In Kashmir it’s now hard to come across aesthetically pleasing and culturally or environmentally appropriate structures or buildings the government constructs. One of the first big buildings that came up after Dogra colonial rule is the seat of the government, the Secretariat in the summer capital Srinagar. It looks like an erstwhile Soviet building transplanted into a Himalayan town. Contrast it with the beautiful building on the left bank of Jhelum, the old secretariat built by the Dogras.
Similarly, the High Court building looks like huge containers brought in from some shipping yard. Again, the state Assembly building could be one that could exist anywhere but belong nowhere. Most buildings the state government constructed in Kashmir after 1947 are the same story. The weather and environment are considerations rarely ever paid any heed to, let alone local culture or architecture. Looking at the way successive governments construction projects are approved the single-most important consideration has been the cost, ignoring usability, efficiency and aesthetic altogether.
When government projects are conceived all relevant departments are asked to inform the design, cost efficiency, usability as well cultural and period statement a particular structure must make. But such is the mindless policy and the bureaucratic rigor the projects must past through that hardly ever aesthetic, history or culture finds any space in the approval process. So, when the new minister for public works demands of his own department not to build concrete monsters he is actually talking into a mirror.
In the recent past the only decent work by way of the government has been in terms of restoring old structures destroyed in incidents of fire, the shrine of Dastgeer Saheb and the Emporium building before that, thanks to INTACH which was mercifully allowed by the government to undertake the restoration after destruction of the monuments.
May be the minister needs to step away from the mirror, resist the temptation of blaming in the void about what actually his own department is responsible for and adopt an open policy framework which would let the best in the trade design public structures. Srinagar, the capital city is an ancient town. But when you go around the oldest part of it, it resembles a slum, and even the most discerning eye would find it hard to see signs of its past. Most of what preserved the city’s historicity, including its fresh water bodies was guzzled up by the thoughtless ‘developmental greed’ that successive governments have sought to derive longevity from. The basis of aesthetic must be local, the whole world can then inform it. Otherwise its mindless spending for ugly real estate.