Instead of making Srinagar, the city of the Sun into a “Smart” city, it has been turned into a virtual prison!
Sometime back there was talk of declaring some cities all over the country as “Smart” cities for proper development on modern lines. Srinagar was also included in the list of these cities. Incidentally, Srinagar, the City of the Sunis probably one of the oldest cities in the world. The 2000 year old city is something one should have been proud of. Only few decades back Srinagar used to be the capital of “Paradise on Earth” but not now. Description of Srinagar especially its gardens, popular avenues, chinars, the Bund walkway, and the shimmering waters of Dal Lake given in some of the earlier travelogues seems like a dream. A dream now gone sour! It was not a proud moment for a Kashmiri when his capital city, probably one of the oldest in the world was rated as the 4th dirtiest city in India sometime back. Anybody visiting Srinagar at present would definitely ask what is “Smart” about the city.
Dilapidated roads, worst traffic jams, foot paths usurped by vendors, garbage scattered everywhere and mad constructions going at break-neck speed everywhere! The people responsible for orderly development, the Srinagar Development Authority have their office building in the flood basin of the River Jhelum. So, how can they stop constructions going on all over without observation of land use, building bye-laws and so on? The worst ever flood in a century in 2014 instead of teaching any lessons to the people and the rulers have instead made them go haywire in every respect. They say there is a “price” for every violation! How a city can be smart if the people responsible for its upkeep are keener on saving dogs than human beings?
If one wants to write about everything that is wrong in Srinagar from the development side, it will take half a dozen articles. No doubt the city has grown immensely from a population of a couple of hundred thousand people in 1947 to more than a million and a half now but the growth has been haphazard eating away all the open and free areas with trees which were supposed to be the lungs of the city! The water bodies have turned into marshes and the channel which had made outside travellers give it the name of the Venice of the East has been converted into a road! One of the most important contributions to the city in recent times has been the stray dogs! In fact, Kashmir especially Srinagar, in contrast to Kerala known popularly as “God’s Own Country” can be called “Dog’s Own Country”!
In fact, the real Srinagar is what is these days called as the “down town” or Sher-i-Khas. The new areas known as the “Civil Lines” is the area developed by various rulers from time to time to remain undisturbed from the upheavals of the real Srinagar! However, it has been demonstrated by the last flood that the entire civil lines area is dangerously flood prone. All these posh localities of the city were badly ravaged by the last flood. However, the planners and developers of the “new” city have learnt no lessons and have not even honestly carried out any flood prevention measures.
An important development of the City beyond the Urban Development anglehas been its conversion into a “Smart” prison by the “Guardians” of law and order! In fact, the original historical city, called the Sher-i-Khas or down town is these days most of the time, a real prison!The people residing there, the real and original inhabitants of the city of the Sun are at present most of the time leading the life of prisoners. They are facing a double jeopardy from the two contestants! One gives continuous calls for “Shut Downs” while the other imposes “Restrictions” from time to time. “Restrictions” on almost all Fridays is a foregone conclusion. Sometimes people are not able to pray on Fridays in the Srinagar’s Grand Mosque for weeks on end! All movements are restricted; shops, business houses, schools and other commercial and non-commercial institutions remain shut. All business comes to a standstill on both occasions which have caused huge losses to the people. The worst sufferers are sick people who are scared to venture out and cannot go for treatment.
The entire city is dotted with pill boxes surrounded by concertina wire rolls which are placed on all important intersections on the day of “Restrictions”. In many places one can see the armoured vehicles of the paramilitary forces. In fact, there are many paramilitary camps in hired private houses, some school buildings, cinema halls and other places throughout the city. One fails to understand why are the authorities interested in driving people to a corner? The alienation from the mainland India is now becoming irreversible! This is especially so because of the treatment meted out to Kashmiris all over India especially in the “Cow Belt” of the North. Ironically, the authorities are asking people to “Give” Peace and they will solve all problems! However, the moot point is what is meant by the word “Peace”? Is it the peace of a graveyard or the peace of living and vibrant society? Who is disturbing “Peace”? A handful of “militants” and the stone pelting unarmed civilians prevented from expressing their feelings or the trigger happy troops of the second largest army in the world backed up by umpteen paramilitary and other forces and agencies going totally berserk many times? The authorities themselves have to give “Peace” a chance and not ask the “Prisoners” of the City of the Sun to do it!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir