Dal Lake City Riyaz Ahmad (Greater Kashmir)
The government has shelved the idea of a cantilever bridge along Boulevard after there was a political opposition to the move. But the very mooting of this idea tells us there is something seriously wrong with the way the government mulls its development strategy for the city. For one, it is not for the first time that a dumb idea like this has been floated, it is only the latest in a series that if carried through to their logical conclusion would have divested Srinagar city of an important part of its aesthetic and cultural appeal.
To start with, there was a move to demolish Zainakadal bridge in downtown. And the reason offered was that they were unsafe for traffic. Similarly, there was some controversy about the government’s plan to build a gateway to downtown Srinagar near Baba Demb. While, these decisions can be explained as part of the normal process of the development of Srinagar, it is the thinking behind them that shocks. Why is it that this government comes up with the development plans that may address the immediate infrastructural demands but damage something that is enduring – an old bridge or more appalingly the Dal lake, that already shrinking symbol of Kashmir’s natural beauty. Those who thought of building a cantilever around the lake to facilitate more traffic should have known that this will further shrink the water expanse of Dal lake. But still the idea was mooted and made public and subsequently withdrawn under pressure.
If this is how the government would choose to look after Dal, why blame the people who are converting its waters into a land mass and building houses. In fact, it is this thinking in large part that even the massive allocations of money – an RTI last year found around Rs 215 crores have been spent on lake’s conservation - have made little redeeming difference to the lake’s long term chances of survival. Its water expanse has contracted and the colonies within the lake that were slated to be relocated remain very much there.
However, Srinagar’s problems are not only Dal-specific. It is a city that is fast falling apart and losing its charm. It is expanding horizontally and this growth is indiscriminate and unchecked, submerging the beauty of the city, with government, of course, playing the spectator. The new colonies are guided by the sick commercial pursuits of a rapacious land mafia. To get a proof, one need not go farther than the wide marshy stretch of the land between Bemina and Batmaloo where one can witness a chaotic spectacle of the work in progress on hundreds of residential houses. Big imposing bungalows reeking of wealth, ostentatious medium sized structures and the petty, obnoxious dwellings are coming up side by side in full anarchic glory.
And this is why in 2010, Srinagar was adjudged as the fourth dirtiest city in India, an ironical designation for a place blessed with nature’s bounty. Having Dal lake, Mughal gardens and Zabarwan hills in the backdrop did nothing to tamper this label. And this is here that the government becomes responsible. A government which is willing to sacrifice Dal for a banal need for road-widening rubs off its atrocious notions of development on the people at large and thus widens the space for civic violations in the society. This is an attitude that needs to be corrected if we are going to even begin to think of the well-being of Srinagar and take steps to preserve its natural beauty. While what has been lost so far due to our collective ignorance and stupid government policies is not restorable for eternity, there is a need to rethink the development of Srinagar. And this rethinking should not only be about reclaiming Srinagar as a physical space but also regenerating it as a cultural and social place.