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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What Planning?

Saleem expresses hope that city planners (in this case, the Srinagar Development Authority) will hear him - but in a city of a million without any traffic lights, crossing zones or dedicated footpaths, is he dreaming or what?

(Mr. Mohammad Saleem Beg, 60, was born and raised in Srinagar. He was educated at the S.P. College and the Gandhi Memorial College, receiving his Bachelor's degree from the latter. He was awarded a EEC fellowship in 1998 which allowed him to attend study courses at Universities of Luven, Belgium, and Trinity College, Dublin. Mr. Beg entered the State government service in 1975 and retired in 2006 as the Director General of Tourism. In the 31 years of public service (which included two deputation assignments in New Delhi), Mr. Beg promoted local arts and crafts, and raised public awareness of Kashmir's rich heritage and architecture. He was a leading figure in getting Srinagar listed as one of the 100 most threatened heritage cities by the World Monument Fund in 2008. Mr. Beg has traveled extensively and has attended numerous conferences, including the 1997 UN Special Session on Environment in New York, and the 1997 Kyoto Convention on Climate Change in Japan. His articles and essays have been published in various publications. Since retirement, he has remained active as the Convener of the J&K Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage - INTACH.)

SRINAGAR - a Walker’s Nightmare

Srinagar is home to about a million people. Add to this regular flow of visitors from other parts of the valley for their daily chores like shopping, going to a good doctor, visiting offices and relatives. All this makes it one of the most congested cities in the country. Mercifully the mess and chaos of traffic has led the tourists, who again number a million now, to generally avoid main city. Of all civic amenities, the most neglected is walking and pedestrian movement in shopping areas, roads and foot paths. Footpaths of Srinagar and pavements adjoining major roads are shrinking by the day making it among the most pedestrian unfriendly cities in the subcontinent.

Like many other historic cities, Srinagar evolved as a city where people were meant to walk. Walking is about getting a feel and handle thereby enjoying the daily life. Thus pedestrians enjoy the first right on the roads. The advent of motor transport has progressively been encroaching on the pedestrian space. The utter disregard to the pedestrian movement in the current mobility plan has resulted in a nightmare where the citizens and visitors have to jostle for space between cars, buses and public vehicles.

We see pedestrians, choosing to risk their lives on a daily basis by walking alongside fast-moving cars and ominous buses instead of fighting for decent and walkable spaces. Srinagar, even in absence of any law, has had a fair mix of roads and foot paths. But all the stake holders managing the affairs of the city from Roads and buildings department to Municipal Corporation are showing utter disregard to the walk ways. The first onslaught on the walkways started in mid 70s when footpaths were allotted for construction of shops in civil lines. This menace grew with every passing year with a mix of encroachment and connivance of the authorities. One thing that we can not blame on militancy or that what was spared by the non governance during the peak militancy in 90s, was illegal occupation of footpaths and roads. This one act took place with the consent and connivance of municipal authorities and lower rung of judiciary where stay orders were dished out for protecting the encroachment.

Compounding the problem, the rampant encroachment by the hawkers with the tacit approval of the authorities has robbed the people of whatever was left out of these walkways. The main road junctions and foot paths also became favorite sites for construction of bunkers by the security forces. With bunkers, the most shabby structures, being now removed, shops have sprung up right, left, behind and along the vacated bunkers at many locations. There is no civil society constituency that protests for the right to decent and secure living in the city. It goes to the credit of local media that they have been highlighting these concerns of the citizenry. Unfortunately there has been a growing trend in the government not to take notice of such issues reported or commented upon in the media. The urban administration has failed the State. The highly insulated and unconcerned beauracracy has damaged the institution of civic administration beyond imagination. It is a very sad day for the citizens of Srinagar that they have been suffering inefficient, uninformed and unaccountable civic set up for too long.

While there has of late been a keen awareness about the plight of people who have to walk on the roads in many Indian cities, it seems the planners and the planning process in J&K has simply given up on this most crucial aspect of the citizens needs. The callous disregard for their rights is evident from the fact that there isn’t a single law, legislation, rule or code that protects or even voices their rights.

There is an urgent need to overhaul and sensitize the institutions like Municipality, Srinagar Development Authority and link Engineering and Revenue Departments. The State political leadership has to take a call on this without any further delay. There are best case scenarios in some Indian cities that can be replicated here. The situation in other towns of the state is equally bad, and worst in cases like Islamabad and Sopore. The success in urban management in Srinagar will have a demonstrative effect on these towns as well.

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