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, July 4, 2012

Slum City or Eyesore?

Sameer is not sure if Srinagar can be labelled as a slum, but an editorial in the Rising Kashmir reminds that Srinagar is already the fourth dirtiest city in India (two reports)

Srinagar May Turn Into Slum City: Experts

Sameer Showkin Lone (Kashmir Monitor)

Srinagar: The City Development Plan (CDP) and Master Plan made for the effective development of Srinagar continue to exist as ‘failed documents’ as hardly any step has been taken in order to implement their suggestions and recommendations.

With the continuous overlooking of these two plans, Srinagar, which is also rated as the fourth dirtiest city in India, is not only turning out to be a ‘choked city’ with space squeezing for its inhabitants that comprise at least 1.4 million people as per recent census report, but has posed a grave threat to water bodies and heritage sites. Experts believe if the present scenario is not addressed the time is not far when the beautiful water bodies will be seen gasping for existence.

The CDP and Master Plan are considered a strategic vision documents through which a medium term perspective of city planning could be chalked out. These plans was framed after investing lakhs of rupees with an aim to develop the facelift of Srinagar and to make it a major tourist city by addressing the issues of ecological preservation, economic growth, poverty, development of infrastructure, improve traffic scenario and delivery of basic services to the urban poor through a consultative process of strategizing and visioning. As the two documents have been completely ignored while making any sort of development or change in Srinagar. experts believe if the present ‘pathetic scenario’ continues, after 10 years all the water bodies in the city will get polluted and many of them will no longer exist.

In an exclusive conversation with Kashmir Monitor on the sidelines of a seminar titled Regional Capacity Building Hub (RCBH), experts from CEPT University while making some brow raising revelations said if developmental plans are not followed and implemented in letter and spirit; the situation of the city will worsen further. “Construction of roads, shopping malls and parks is not development, unless and until the core issues like community participation, public private partnership, urban poverty alleviation and other such related issues are looked into”, says Professor S K Acharya of CEPT University.

Professor S K Acharya from CEPT University said if the city is not planned well the major victims of this ill planning will be water bodies, heritage sites and even mutual brotherhood for which Kashmir is famous. During the seminar it was highlighted that the population of the city has increased by 23 percent when compared with Census 2001. It was also revealed citing research studies and figures that the slum population of Srinagar is showing manifold increase and if it is not redressed, instead of dreaming of Srinagar as a high end tourist resort, it will turn into a city of slums. “In city 40 percent people are living under poverty and you have to prioritise that issue, only then we can say the city is developed. Unless poverty is not addressed at root level the power thefts and other such issues will continue.”

The participants highlighted that what was the fun of constructing Shopping Malls like Sangarmal when the water supply mechanism and drainage system is in shambles. “Gallons of water get wasted owing to poor water pipe infrastructure. People are facing acute water shortage. You have to solve these basic problems first and then we can compete with the bigger cities,” they highlighted.

Besides this, another disclosure has come to the fore which shows Srinagar most choked and congested city. In Srinagar 450 persons are living on each hectare of land against the standard of 175 persons per hectare maximum for metro cities, reads a report. It further reveals that in this regard a study was conducted in 1998 and 1999, which showed that five lakh population of core area of Srinagar live on 1114 hectares of land. The area, as per the study, should have been about a maximum of two lakh population only.

In order to overcome this problem the Srinagar Development Authorities (SDA) Master Plan (2000 to 2021) has proposed removal of congestion of three lakh population for which additional 37500 plots are needed. The SDA has also mentioned in the master plan that every effort will be made to evolve a rational land use policy; otherwise, if the present practical difficulties are not taken into account the situation will further deteriorate, but till date neither the master plan was reviewed nor any action has been initiated to decongest the city.

Meanwhile, sources in SDA revealed the master plan has not been followed properly till date. “For setting up of new colonies it is mandatory to get the permission from SDA and should be solely designed by SDA under its master plan, but till date nothing like that has happened. No new colony has been set up in Srinagar under the strategy of SDA’s proposed master plan,” said reliable sources in the department.

Professor S K Acharya along with his team in the workshop gave a detailed Power Point presentation regarding problem and planning of various cities of India and how good things can be incorporated in developmental plans of this city in its future course. He also discussed various issues including infrastructure, proper planning and a critical review of existing City Development Plan.

Srinagar: Cynosure or Eyesore?

Srinagar serves as the first stop for most tourists visiting Kashmir valley. While they may be overawed by the beauty of Mughal Gardens and Dal Lake, there are some things about the city which are repulsive like poor sanitation. Srinagar is one of the choicest tourist destinations of J&K, but with worsening sanitation condition it won’t be a surprise if the tourist arrivals also show decline in coming times. The government may be patting its back for record tourist arrivals, but it cannot afford to be complacent about sanitation and related issues, particularly in Srinagar.

After all, tourists visiting the city expect clean surroundings besides pleasant weather and natural beauty. Heaps of garbage lying unattended in the streets is a common sight in Srinagar. Ranking of Srinagar as the fourth dirtiest city in India, in a survey by Urban Development Ministry, did not come as a surprise for most city dwellers. We have indeed become used to dusty and littered streets.

While the amount of waste is increasing by the day, the authorities are yet to employ modern means of waste disposal and management. It looks very unlikely to have clean streets in near future. Garbage dumps have also served as breeding grounds for stray dogs and their population has increased manifold over the years adding to the unhygienic look of the city.

The state government can learn from the dramatic transformation of Delhi from a polluted metro to a cleaner city. Maintaining a city’s charm is not all about constructing fountains at main avenues or shrinking footpaths in the name of road widening, it is about maintaining basic standards of sanitation and aesthetics. A casual tour through Srinagar city and one can realize the chaos it is descending into. The city is beset with plethora of civic problems. Roads inundated with potholes, overflowing drains, non-functional street lights, long and frequent traffic jams, heaps of unattended garbage, packs of stray dogs, footpaths and roadsides encroached by vendors and bunkers...the list is endless. All these issues deprive the city of its aesthetic charm. The government has failed to address all these issues despite announcing funds for various developmental projects from time to time.

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 city has suffered from lack of civic sense as much as it has from government indifference and shortsightedness. To help restore its lost glory is therefore a collective responsibility. On government’s part, there is a dire need to upgrade system of waste disposal. It also needs to go beyond the token cleanliness drives and devise a comprehensive plan to sensitise and engage people in keeping the city clean.

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