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

The “good news” about the growing city is tempered by the “ugly reality” discussed in the Greater Kashmir Editorial following the news item

SRINAGAR RANKING IN 100 FASTEST GROWING CITIES TRIGGERS DEBATE

Srinagar: At a time when Srinagar has emerged among the 100 fastest growing urban centers worldwide, observers here are apprehensive about the prosperity of this historic City saying its growing haphazardly at the cost of brazen violation of norms and that if immediate remedial measures aren’t taken, the “growth will end up in a disaster.”

ven though the ruling National Conference led government is “optimistic of prosperity during its regime”, it too foresees problems in the coming years.

‘VERTICAL EXPANSION NEEDED’

The ruling National Conference believes that vertical expansion by way of multi-storied buildings was the need of the hour. “We are fastly losing land at the hands of urbanization. There’s little space left for expansion of the City…after around a decade people will have to opt for flat system as little or no land will be available for construction of houses in Srinagar,” Mubarak Gul Advisor to Chief Minister told Greater Kashmir.

He, however, insisted that the Omer Abdullah led government was paving way for proper planning of the City.

“A considerable time went waste during last summers of turmoil and winters aren’t working season…But as developments picked up this year, people will see a sea change in the City next year,” Gul said.

“If we get one more year, you will see the change as many big projects will be completed,” he added.

Even though Mubarak Gul said Lal Chowk has been “beautified with a vision”, his government didn’t opt for multi storied building in place of gutted Tourism department hotel where a mere two storeyed structure is again coming up.

‘MORE OF A PROBLEM’

Former bureaucrat and columnist Naeem Akhter opines that the City has been growing at the hands of “realtors and land mafia and thus there’s no planning.”

“This (growth) is obviously going to be more of problem than solution,” Akhter told Greater Kashmir.

MASTER PLAN ‘MOLESTED’

Former bureaucrat turned politician, Muhammad Aslam Laigaroo, who as the Srinagar Municipal Corporation head during the new millennium, has some ten thousand encroachment demolitions to his credit, says that the City is turning into a mess.

“Master plan has been molested. Zoning wasn’t adhered to. We have commercial complexes in residential areas, educational institutes in commercial. It’s a mess everywhere,” the Peoples Democratic Party leader said.

He believes that findings of the survey released by London-based City Mayors Foundation that Srinagar is amongst the 100 fastest growing shouldn’t be taken as “real yardstick”.

“Growth of Srinagar is just not comparable with 100 other Cities in the worldwide list because here there’s no real growth but mere haphazard expansion,” he added.

OFFICIALS SPEAK

A Srinagar Development Authority official said the past two decades of urbanization so badly affected the City development that even the measures taken earlier to that got vandalized.

While referring to colonies like Karan Nagar developed in mid ‘50s, he said these were blessed with amply wide roads. “But these and other colonies like Jawahir Nagar are being converted into commercial areas which is in brazen violation of the Master Plan norms,” said the official, requesting not to be named.

A Srinagar Municipal Corporation official said leave apart others, the government was itself involved in violation of the Master Plan.

Referring to the Police Head Quarters at Hyderpora, he said the multi-storeyed building has come up in brazen violation of the Master Plan as the area, as per Zoning, was restricted for residential houses alone.

WHAT’S NEEDED?

A senior official who has worked in urban planning sector said there was a need to revise the Master Plan and enforce its implementation in letter and spirit.

Besides, he said, an autonomous new committee should be formulated to keep an eye on building permissions granted by the authorities like BOCA and its subsequent execution on the ground.

THE GLOBAL SURVEY

Pertinently, as per the survey, by the London based international think-tank , there are 37 Indian cities in the list of 300 fastest growing urban centers in the world.

While Srinagar figures at 92nd place in the global ranking of the 300 fastest growing cities, among the 37 Indian cities its grading is 23rd, far ahead of metropolitan cities Mumbai, with global ranking of 108th, Hyderabad with 115th and Chennai with 175th, which have already started reaching saturation levels in growth.

Srinagar’s Future

The finding that Srinagar city is among the 100 fastest growing urban centers worldwide is quite a revelation. London-based City Mayors Foundation’s report – putting Srinagar at number 92 out of some 300 global cities – is a sure wakeup call for the J&K government in general, and its urban planners in particular. Srinagar’s 92nd rank in urban growth means many things. At one level it means that the city’s human population growth and horizontal expansion have reached high levels. At another level, J&K state would require to have an action-oriented master plan which would take care of the city’s diverse municipal and other needs in the coming decades. The report also underlines the need for major public spending for the city, which otherwise has been suffering for want of public funds in its development. High urban growth of Srinagar also means that we would require a vision which would craft new transport, housing and municipal policies, followed by concrete action plans. Srinagar desperately needs public investment to improve its roads and transportation facilities. It also requires a modern facility to take care of its ever increasing solid waste. The city also requires capacity building of its municipal corporation. The city has lost its greenery and aesthetic beauty to an alarming level. Any urban development policy needs to have a major environmental conservation plan, which must focus on reviving the city’s greenery and environmental aesthetics.

A time has also come when the state’s policy makers and urban planners require to think about the introduction of floor space index concept for Srinagar so that its horizontal growth could be checked. Given the speed of Srinagar’s horizontal expansion, critical wetlands and other flood absorption basins have come under grave threat. Greater emphasis on vertical expansion would ensure to save these crucial lands from urban use devoid of environmental conservation. Such a policy would make it even more secure and prepare to meet the challenges of coming decades.