New City Set-up

Messed by trash and waste for generations over the decades, capital Srinagar city have grown haphazardly with clear lack of developmental forecasting. As J&K government is seeking funding for converting the capital city into a smart city, it created a new structure for exclusive development. But will the new initiative be consumed by the systemic lethargy the coalition government is routinely exhibiting, asks Masood Hussain

Shehr-e-Kashmir: A view of Srinagar from the Shankar Acharya Hills. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Srinagar city being in a mess has remained a sort of universal truth for last many centuries. European travellers visiting Cashmere at the peak of Sikh and Dogra exploitative eras’ would return home shouting about imminant extinction of slaves because of famines, fires, floods and more importantly municipal waste. With the governance structures into money-making, these remained the only constant in city’s life till early twentieth century.

Finally when autocracy was over, things started changing. Srinagar ceased to become part of Islamabad district and regained its identity in the official records despite being the epicentre of Kashmir. Political instability and lack of a structured approach in the then innovative single line administration made Srinagar a district, like other districts. Srinagar municipal committee started getting more funds but the haphazard expansion remained unchanged especially in absence of a futuristic intervention. Between 1989 and 1998 nothing much happened in the city.

For last many decades now, Srinagar is as good a district as Kupwara or Shopian are. Allocations and approaches to the developmental activities were based on the “unfair” fairness that all district are equal. Though the creation of Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) in 1971 was a quick follow up to the creation of urban development ministries, it took a long time to evolve as the custodian institution of Srinagar, unlike Jammu.

Soon after the Srinagar Municipality was upgraded to the corporation status, there were urban local body elections and at one point of time a Mayor took over. His activities, however, remained limited to municipal issues as the kitty remained unchanged. His office lacked any clear authority over other developmental agencies operating in the city.

Mayor’s office was lost in the maze of governance structure and ended up as an outpost for construction permissions. It remained in constant conflict with SDA, Lakes and Waterways Authority (LAWDA) and the Cantonment Board Badamibagh. Even Town Planners survived autonomous in their cocoons.

The key developmental agencies have diverse ownerships. LAWDA, for instance, is an appendage of forest ministry. SDA and SMC fall under UEED and Housing ministries. Cantonment Board is being seen as the army’s civic appendage lacking any civilian interface. Interestingly, the forests minister lives in Kathua. The UEED minister is a resident of Jammu. Bureaucracy that tackles these subjects is territory neutral. Performance of none of these politicians or officers is of any consequence to their career in Srinagar! So why should not they take care of their own constituencies while spending time for Srinagar?

From the last many decades, cities in India have been genuinely crying over the reality that they have become dumping grounds of politics and politicians. Once elected from periphery, the politician moves to Srinagar or Jammu. They operate from there; use their status to extract every benefit that municipal area offers to help live a luxurious life. They, however, lack any emotional connect with the city because they live usually in “official” and not in real Srinagar.

Even lawmakers elected by Srinagar do not live in Srinagar. Ali Moahmmad Sagar (Khanyar), Mubarak Gul (Eidgah), Firdousa Shameem (Habakadal), Asiya Naqash (Hazratabal), Khursheed Aalam (MLC), all live outside “real” Srinagar.  All others are residents of Srinagar’s extensions. Perhaps Abid Ansari and Altaf Bukhari are the only two lawmakers living in “real” Srinagar.So who owns the city?

City being the capital of the state and J&K’s most populous habitation is also witnessing major investment in various road, building, tourism, housing and cultural projects. They have diverse ownerships. R&B projects are handled by PCC and other major contractors. Tourism does its own interventions, so do others. But there is no stakeholder who could have part-ownership of the implementation. As 2014 floods and the 2016 unrest inordinately delayed the prestigious fly-over, the accountability is not in Srinagar but in the civil secretariat.

The City of Kashmir: This is the real Srinagar as seen from the Hari Parbat fort. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Almost all projects in Srinagar are witnessing massive cost and time overruns. In 2016 summer, when Sagar sought details of the projects that are at various stages of implementation in Srinagar, he was handed over a two volume hard-bound report in response running into a few hundred pages.

Somehow, the policymakers did not feel attracted towards the fact that all cities across the world have their own local governance structure, separate from the larger system in which they exist. Mumbai Municipal Corporation has a yearly budget more than four times that of J&K state! Delhi might be hosting the Prime Minister and the President but it technically is owned by Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

Srinagar being second oldest in India after Varanasi and Jammu important since 1846, this mechanism somehow eluded them both. The twin cities continued to be districts that were pushed to stay in competition with Kishtwar and Shopian on basis of demography and not significance, history and the requirements. Then feeling pity on these agglomerations, politicians would offer “additionality” in the district plans and keep the show on.

Srinagar is not about 1.2 million population (may be 0.5 million more if the floating population of workers, fortune hunters and the security men is taken into consideration) but Kashmir’s key heritage trove. Since the Hindu period when Kashmir was being ruled from Parihaspora, hardly any ruler in last more than a millennium has looked at any other place as seat of governance, other than Srinagar. The city still owns more than 750 heritage structures. But when it comes to the protection of this space, Srinagar is pitting against Ganderbal, one of its earlier villages, in allocations!

In this backdrop when an announcement about setting up of Capital City Development Plan (CCDP) came from Srinagar’s District Development Board (DDB) meeting last week, the real significance stayed unreported. CCDP has been de-linked from the district plan so that it gradually paves way for a new structure for tackling the twin cities. For the launch year 2017-18, the government committed Rs 600 crore excluding Rs 102 crore of annual district plan. All the lawmakers from Srinagar were given a special grant of Rs 50 lakh for “focused infrastructure development” in their constituencies.

The idea has two ingredients: first to create a structure that will have the authority to own Srinagar and second, to give it adequate resource while de-linking it from various parent bodies to make monitoring and quick implementation possible.  “City development agencies like SMC, SDA, LAWDA, the Cantonment Board and other externally aided projects aimed at infrastructure development in the summer capital shall be de-linked from funding under the district plan and provided with dedicated resources under an independent arrangement,” an official spokesman detailing the initiative, said. “CCDP would be based on assessment of the existing developmental scenario in the twin capital cities, outlining a vision for future development and strategising for achieving these objectives.”

Kanak Mundi: A busy scene arond noon. KL Image: Masood Hussain

The initiatives, the spokesman said, is aimed at ensuring coordinated infrastructure development, as otherwise multiplicity of executing and implementing agencies has resulted in lopsided planning and non-productive utilization of resources. It would ensure planned development including peri-urban areas, out growths and urban corridors, so that urbanization takes place in a dispersed and uniform manner. The idea, policymakers believe, would help scale up the delivery of civic amenities and provision of utilities to the residents of Srinagar and Jammu cities.

Supposed to be headed by the City Mayor, CCDP will see respective Divisional Commissioner’s presiding over till Mayor’s election. It will have multiple resource base for funding: State’s own resources, Prime Minister’s Developmental Programme (PMDP), Centrally Sponsored Schemes and Public-Private Partnership.

Once it takes off, there is a strong possibility of de-linking Deputy Commissioner from city development and him to mere monitoring, facilitation and law and order. It may eventually push development to survive in politics-neutral space so that politics becomes issue-linked and not culvert-driven. Future additions may see Srinagar and Jammu have their separate public transport utilities, power distribution companies and improving distribution network of food, LPG and other basics. Even town-planning could see rudimentary shifts.

From stitching an alliance with BJP, PDP never had an idea-deficit. But it has a perpetual delivery crisis. Can CCDP be an exception?


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