beneath the single-storey structure where Maharaja used to keep his horses has caved in at many places due to seepage of water. The pine barks draping the building’s exteriors have also been extremely damaged.

Filled with unending layers of cobweb covered with accumulated dirt and dust, bird droppings and heaps of dust, a spacious hall decked by dusty traditional Kashmiri wooden work Khatamband ceiling and neatly carved deodar walling, reflects the Palace’s bygone glory.

Officials said Gulmarg Palace was a favorite holidaying and partying place of Maharaja Hari Singh and his guests till 1947. And after 1950, tourists and ministers used to stay there.

Abdul Rauf, the then Tourism cum Executive Officer of Gulmarg-Tangmarg area said many VIPs including Union Ministers have stayed in the Palace. “As Congress president, Indira Gandhi briefly stayed in the Palace in 1963. After becoming Prime Minister, she again stayed in the Palace with her family for many days in 1968. She liked the Palace owing to its serene ambience and unique architecture and waited for hours in its garden to have a glimpse of Nanga Parbat peak overlooking Gulmarg,” recounts Rauf who was also Indira Gandhi’s liaison officer in Gulmarg during her stay there.

Rauf said the upkeep of the Palace was so prompt that when an inlet pipe of the Gyser in Indira Gandhi’s bathroom leaked, the entire administration was activated to repair it. “The then Chief Engineer of Public Works Department was asked to monitor the repairs. Government used to maintain the Palace on priority as it was the best accommodation in Gulmarg those days. However, after 1970, the condition of the Palace gradually deteriorated due to lack of conservation measures,” he said.

“It is ironical that such a heritage building which had even earned praise from famous American architect Joseph Allen Stein, is in ruins. Its condition sums up the non-seriousness of the successive regimes towards conserving heritage buildings,” Rauf lamented.

After nearly three decades of inordinate delay, the conservation of the Palace was proposed during the Governor’s rule in 2008. It was decided to take measures for restoration of the Palace and convert it into a Heritage Convention Centre.

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) J & K Chapter was engaged as a consultant to make conservation plan for the Palace. In its detailed conservation plan, the INTACH states that lack of maintenance has resulted in deterioration of the Palace’s architectural and decorative features.

“This includes damage to the wall cladding, ceiling as well as missing window shutters. Additionally, craftsmanship for repairing and restoring of the various missing and damaged building elements and requisite technical skill for conservation and reuse plan for this building is available locally,” the plan states.

INTACH maintained that the Palace has the potential to be converted into a convention centre without affecting the heritage structure and submitted a plan estimated at Rs 1.60 crores for the endeavor.

The plan states that the Palace covers an area of around 8700sq.ft and comprises around 15 rooms of varying sizes and a large hall. “As of today, the building can accommodate around 100 persons and with sympathetic internal readjustments it is proposed to increase the seating capacity to about 200 persons. The hall with its walnut wood paneling helps in creating a royal ambience. Converting it into a convention centre, will not only ensure the survival of this historic building but also attract greater number of visitors while also insuring that the building will generate its own finances for future expansion and upkeep,” the plan states.

Officials said the plan was approved in 2008 by the Administrative Council of the Governor and subsequently funds for it were also released. However, despite passing of three years, the State Government failed to execute the plan.

Pertinently, last year the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah had underscored the need for conservation and restoration of Gulmarg Palace and directed the concerned authorities to take “urgent steps” to preserve the heritage building and utilize it for promotion of convention tourism. Omar had also approved Rs 50 lakh for its conservation and maintenance.

Convener INTACH (J and K) Chapter chairman, Muhammad Saleem Beg said if the comprehensive restoration plan is executed, the Palace can emerge as landmark of Gulmarg.

“We had proposed to make a traditional restaurant in the Palace’s basement and convert its ground floor into a convention centre. The Government is facing some difficulties in finding the right agency for undertaking the delicate and sensitive job. We want to maintain that after restoration, the heritage building has to be reused to help in its long-term conservation,” Beg said.

The building was earlier looked after by the Hospitality and Protocol Department. However last year it was handed over to the Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) for upkeep and maintenance.

The Chief Executive Officer, GDA Mehmood Ahmad Shah said under the supervision of INTACH, the ‘bill of quantity’[estimation] for the Palace’s conservation has already been formed.

“We had floated tenders for Rs 98 lakhs and set a primary condition that the executing agency should have done conservation of heritage related projects to ensure proper restoration of the Palace. However due to poor response, the work was re-tendered. Three parties have responded and negotiation with the lowest bidder is on,” Shah said adding the Palace’s restoration will start by the end of this month.
(Ashraf Shafi Wani)

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