The concept of shopping malls may have offered some people big business opportunities on the peripheries of Srinagar but some of them have not even taken into account the simple parking lot needs. Majid Maqbool looks at the simplistic approach to making of malls in the city.
Traditional street markets in Kashmir are being fast replaced by shopping malls. In recent years, malls have come up not just in the main city, but also on its outskirts. With newly constructed railway connectivity and more parking spaces available in the city outskirts, the mall owners are hoping for more customers to throng the one-stop shopping destinations.
“Our company owned some land in Nowgam which was lying idle, so we thought of making a mall on this land,” says Riyaz Ahmad, the Managing Director of RCC Infra Tech Private Limited. The construction for the 5-storey mall, RCC Plaza, was started in 2007, and is almost complete. “The mall will be thrown open for booking in July,” says Riyaz, who joined the construction company in 1995, at the age of 25.
Less parking space and frequent traffic jams in the city center is making it an unsuitable place to setup more big malls. “When corporate companies look for offices, they’re very particular about these things. Since the railway station is one kilometer away from our mall and the airport is closer too, we thought it’s a suitable place to make a mall,” says Riyaz. He believes people want such malls in the outskirts of the city as it’s a growing business area. “Its safe from the security point of view as well,” he says.
Built on a 10,000 square feet area, the RCC Plaza will be the biggest mall in the outskirts of the city. “It has been designed by a professional team of architects and built following the seismic norms of J&K,” claims Riyaz. He says that on an average, 25 people will be employed in the mall to begin with. “As offices are setup in the mall premises, around 200 people are expected to be employed in the mall,” says Riyaz.
According to mall owners, last year’s summer unrest has had its impact on the mall business too. National and international brands are reluctant to open their outlets in Kashmir, even if all their standards are met. “The national companies like Big Bazar are also adopting a wait and watch policy, but if the situation improves they can come,” says Riyaz.
He says that international food chains like KFC are unconvinced about opening their outlets in Kashmir. “We were talking to KFC to bring them to Kashmir. But they are owned by an American chain called YUM, who have identified some disturbed areas in the world where they believe their chains can become targets,” says Riyaz. “Economically they can earn huge profit in Kashmir but are not willing to come.”
M.S Mall on the Residency Road is one of the first malls that came up in the valley. Started in 1999, the 5-storyed mall was thrown open for public in 2005. “Mall was a new concept in Kashmir then,” says Manzoor Ahmad Shah, the Managing Partner of M.S Mall. “When I used to go to cities like Banglore and see many malls there, I thought why couldn’t we have one in Kashmir. I was very confident that it will be a success,” he says. To design the MS Mall, Manzoor brought in a team of architects from Banglore who had previously designed malls in that city.
The mall houses offices of corporate companies like HDFC and YES Bank, and nearly 100 people were employed in the mall. In order to tackle the problem of less parking area for MS Mall, Manzoor says they are constructing another mall on the MA Road. “Somehow we are lacking in parking space here but the new mall in MA Road will have parking space for around 300 vehicles,” says Manzoor. He says that the new, 6-storey mall would be the biggest one in Kashmir.
The mall owners say that as per the rules laid down by the old Srinagar Master Plan, the government allows the construction of only 5-storey malls.
“Government must allow the height of malls to be increased,” says Manzoor Ahmad. He says that now the problem is that commercial activities are taking place in residential areas like Karan Nagar. “But they don’t have any other alternative as they don’t have any space. That’s why government must allow addition of more floor levels for malls and allow more height,” says Manzoor.
He says that outside the state the political parties in opposition and the business community are brought into confidence at the time of drafting a master plan. “The old master plan policy should be revised with the consensus of the opposition and the local business community here,” he says. “We must have beautiful structures in Kashmir as it gives a good impression about a city.”
The mall owners say that proper planning is essential in the making of malls. Parking area for the malls has to be looked into at the stage of planning. “One should not plunge into this business without understanding it. Plan it properly, calculate the risks involved, and then go for it,” says Manzoor.
Architects believe that the trend of malls, which is a westernized concept, can’t be opposed now. “The only concern is that the malls should fit into the local architectural image and its functional aspect should be properly understood,” says Hakim Sameer Hamdani, a senior architect with INTACH, J&K chapter. “The malls should not be constructed in residential areas as is the case in Karan Nagar where residential areas have been converted into commercial centers.”
He says that the environmental aspect is often overlooked while building the malls. “The planners and designers have to look into how much energy is going into the making and functioning of the building.”
Riyaz Ahmad believes that those who intend to enter the mall business should employ a team of professional architects to design the malls and meet all the required building standards. He says that people here own thousands of kanals of land lying unused. “People should use that land for setting up their own businesses like hotels, malls and contribute towards the society by creating avenues for employment,” says Riyaz.