Belying all those beautiful picture postcards, the real picture presented by Srinagar city these days is that of a hot, dusty and heavily overcrowded mess. This in spite of the fact that it has expanded far beyond the original city limits in terms of area. So much so that the city borders are being redrawn to include much of what was previously rural area. This expansion however has not only encroached upon agriculturally productive land but being wholly unplanned and haphazard has most of the time been more of a problem rather than a solution. In any case it has done little to offset the problem of overcrowding.
Population has seen an exponential rise in modern times, and Srinagar city is no exception. There has been a steady migration of people from the rural areas to the city because, the tall claims of the authorities notwithstanding, even today the very basic amenities of life are missing in our villages. Not that there have been any great strides in the urban sector, but given the primitiveness and hardships of village life, rural people find the city a better option any time. This migration has seen a sharp rise in the last couple of decades because rural areas have had to face the brunt of the turmoil the Valley has been going through.
There is yet another factor that has put further strain on the already overburdened city. In recent times tradesmen and labourers from outside the state have been flocking to the Valley in unchecked profusion. For these workers from outside, the Valley is indeed a ‘paradise on earth,’ with its cool climes, abundant work and considerably higher wages than in the rest of the country. Following closely on the heels of these workers, an increasing number of beggars have been swarming the city, again finding both the local climate as well as local charity quite conducive. Slums which were unknown here are now cropping up everywhere.
Then there is the holy cow of tourism. Kashmir is increasingly being promoted as the ultimate tourist destination. Authorities have been leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to pump tourists into the region. This is being done ostensibly for the economic uplift of the Valley, but the fact remains that it is more of a political exercise, the number of tourists being paraded as statistical proof of peace, prosperity and ‘integration.’ The pilgrim tourism aspect being increasingly highlighted has been attracting even more crowds. To even suggest that a check on the number of tourists, both pilgrim and otherwise, is necessary to safeguard the region’s environment and natural beauty is considered sacrilegious and ‘anti national.’
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of private-owned vehicles, encouraged more than anything else by the easily available finance schemes. An additional factor for this increased number of private vehicles is that the authorities have completely failed to provide a worthwhile public transport system. Forget about metros and underground trains, even the previously-existing public transport systems have completely collapsed. The potential of the natural as well as man-made waterways of the city, which provided an important means of transportation of men and materials in the past, has never been even considered. These waterways are in most cases breathing their last anyway. Roads, except for a very few exceptions, continue be the same in size and condition. With fleets of official cars and long security convoys, and, in the tourist season, huge buses and other vehicles ferrying tourists, adding to the profusion of privately-owned vehicles, it is not surprising that traffic jams have become routine, frustrating even the most innovative measures taken by the harried traffic police. The hustle and bustle of the city has turned into a demented frenzy of honking vehicles, frustrated drivers and irate commuters.
It is a fact that lawlessness in the recent years has led to unbridled construction and encroachment of public spaces. And like everything else, the ‘turmoil’ has been and continues to be used as a shield for the authorities’ apathy and inefficiency. Development has been a much talked about issue in the last few years and many achievements have been claimed on this front, but the fact remains that for the most part, development has been a patchwork affair with more of a cosmetic rather than a real aspect. Authorities have miserably failed to enhance the existing infrastructure to keep pace with the growing demands on the Srinagar city, and there do not seem to be any coherent future plans either.