Rated one of the dirtiest cities in India, Srinagar has many more problems than a failed waste disposal and water supply system. The once coveted city has long fallen to the indifference of its people and rulers. Haroon Mirani reports.
One of the most intelligently designed cities Srinagar, has a 2000 year history. However, lack of a vision of its rulers has deteriorated it to the extent that accidental shanty towns fare better than it in various civic amenities.
“Nothing seems to be working for Srinagar. Everyone from the government to politicians to its residents, are out to destroy the city in their own mean selfish ways,” says architect Adil Ahmed.
The city’s transition from beautiful, well planned one to a choking habitation was made possible by the lack of any foresight or vision of the authorities who even failed to preserve its charming heritage let alone devise a plan for its growth.
The city’s forefathers had designed it in a way that provided its population ample drinking water, sufficient roads and reliable waterways.
“It is centrally located on the banks of Jhelum, well fed by seven natural water bodies, is on higher ground and is the most accessible with facilities for water as well as road transport,” says Salim Baig, state convenor of the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (Intach).
Srinagar got a pride of place not just for being the capital city of this region but its lakes and waterways holding crystal clear waters, its architecture, its culture. However, over the years a criminal negligence has turned it into a stinking, dying city.
Two thousand years ago Pravarasena divided the city into eight wards supervised by ward officer deities, in whose honour temples were built. Even now, the modern municipality continues to have the same eight wards.
Srinagar was one of the earliest cities to have a municipal body. “Our forefathers knew the importance of this city and to preserve it they created the municipal body,” says Salim Baig.
The municipal body in Srinagar was established in 1886 when the monarchy established a department to look after the civic affairs of the Srinagar and Jammu cities under J&K Municipal Act No. 16 of 1886.
Elected members were introduced in 1913. The Srinagar Municipal Committee was converted into Srinagar Municipal Council in 1956, and to Srinagar Municipal Corporation in 2003.
A recent survey of 423 cities by urban development ministry placed Srinagar at the bottom with just three unknown settlements faring worse than it.
“They are comparing us with Churu and Philbit, which are accidental shanties turned cities with no plan or history and we are more that 2000 year old city that has made its mark on world arena,” said Baig.
The valleyites always knew that their city of pride, the sun city, was decaying and were disgusted with the way it was being run.
“What can you expect from government they don’t even bother to appoint a dedicated official and SMC is presently run on adhoc basis by deputy commissioner,” said Ajaz Rasool former executive engineer LAWDA, who now works as a freelance consultant for various national and multinational companies. “Whether people die or live who cares?”
The lack of proper waste management or any proper drainage has cost the city its lakes and waterways.
All the five urban lakes and a maze of canals, suitable for water transport, are in various stages of decay.
Massive deforestation in the upper reaches and open sewers in lakes have been the two main problems. “With deforestation the rain water brings along loads of soil and sediments in the water bodies like Dal,” said Ajaz. “Earlier water flow was regulated as forest acted as sponge releasing water slowly throughout the year.”
Telbal stream which feeds Dal Lake deposits around 80,000 tonnes of silt in the lake every year.
The canals in the Srinagar city, which earned it the sobriquet of Venice of the east are almost finished. The encroachment and lack of any plans for their development has turned it into open drains. The government even filled up a major stream, Nallah Mar and built a road over it.
The water bodies have been serving as sewers for a large quantity of the waste being generated by Srinagar. SMC in one of its reports in 2009 confirmed that 44.2 per cent of the waste generated does not have collectors, vanishing into water bodies through a huge network of open drains. About 60 sewer drains pour into the lake along the Dalgate-Saida Kadal water channel, transmitting a chunk of solid waste.
Three of the five water bodies Khushalsar, Pokhrial and Anchar are in terminal stage. The choked waterways put paid to any hopes of revival of the Srinagar’s famed water transport.
The absence of a planning has also stretched the surface transport in the city to limits with no or little addition or widening of roads in the last century. The rest of was done by encroachments instigated by popular greed.
Acoording to estimates, around 300 kms of roads in Srinagar alone have been encroached upon by vendors and shopkeepers. The encroachment in residential areas is of much larger proportion.
“No market or road in Srinagar is devoid of illegal encroachments and it is equally patronized by the concerned agencies,” says Iqbal Ahmad a businessmen. “It will take just a week to dismantle all (illegal structures) but nobody cares. From police to troopers to common man everybody is involved.”
Until 1980’s Srinagar was one of the best managed cities in entire India. Even if new shop was constructed, it was mandatory to leave at-least 3 feet unlike present situation when shopkeepers are encroaching the road space.
“Earlier engineers had dedicated free spaces in the shape of chowks (squares) like Nowhatta Chowk, Bohri Kadal Chowk and so on as cultural spaces for people to meet,” said Baig. “These squares were the first to go by encroachments further choking the people.”
One of the earliest planned residential colonies in Srinagar was at Karanagar and it is still considered a good colony in the city. “It had small plots, major roads, walkway, cycle path, parks and other amenities. It is still the best colony in entire Srinagar,” says Baig.
Ajaz says, that the current government is devoid of professional expertise and they rely more on administrative bureaucrats for taking technical decisions.
“I call them pseudo professionals or KAS quacks, on whom our government rely for technical decisions,” said Ajaz, who is also member of PM’s expert committee.
=The downfall of Srinagar started with the historic illegal order coming from the administration and it was aptly numbered as Order No. 420.
In the original Srinagar Master Plan, there was no provision for any construction in the area around Dal Lake particularly on the sides of Boulevard. It was declared as Green Zone, and any construction banned.
“In eighties all this changed as an illegal order was promulgated by the then rulers which allowed the construction,” said Ajaz. “It was taken out at the administrative level with no mandatory approval from state legislature.”
The order was used to legalise the illegal. “First they allowed illegal construction and then under the garb of this order legalized it,” says Ajaz.
The added burden with regards to these new colonies and structures was that government had to provide civic amenities to the areas which otherwise was not in the plan. The unplanned civic amenities followed with disaster.
After every rainfall or snowfall, many residential areas face water logging. “The authorities take up a cosmetic approach by draining the water into another area and ultimately the water is thrown into Jhelum from 12 drainage lifting pumps.”
Government had also proposed to modernize the 12 stations, but that is yet to see light of the day.
According to sources all new buildings being constructed in Srinagar are illegal. The building permissions are given after meetings of BOCA, where officers from different departments discuss on merits and demerits of a proposed structure and ultimately it is passed or rejected. “Actually R&B engineers used to raise objections as buildings were coming up on roads with possible future ramifications,” said an insider. “The engineer was told to shut up in simple words.”
After that incident R&B engineers have not been attending the meet, which is otherwise necessary. “Buildings are passed without R&B green signal and technically all of them are illegal,” said an officer.
Unplanned growth and encroachments have made urban transport a complete mess in Srinagar. Traffic is emerging as one of the biggest problems facing Srinagar, with jams spread over kilometres becoming a norm.
There are 2.75 lakh vehicles registered in Srinagar. SP Traffic Srinagar, Showkat Hussain Shah says that during summer the city receives another 1.15 lakh vehicles, making about four lakh vehicles in Srinagar alone.
“To tackle such a huge traffic we have just 250 personnel and in place of 20 recovery vans we have just 3,” said Showkat.
He says that out of the 1600 kms of city roads, 100-150 km is closed due to construction and 300-400 km of road is under illegal encroachment. Showkat says, “That leaves us just around 1100 km of roads to manage the traffic.”
The department feels that the traffic is really becoming a very big problem in the near future and if nothing is done soon, it will turn chaotic.
“Everyday 100 vehicles are registered in Srinagar alone. Ownership of second hand vehicles, garage vehicles, outside vehicles are additional,” said Showkat. “This makes 36000 additional vehicles on Srinagar roads alone every year.”
Jammu and Kashmir is perhaps the only states which doesn’t have any Traffic Engineering department, which is usually an inherent part of Roads and Buildings department.
“Traffic management is a science and unfortunately it is yet to dawn on us,” said Ajaz. “Defunct traffic lights, chaotic regulation are just the repercussions.”
“Here traffic solution means just widening of roads and intersections are left unchanged,” said Showkat. “Similarly the intersections are further squeezed by constructing fountains, monuments with large round turn.”
The city is losing a lot of heritage buildings due to the disdain exhibited by its rulers and authorities towards heritage. “Last year SMC demolished their own heritage building,” said Baig. “It was second biggest building after Maharaja’s palace, where a man could get on the third floor while mounted on a horseback.”
The 19th century building was adjacent to Shergarhi palace and had been the office for SMC when it came to existence in 1886.
There were some protests and appeals to save it but officer, contractor nexus got its way.
Senseless modernization has destroyed Srinagar’s unique architecture, which was perfected by Kashmiri engineers over the last two millennia. “Our unique architecture was the most efficient one which took care of the four forces of nature that plagued Srinagar – flood, fire, cold and earthquakes,” said Baig. “Now we are making such buildings where living can lead to paralysis.”
The energy management in buildings is one of the bigger concerns. “There is no concept of energy efficiency in buildings,” said Baig. “As world is going towards highly energy efficient buildings, we are moving backwards as we already had that knowledge but are leaving now for the sake of senseless concrete monsters.”
The official apathy ruined many chances to amend the situation. In 1978 India Engineering Limited made first sewerage scheme for Srinagar, which was hailed as the best one.
“It envisaged dividing city into three parts of Left, Right and North zone and sewers from these three zones would be connected to three STP’s,” said Ajaz. “Entire scheme cost was just Rs 60 crore.”
The scheme was never implemented. “The cost later escalated to Rs 1200 crore and few years back it was costing Rs 1700 crore,” said Ajaz. “Now the government got NBCC to do the work and they are doing it in bits and pieces.” The cost escalation is certain.
NBCC work is playing havoc with Srinagar roads particularly as of and on digging goes on unabated in a slow phase. “At some places like on Ali Jan road, they are laying deep sewers but that they are going nowhere as the proposed STP in which it was to be treated has not been constructed,” said Ajaz.
In comparisons with Jammu, the city is far behind the sewerage project. “Jammu project is in advanced stage. Gandhinagar is way back completed and soon it will be completed in other parts,” said Ajaz.
The civil strife also added to the problems. During eighties UK had agreed to provide a special package of Rs 800 crores for water, sewerage and drainage, street lights, roads and transport project for Srinagar. “They agreed to provide funds and technical expertise too,” said Ajaz. “The project was to be completed in just five years with latest technology of micro tunneling that is without digging of roads.”
But as the project was about to start in 1989, the insurgency erupted and engineers fled.
Solid and other waste management is primitive, to say the least.
The city generates over 450 tonnes of solid waste every day and in the absence of community dustbins, garbage is dumped on roads and open spaces. SMC has about 2180 sanitation workers for the job. SMC in its report says that an average of about 250 tonnes of waste is collected from 512 primary collection points every day. Rest is visible everywhere.
The waste collected everyday is carried by the transport fleet of dump trucks for final disposal to the Achan dumping site. The site is approximately six km from the city centre and is spread over an area of around 70 acres.
Achan is its only dumping sites and according to experts if scientifically developed it can last at least a century.
On November 26, 2008 ERA signed a contract with Hyderabad based Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd. (REEL) for development of Achan landfill site. The Rs 14 crore project funded by ADB had to be completed by January 04, 2011 within 16 months. But till date the work is yet to be started. “Actually the company had quoted low rates which were not feasible and when they realized it, they started to make excuses for not working,” said an insider. “First they told government that it has not constructed the bridge, then they cited agitation as another reason and so on.”
The city that receives lakhs of tourists, ironically, is devoid of public lavatories. ERA was entrusted with the work of constructing 16 blocks of pay and use bathrooms, but that too is stuck up in the maze of slow work.
“Four blocks are completed and work on five is in progress,” said one officer.
Lack of such facilities mar the government efforts for attracting more tourists to Srinagar.
Large scale corruption and incompetence besides government apathy are pushing the city towards further decay.
Billions of rupees have been spent on restoration of Dal lake without any tangible results.
“Now we get a shocker that area of Dal Lake has remained unchanged at some 25 sq kms during the last one century,” said Baig. “Somebody tell the officials that earlier it was 25 kms of fresh water and now it is 25 sq. kms of dirt.”
However, many people are optimistic that all is not lost and the city can be salvaged if only there was will and commitment. Baig says, “During 2003, when Mufti Syed started demolition drive against illegal encroachments, 30 per cent of the people themselves demolished their structures.”
The last comparatively clean space in Srinagar is Nigeen lake and that is due to the efforts of locals only. The Nigeen Lake’s conservation organization (NLCO) started in 2000 with some modest donation from local businessmen after they saw Nigeen getting literally extinct.
“Polythene, animal carcases, floating gardens and encroachments were rampant and it seemed Nigeen was destined to doom,” says Manzoor Wangnoo founding member of NLCO. “We took it to ourselves to clean this mess.”
At some places they forcible removed the encroachments and at other places people volunteered. “People too became conscious and soon Nigeen was transformed into a cleaner lake where you can’t find even a single polythene,’ said Wangnoo. “There were no billions spend nor huge propaganda mounted, we just did it quietly and even now remain as watchdogs for its conservation.”
Despite all their efforts, Nigeen is still threatened. “The sewers around Nigeen still empty into the water body with no STP in sight.”
Can we make an effort to restore the glory of our sun city?
Srinagar’s scorecard on various sanitation parameters in the survey conducted
by National Urban Development Ministry.
Elimination of manual scavenging (0/4),
Percentage of properties with safe collection system (0/3),
Proportion of total black waters safely treated and disposed (0/4),
Proportion of total grey water safely disposed (0/3),
Proportion of treated waters, Recycled and Reused (0/3),
Proportion of total storm water drainage (0/3),
Proportion of total waste regularly collected (0.3/4),
Quality of drinking water (0/7)
Water quality in water bodies (0/7),
Reduction in water borne diseases (0/6),
Are Septage/Sledge cleaned? (0/5),
City water causes no impact on surrounding areas? (0/5),
Proportion of solid waste generated regularly collected (0.3/4).
Kalhana says the Srinagar or The Sun City as it means was founded by Ashoka in 3rd century BC, making one of the oldest of its kind. But the present site of the town was selected by King Pravarasena II (A.D. 112-172).
The Municipal body in Srinagar was established after the reforms under taken by Lord Rippan in the first quarter of 19th Century. It came into being in 1886.