Overflying the dead

Kashmiris heart beats in Srinagar. But what keeps Srinagar going is a question that politicians seem to overlook. With elections round the corner, Bilal Handoo revisits some of the mega-projects in the city to check their fate and status

The  cable car ropeway  flying over Malkhah in Srinagar. Pics: Bilal Bahadur
The cable car ropeway flying over Malkhah in Srinagar.
Pics: Bilal Bahadur 

It was another day of strike. But Srinagar wasn’t quiet. Street cricket was creating raucous around. While elders seated on shop-fronts were busy discussing politics. Apart from discussing the ramifications on Kashmir issue by Modi’s induction as India’s next Prime Minister, Srinagar was on their lips. And then, one of them, said: “Srinagar has gone to the dogs!”

The remark finds a resonance in 2000-year-old Srinagar city—where over 1 lakh stray dogs roam free on streets, who keep mauling children every now and then. But apart from canines, the summer capital which houses 12.70 lakh souls—as per Census 2011, is turning heads around. Spread over an area of 294 sq kms, many believe loopholes in Srinagar—otherwise known as, kingmaker in state politics, are quite ominous.

“No developmental project stands completed in Srinagar,” says Assad Khan, 46, a government teacher. “There is no planned expansion of the city. Everything goes against the very spirit of the Master Plan.” But not everyone is a naysayer to developmental works in the city—where, literacy rate stands at 71% against 74.04% in mainland India. “While it is true that Srinagar has received comparatively lesser attention from the successive government,” says Mushtaq Khan, 38, a banker. “But that doesn’t mean nothing is happening in the city on development front.” Khan is not wrong. The summer capital does have its pie in developmental projects—in sectors like housing, connectivity, health and others. But the most visible change, however, being felt in Srinagar over the years is ‘fattening of graveyards’.

Housing

The City Mayors Foundation, an international think tank dedicated to urban affairs, announced in November 2011: Srinagar is the 92th fastest growing urban areas in the world—in terms of, economic growth. Th e survey was done based on actual data from 2006 onwards and projections to 2020.

And catching up the pace of expansion and the fast-changing urban landscape of Srinagar, officials in Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) are saying that the department has geared itself—to provide, a sustainable solution for affordable housing in the city.

SDA was created with main objectives to bring a positive change in Srinagar as per the prospective plans. The first and foremost responsibility of SDA is to prepare and implement Master Plan for the city. The department has prepared two Master Plans—first in the year of 1971, and second in the year of 2000. Second Master Plan is for a period of 20 years and is under implementation.

The official survey reveals Srinagar presently faces shortage of 18750 housing plots. And for additional population of eleven lakhs for next twenty years, the requirement for housing plots will be 37500.

And to ease the problem, SDA has proposed acquisition of 32000 kanals of land in next twenty years at various identified places. To start with, the SDA has initiated acquisition of 4200 kanals of land in Srinagar’s Rakh-Gund-Aksha—which has been transferred by government to SDA.

Conceived in the fall of 2009, township at Rakh-Gund-Aksha, the dream project of “Model Township” is termed as SDA’s star project. Located 7 kms from Lal Chowk, it is blend of traditional architecture features with modernity and is bounded by Highway. It is supposed to house about 50,000 persons. “It will have a broad categorization chart with traditional bazaar system blended with modern planning concepts,” says Shafat Noor, vice chairman SDA.

Another housing project at Bemina on the outskirts of Srinagar is being implemented. The colony has 55 plots of high income group (HI) category with each plot worth Rs 1533600. 80 plots of middle income group (MIG) category with each plot worth Rs 850000. And 111 plots for lower income group (LIG) category with each plot worth Rs 142000. “Earth-filling and roads have been completed,” Noor says. “All plots have already been allotted.”

Almost entire Srinagar is divided over horizontal housing. The least requirement for a middle-class house in Srinagar is one kanal or 5440 sq ft. But scarcity of land within city limits has triggered a need of vertical expansion of Srinagar. And to carry forward the vertical housing colonies, SDA has earmarked around 91 kanals of land in the existing Mini Housing Colony in Bemina for construction of another 532 residential flats under Shehjar Apartments—the project, aimed to decongest summer capital Srinagar. “Shehjar is part of SDA’s endeavour to make people realize the dream of owning a secure and affordable home in Srinagar,” Noor says.

On Bemina Budgam road, multi-storey apartments on 12 kanal of land namely, Gulposh Apartments have framed to accommodate the growing population of the city. The housing scheme is for middle income group. In December last year, 60 out of total 92 flats were allotted. While the construction of residential flats under phase-II of Gulposh Apartments have been started. Approximate time of completion is 3 years. Booking for the same has been completed.

While these handful housing projects shelter only a section of society, many ask: “What about the urban poor? And what are the steps being taken for their rescue?”

Connectivity

Infrastructure-2Srinagar in recent past witnessed displacement of characteristic population from old city of Srinagar due to twin road projects. A 10.30 km stretch from Dalgate to Zakoora via Rainawari and Hazratbal is named as Syed Merak Shah Road (SMS). And government has been working on it for a few years to upgrade it into a four-lane road—that is believed to tackle, a good volume of traffic. The other road project namely Khanyar-Zadibal-Pandach (KZP) passes through the historic Jamia Masjid, reaches SK Institute of Medical Sciences and ends at Pandach in city outskirts.

Implemented by Roads and Buildings (R&B) department, the project required Rs 336 crore to acquire the property rights of 332 residential structures and 750 shops besides 145 kanals of land.

But the twin road projects have scattered scores of families of old city on the city outskirts. These families cried hoarse about insufficient compensation given by the government. “The amount given to the displaced families in Srinagar city are paid is mere peanuts,” says Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat, Aam Aadmi Party’s candidate for Srinagar Parliamentary seat. “While the affected people in other cities of India get very handsome amount as compensation.”

In 2013, as Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved the construction of Rs 351.17 crores Jehangir Chowk Rambagh Flyover, the rehabilitation issues soon cropped up. And to rehabilitate the displaced shopkeepers and godown owners, Rs 49 crores Jehangir chowk Rehabiliation Complex was constructed. Presently, the second floor of the complex is under construction. The state of Art complex will rehabilitate 150 shops and 30 godowns. Similarly, Rs 48.5 crores Rambagh Rehabilitation Complex would rehabilitate 51 shops displaced by the flyover.

Health

Srinagar city located at 1585 metres above sea level got bad press in the past on health grounds. In the fall of 2010, the state government started construction of 100 bedded maternity hospital at SKIMS Soura. But the project immediately hit the roadblock. After twists and turns, the work on Rs 11.88 crores hospital project got finally resumed. And now, the officials executing the project say 96 per cent framework has been completed.

And then in March 2011, a 200-bedded maternity hospital at Bemina was sanctioned by the government. Rs 45.98 crore centrally funded project was supposed to ease out the burden on existing hospitals. But three years after, the work is still in progress.

A Sarai worth Rs 11.35 crores was started in 2012 for patients and attendants at SKIMS Soura. The work on the ground floor stands completed at the moment. “Sarai would have 72 individual rooms including a few dormitories for patients and their families,” says Dr Showkat Zargar, Director SKIMS.

By November 14 last year, as many as 122 hospital projects were under progress across Jammu and Kashmir at an estimated cost of Rs 1481.62 crore, revealed by Omar Abdullah. But except Srinagar, all other major districts figured in the list.

Tourism

With two consecutive Indian tourism awards in his kitty—for opening up the tourist project like tourist city centre at Srinagar, the minister for tourism, Ghulam Ahmad Mir says the government is committed for making Srinagar “all time tourist destination of international repute”.

It was July 2009 when the then minister for tourism and culture, Nawang Rigzin Jora made it public that a modern tourist city centre at old tourist reception centre would be constructed. But Srinagar had to wait for another three years before construction of Rs 9.96 crores tourist city centre Srinagar was started in March 2012. “The tourist city centre would be completed till Oct this year,” says Talat Parvez, Director Tourism Kashmir.

With Kashmir having no art gallery, the state government in 2011 announced that the multi-facility Tehzeeb Mahal—the heritage house, near tourist reception centre Srinagar would be set up soon. Supervised by cultural academy, the Rs 88.36 crores project is said to be a blend of tradition and technology. It is expected to get completed in August 2016. So far, 30 per cent of the work stands completed.

“Three-storey Tehzeeb Mahal project will be a modern cultural complex in traditional architecture and state-of-the-art facilities related to art and culture,” says Khalid Bashir, secretary cultural academy. The ground floor of the Tehzeeb Mahal will have auditorium with a seating capacity of 600, besides theatre studio with seating capacity of 200. But of late, the construction work of Tehzeeb Mahal is reportedly going on at a snail’s pace.

Under the supervision of JK Police Housing Corp, the construction of Rs 66.64 crores SPS Museum started in Feb 2007 with the then Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad personally monitoring its work. The building came up in a record six months with triple shifts of work and finally Azad laid its foundation stone on March 20, 2008. He had set 18 months deadline to complete the building. But with Azad’s exit and Omar’s entry as chief minister, the state failed to meet the deadline even after half a decade has already passed.

The project is now expected to complete by mid-2014. The main building along with administrative block stands completed and 80 per cent interior designing has also been completed.

But SPS Museum isn’t only instance of its own kind. It was Oct 2010 when the state government started renovation of Srinagar’s Tagore Hall. The building suffered extensive damage due to 2005 earthquake and needed extensive renovation. Academy of Art Culture & Languages was given monitoring task while Jammu and Kashmir Projects Construction Corporation (JKPCC) was the executing agency. The estimated cost of project is Rs 12.46 crores. The project was expected to complete in Dec 2013. But the deadline was again missed.

But now the delayed renovation works have stalled theatre and other cultural activities in the Tagore Hall. “Only 50 per cent of the work has been completed till date,” informs an official associated with the project. Compared to Jammu which has Abhinav Theatre, General Zorawar Singh Auditorium and other small theatres; Srinagar has only Tagore Hall—the sole platform for artists to hold cultural activities, besides it was the first state-of-the-art theatre in Srinagar.

Faith

Many in the Srinagar believe that Omar led coalition government has defaced the heritage of sacred places in the name of renovation. “The day Omar Abdullah assumed the chair,” says Imran Wani, 27, a Kashmir University student, “he vowed to repair the Dargah Hazratbal shrine—which still awaits completion. Once there was embarrassment to the extent that the marble from the dome started to turtle down. The government, Wani says, is mostly visible in the city defacing the face-value of the shrines.

InfrastructureIn November 2010, the state government ordered the construction of Dastgeer Sahib Shrine at Khanyar at a cost of Rs 8.89 crores. Additional Rs 5.50 crores were sanctioned for the restoration of old gutted Dastgeer Sahib Shrine.

On January 30 this year, ahead of the annual Urs, the minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj System, Ali Muhammad Sagar threw the “reconstructed and renovated” Dastgeer Sahib Shrine open. The shrine was gutted in June 2012, but the work was completed within 14 months. Sagar according to city residents is believed to have firm faith in shrines. “He regularly pays visit to shrines in city,” says Inam Ahmad, a city resident.

At a stone’s throw from Dastgeer Sahib Shrine, the state spent Rs 4 crores for face lifting of old shrine at Khawaja Naqeshbad Sahib Shrine. The move, however, drew flak from general public: “The state has let loose itself to wipe out the heritage and traditional face of the city.”

On Dec 23 last year, the much-awaited cable car ropeway project of valley’s 16th century Makhdoom Sahib (RA) shrine on the foothills of Koh-e-Maran was thrown open. It is the second such facility in the valley after the ‘Gondola’ in Gulmarg. The 550 meter long ropeway was constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 6.50 crores. It has been designed to ferry 240 passengers per hour.

Water supply

Water is supplied to Srinagar from five major filtration plants with a cumulative capacity of 67 million gallons per day (MGD). But the quality of water remains the biggest challenge due to influx of tourists, migrant workers and others in the city. “To provide quality water, our team performs three tests of water daily—to ensure, the safe portable water to general masses,” says Shafat Ahmad Qadimi, executive engineer PHE Srinagar. He says anti-microbial agent like chlorine are frequently added to water for ensuring its quality.

The two more Filtration plants of 10 MGD each—Tangnar and Sukhnag, are being executed presently under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM). “Rs 148.37 crores Tangnar plant is expected to benefit 2.94 lakh people,” says Zahid Hussain, executive engineer PHE Soura. Its source is River Jhelum. “It is expected to be completed this year.”

Sukhnag water supply plant involves cost of about Rs 121.007 crores—and, it will also benefit 2.94 lakh souls till 2023, Hussain says. Its source is Sukhnag Nallah. It is also expected to get completed by this year.

“Today the huge task in front of us is to provide more and more water taps due to cropping of new colonies, influx of migrants and growing needs of the water by general public,” says Hussain. Current requirement for greater Srinagar which includes periphery parts of other districts stands at 48 MGD.

Upto 2038, the total requirement of water for greater Srinagar would be 140 MGD for the projected population of 36.8 lakh people as per figures available, Hussain says, “While in Jammu the demand would raise up to 474.61 MGD for the projected populace of 31.96 lakh till 2041.”

Drainage

In 2006, the mega drainage project worth Rs 350 crores was sanctioned for Srinagar. So far, the National Project Construction Corporation (NPCC)—the executing agency of the project, has completed only “one fourth” of the total project. “Out of four zones of the city, only one zone has got a drainage system and that too is incomplete,” says an official.

The main schemes like revival of Rawalpora-Tengpora drainage system under execution at Rs 72 crore has been completed with 90 per cent work finished. The Pohru-Chanapora drainage system at Rs 44 crores, Bemina Fruit Mandi drainage at Rs 25 Cr has also been completed.

On Feb this year, the minister for Urban Development and Urban Local Bodies, Nawang Rigzin Jora, while replying to a question by S. Dharambir Singh Oberio in the Legislative Council said that 13 new drainage projects are proposed to be taken up in Srinagar city during the next five years, at an estimated cost of Rs. 6607.39 lakh. However, the snow and rain continued to bring hardships for people as faulty drainage caused excessive water logging throughout the city.

Last Word

The elders seated on shop-fronts on that strike day termed Srinagar as an election trump card, where politicians thrive on boycott calls. “Srinagar becomes the first causality of law and order problem,” one of them said. Others nodded. “No developmental work is divorced from politics in Srinagar.”

If the chat on the shop-front has any substance and relevance, then authorities have indeed failed to keep Srinagar in a good humour.

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