Vertical expansion in urban housing, particularly in a city like Srinagar is, at best, a distress measure speaking volumes about decades of no long-term planning or policy and implementation. The government’s decision to construct multi-storied housing complexes may give it an air of being in tune with the times and aware of the immense pressure on land, but does little to inspire confidence in the planners’ ability to frame a comprehensive strategy for avoiding urban catastrophe.
City growth cannot be delinked from economic factors, social mores, immigration, natural growth of populations, and lack of basic amenities in outlying areas, parameters on which successive governments have neither had the time nor the inclination to apply their minds. The result is that Srinagar today is a city of 1.4 million inhabitants, and projected to boast around 2 million souls by 2020.
A government that could be clueless about scores of illegal commercial complexes coming up right beneath its nose in the heart of the city cannot be expected to address itself to complex issues like stemming the flood of migration from outlying districts. In the absence of holistic policies on economic activities (or livelihoods) and basic amenities in rural areas, which also put pressure on cities, it is only natural that Srinagar too is well on its way to replicate other crowded, congested, ugly and filthy cities in India.
Over a decade has passed since purportedly-civilian rule began to reassert in the state, and yet the only result seen on such fronts are measures best described by the Kashmiri phrase naar vizi krooor khanun – (for example, the administration thinks of parking lots only when the number of vehicles being permitted has far exceeded the capacity of the roads to handle).
There really is not much that political leaderships, and present and future governments, can do to rationalize, moderate and regulate urbanization in Kashmir. They can only be witnesses to how short-term measures and knee-jerk responses speed the city further to its destiny of decay.