The process and phenomenon of Urbanization is transpiring internationally and will continue at the same pace. But, we are confronted with a choice between planned and unplanned one. Planned urbanization entails a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach. As a matter of fact, Srinagar city is the largest urban entity in the entire Himalayan region in terms of population and constitutes the most urbanized district as well. The city, in the face of its physical threshold and constraints, is likely to extend and grow. In case this growth is not channelized and regulated , it is likely to encroach in the direction of an urban settlement pattern characterized by unorganized, unplanned mess and haphazardness.
The concept of the Smart city is contemporarily doing the rounds and is gaining momentum specifically in the name of Srinagar city. As it happens, “a ‘smart city’ is an urban region that is extremely advanced in terms of inclusive infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications, basic amenities and market viability”. It is a city where information technology is the chief infrastructure and the base for providing essential services to the residents viz. adequate water supply, assured electricity supply, sanitation, including solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, affordable housing, especially for the poor, robust IT connectivity and digitalisation, good governance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation, sustainable environment, safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children and the elderly, health and education. While analysing the same, we do not have a even quarter of these, and in terms of absolute proportion we don’t even have basic essential ratios prerequisite for any urban centre and especially a metropolis (Million plus city) like Srinagar.
According to the findings of a study, the population of Srinagar city by year 2021 would be crossing 18 lakh, when the city will utterly run out of space for new constructions and infrastructural development. According to the Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) official documents ―there are two cities in Srinagar, one is in official records and other is actually on the ground. The government‘s only step towards resolving the issue has been to proclaim the escalation of local area of Srinagar city from the current area of 417 km2 to 757 km2 in the Master Plan 2012-2032, and now Master Plan 2015-2035, currently under formulation. According to the urban planners/urbanists, SDA, authorised with not only framing Srinagar Master Plan but providing planned and affordable housing in the city, has completely botched in fulfilling the desired objective. During the past six decades of its existence SDA has developed a single housing Colony at Bemina, which unfortunately has turned out to be the biggest slum in Srinagar. Moreover, the SDA is presently almost non-operational as there are no viable projects in hand and the organization is snowed under by mismanagement, maladministration and ineptitude at various levels. The government too did not lag behind and it also constructed many official buildings in prohibited areas. The office of the Srinagar Development Authority (SDA), which is supposed to ensure planned implementation of development schemes for the city, was itself built on swampy land in the Bemina locality, which actually is meant to be a flood channel. Similarly, there are at least two dozen government offices, including Haj House, Housing and Urban Development Department, Town Planning Organisation, J&K State BOSE, State Institute of Education, DIET, a city hospital and Forensic Science Laboratory along with many offices that have come in this area, actually supposed and anticipated as a Flood channel.
The present mess including lack of adequate spatial and other amenities in most of the housing colonies and commercial centres in Srinagar is because of the failure of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and S.D.A. in enforcing even the minimum basic regulatory mechanisms while according building permissions. Srinagar city is already witnessing a huge shortage of houses. According to 2011 census figures, 43 percent of houses in Srinagar have two, three or more households. Three Lakh people are in need of relocation to ease congestion in the city. The Srinagar Master Plan (2012-2032) calls for making housing arrangements for 11 lakh additional people, and that requires 1,37,500 plots of land running into thousands of acres. Apropos to and in perspective of this scenario, urban planners opine that the Proposed Land use/Land cover Plan for Srinagar city by year 2032 as prepared by Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) is not in tune with urban needs vis-à-vis the future expansion and growth of the Srinagar city.
Ultimately, this (growth) is obviously going to be more of problem than solution. It is very pertinent and vibrant to everyone, not to talk of urban planners or policy makers that ‘No one is paying heed‘ to Master Plan (2012-2032). Each and every year, a new Srinagar City Master Plan is framed and put in the public domain, nevertheless none is implemented on ground, ( for instance, SCMP, 2012-2032, then SCMP, 2015-2035 and likewise). Categorically, zoning wasn’t adhered to in the past nor is at present. For that matter, we have commercial complexes in residential areas, educational institutes in commercial, residential areas in green belts and likewise. It is literally a mess everywhere with no exception from any locality within Srinagar city. The urban primacy analysis of Srinagar city suggests that impetus must be provided to generate newer growth centres and the existing ones must be revived. Proper investments in developmental sectors like infrastructure, education, occupation is needed, which will relieve existing pressure on Srinagar city. There is a need for protecting and revitalization of the natural quality of city core of Srinagar metropolis for economic efficiency including urban renewal and re-development, up-gradation of infrastructure, poverty reduction, employment creation, promotion of trade and related developmental activities.
The Town Planning Organisation, Kashmir (2011) in one of its reports highlighted that, housing problem in Srinagar city is of an acute type, as about 43 per cent houses in Srinagar have two, three and more households. About 5 lakh population of core area (downtown) live in 1114 hectares only which works out to 450 persons/hectare against the standard of 175 persons/hectare maximum for Metro cities. Thus, an area of 1114 hectares should have about 2 lakhs population maximum. Removal of congestion of 3 lakh population is the existing problem of housing shortage, which will need addition of 37,500 plots at 8 persons/plot against the existing 9.45 persons/house. Besides this there will be a continuous rise in the demand in future years to come, when the population of Srinagar city will be touching 2 Million souls by the year 2020 (as projected by author).
There is an urgent need to revise the Master Plan and enforce its implementation in letter and spirit. An Urban Housing Policy, with an impetus whereby inner city areas would systematically decrease in population, the middle areas remain almost static and the surrounding outer areas increase, is needed. A rational land use policy for the State in general and Srinagar city in particular is also recommended. Therefore, massive concerted efforts need to be made with best of administrative actions and deft political handling for the sake of our future generations.
—The Author is a Doctoral Scholar at Kashmir University and is working on “Urban Problems & Planning in Srinagar City”. He teaches at a school near Jamia Masjid, Srinagar and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org