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

Junaid comments on dysfunctional local councils like the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and the Srinagar Development Authority (SDA)

(Mr. Junaid Azim Mattu, 26, was born in Srinagar. He partly completed his schooling at the Burn Hall School, Srinagar, and partly at the Bishop Cotton School, Shimla. He attended college in America and graduated with a degree in Business and Finance from the Eli Broad School of Business at Michigan State University. He is a consulting financial analyst and telecom-IT entrepreneur based in Srinagar. A seeded national varsity debater throughout his school and college career (his grandfather – Khwaja Ghulam Ahmed Ashai – was one of the founding fathers of the Muslim/National Conference), Mr. Mattu also played under-19 cricket at national level for J&K. He is a founder of the World Kashmiri Students Association (WKSA), a global youth association for Kashmiris based in Srinagar, Kashmir, working on social, economic and political issues through constructive and informed activism. WKSA, as of today has 1,700+ registered members in Kashmir. He is also a nominated alumnus of the Global Young Leaders Conference. In his leisure time, Junaid likes to engage in reading, gardening, watching movies and listening to music. He recently became the District President Srinagar of the Jammu & Kashmir People’s Conference, headed by Mr. Sajad Lone.)

SMC & SDA’s Obstructionist, Political Role in Srinagar

Municipalities and Town Councils are meant to usher cities into eras of planned development and infrastructural growth. That thumb rule, however, changes when it comes to Srinagar. In Srinagar, the Municipality and Development Authority has over the years taken over the role of obstructionism, of stunting development in the name of baseless and flawed rules that are imposed at will and flouted at will, depending on the political dynamics of each case.
If, for a moment, we are to believe in the supremacy of SMC and SDA regulations, those spelled out in the Master Plan and those written in moth-eaten books elsewhere, should we not wonder why Srinagar has turned into a congested, ill-planned and dysfunctional city? The issues faced by Srinagar, one of the fastest growing cities in the world as revealed in a recent report, are traceable to both a collective political failure when it comes to Urban Development as well as a prolonged system of corruption and obstructionism in SMC and SDA. It appears that both departments, under the shadow of the government of the day, have shut their eyes and presumed that Srinagar has stopped growing and with a cessation of its growth, its infrastructural needs have stopped growing too. Fountains and seasonally painted pavements seem to be the priorities in a city that is under-served when it comes to both commercial and residential spaces. In imposing its obstructionist power, both departments have thrown Srinagar into the clutches of a new-age License Raj. Both departments have disincentivized obedience to both law and logic.
A significant part of the old-city is morphing into a large slum with narrow, congested roads and a hotchpotch blend of old and new, residential and commercial construction. As pontificators who have in their minds stigmatized progress, sit in their living rooms and lament about the state of this city in this context, they fail to account for two things – 1) The realities and needs of a growing city and 2) The failure of successive NC and PDP governments in charting out a policy that provides for commercial zones in the city.

Agreed that Kashmir is a beautiful tourist destination but are we to delude ourselves to believe that tourists can be so enamoured by Kashmir’s beauty that they can come and live under open skies? Our Tourism department might go to the seventh sky to hold road-shows to attract tourists to Kashmir but our Urban Development department, our Municipality and Development Authority have ensured that it’s easier to re-enact World War II than making a new hotel in Srinagar. We have already started witnessing an acute shortage of hotel rooms in Srinagar during months that witness a heavy inflow of tourists. Existing hoteliers cannot dare to dream of adding to their existing infrastructure due to a punitive, obstructionist atmosphere that has become the face of this government’s urban policy. The rule of the day is to make young entrepreneurs run from pillar to post and post to pillar for years as they jump over numerous insurmountable no-objection-certificates. Why have we penalized development in a city that is in such a dire need to usher itself into prosperity? Do common Kashmiris who don’t belong to NC and PDP or are not affiliated to these twin parties bereft of their constitutional right to grow and aspire for a modern, metropolitan city?

Service-sector across India is providing this generation with hundreds and thousands of jobs – be it shopping malls, office aspaces and hotels. With jobs in the government sector in our State having long dried up, the need for private sector to grow in terms of providing more jobs becomes absolutely essential. But how will Private Sector provide jobs to Kashmiris when SMC and SDA have ensured that private sector in Srinagar cannot muster the courage to add new infrastructure or make improvements to our existing, dilapidated infrastructure. By-passes across India, including Jammu, are zoned as commercial zones with the exception of Srinagar. We need to wonder if this is because of a deliberate unstated policy that aims at pushing Kashmir into Stone Age?

We can go on macadamizing Gupkar road and giving NC and PDP the political right to ration on dreams of prosperity, of making obstructionism a part of official State policy. Or, we can hold not only our government, our twin mainstream parties but also our bureaucrats accountable for starving Kashmiris for growth and development. We need to ask questions. We deserve answers. Why has Jammu been allowed the liberty to grow into a city while Srinagar has been suffocated into a slum? Is this the reconciliatory hope Srinagarites deserve after having reeled under political and social turmoil for close to a decade and a half? Our estate, hospitality and protocol departments can go on spending crores after crores on ministerial residences as this city starves for basic infrastructure because as it has become apparent, we are all children of a lesser God. Our CM can grandstand about snapping electricity to the CM house while all representatives and bureaucrats sun-bath in the warmth of Jammu.

Our State government has convinced itself that it can play the role of Private Sector by making shopping malls and shaadi-halls rather than focussing on what are the integral responsibilities of any responsible, efficient government. SDA can make ugly, ramshackled shopping complexes in Srinagar but a private enterprise will not be allowed to make a modern, beautiful shopping mall right next to that ugly, dilapidated SDA shopping structure. Look at Sangarmal Mall! Had a private enterprise made a shopping mall where Sangarmal exists today it would have been functioning as a fully-occupied, booming shopping mall today! But alas, our government wants to monopolize development and in that process, ruin all possible opportunities of growth.

Unfortunately it is the tax-payers that contribute to the salaries of government employees including SMC and SDA departments – but what could have been a constructive means for growth has become a collective drain for the tax-payers money. Could someone please tell the quixotic SMC Chairman that Municipalities are not all about obstructionism and demolitions! What about a non-existent waste management system, a defunct and chaotic garbage collection system? What about our stinking lanes and overflowing drains?

Let us allow this city to grow – not chaotic, unplanned growth but well-planned and visionary infrastructural growth. Let us chart out a new future for Srinagar – one of modern buildings, wide roads, sparkling hotels and booming shopping malls. Let us stand up to obstructionism and tell the power that be that we have a right to dream too!