“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

A foreign trip is good, but that alone won’t do. Our city stinks, it needs emergency care, not foreign advice

Mushtaq Sidiqi

The Greater Kashmir (18th October) carried a press release of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) apprising people about the visit of its Mayor, Commissioner and some other gentleman to some European and Middle East Countries. Heartening, isn’t that? It is very good that people move out to see how the world looks like there. Must be quite refreshing to one’s mind seeing how the Middle East has developed over last 3-4 decades and how Europe stands reconstructed after it was reduced to rubble in the second world war.

These are but the instances of modern times where resources and technologies abound. The Mayor could be well advised to take a look at some websites to see how ancient civilizations had earned accomplishments in urban development in their respective eras.

The remains of Mohejodaro and Harappa civilizations (now in Pakistan) will enlighten him about the state of civic facilities that were then available to the people in that age. In fact modern approach to urban development is not something new. May be factors like population growth; increased preference for urban living; changed social outlook; competitive environs and resources and technologies abounding, all may have made the urban planning and development a complicated subject matter; yet, the essence of the key concepts have remained unchaged. Planned city development of roads, lanes, proper drainage and sewerage systems, water supply system , segregation of commercial market places etc. were well conceptualized even in ancient times.

Then a question arises: were we always devoid of all that? Certainly not. Barely out of acute (and may be abject) poverty and on the threshold of a development process, sincere efforts were made in the State by its rulers to develop new urban areas as early as in 1960s with a eye on future. Fact of the matter is that the pathetic condition in which the Srinagar City of today is, is the outcome of a well orchestrated onslaught on its urban face by its own people that undid whatever good was done by the Governments way back in 60s when new colonies, wide roads, drainage and sewerage systems had all come up as part of development of Greater Srinagar.

Today, it is all vandalized and the city wears a disgraceful urban look to be honest and forthright. Its residential areas have been commercialized in last one decade following a deliberate onslaught organized by City’s own saviors to further and nurture their own pecuniary interests. This is costing the city massively in terms of disorganized traffic system that keeps on becoming more chaotic every next day, largely due to system indifference.

The municipal and other associated urban authorities who were to promote City’s urban development in tune with its painstakingly evolved Master Plan and building byelaws, ransacked these plans to plunge the City into a chaotic abyss. The result is for all us to see today. A shameful urban condition of the capital city of this important tourist destination in the Country and abroad. Municipal Corporation has been unfortunately the facilitator of this onslaught in past over one decade. With the result, the wide roads aimed at accommodating city’s increased traffic load, now meets the parking requirements of a large number of shopping malls that have illegally come up around the City and barely less than half of the road width is now available for vehicles to ply on them.

Ironically, the traffic authorities are either unmindful of whatever is happening or are making most out of it. Imagine the chaotic conditions of Batmaloo roads despite road widening, and of the Amirakadal bridge, virtually been taken over by hawkers forcing pedestrians to abandon the pavement and use the road, meant for vehicles, to foot the bridge! These are just few instances which present a pathetic state of our civic condition.

Unable to wriggle the City of this chaos, the people now seem to be reconciled with this disorderly urban condition obtaining in Srinagar because there is no desire or willingness on the part of the municipal and other authorities to correct the situation and work decisively to put things in order as per the rules and regulations that are put behind deliberately and catching dust.

What is thus needed is not a visit abroad to improve our own lot but a will and commitment to act in accordance with rules and regulations already in place. I would quote an instance of the Municipal Corporation of Chinchward in Pune to Mr. Mayor to convince him that without any commitment and a sense of purpose, things do not just happen.

When the Master Plan of the local area of Chinchward Municipal Corporation was adopted few year back, it was found that the Lady Mayor of the Corporation had around that time constructed her bungalow in the area which was violating the newly enforced Master Plan of the area. A demolition squad from her own Municipal Corporation went to the spot to act. She tried to prevent it on the pretext that her bungalow stood there much before the Master Plan came in to effect. She attempted at seeking indulgence of her Minister who told her to make a judicious decision in the matter with due regard to rules and regulation. The Mayor, acting in larger public interest, relented and agreed to remove the construction of her own. The demolition squad of the Corporation returned and the Lady Mayor complied with the law with grace and dignity, upholding the supremacy of law.

This instance speaks how honesty of purpose, commitment to one’s job and the desire to uphold the supremacy of law make wonders. Today the Municipal Corporation of Chinchward (CMC) is thriving with a budget of Rs 1200 crore and its own yearly income of over Rs 1000 cr. The Corporation is today competing with Ahmadabad and Baroda Municipal Corporations, known to be the best municipal corporations in the country.

Therefore, we have living examples within our country to be emulated. But nothing is going to work for SMC unless its own people realize the need to make SMC’s mission a success. No doubt the job for the young Mayor is a colossal one because today’s condition is the accumulated damage of over last one decade. But to improve the conditions of Srinagar city, it demands untiring efforts, sincerity of purpose and above all, decisiveness in action, without fear or favor; affection or ill will. A beginning needs to be given to emulate CMC and be in the reckoning among those who toiled for their people selflessly.

(Greater Kashmir)