Srinagar, The “Smart” (-ing) City!
By Mohammad Ashraf
10 September, 2015
(Srinagar, the historical City of the Sun, instead of becoming a “Smart” City is smarting under the mess which its denizens have heaped on it!)
Government of India has been contemplating setting up of some “Smart” cities in different states. As usual Jammu and Srinagar are competing with each other to be nominated as “Smart” cities. It is debatable whether any of these deserves to be a “Smart” city? If viewed with an honest and objective mind, both the cities are smarting under a heavy burden of not only haphazard growth but total urban mismanagement.
Srinagar is probably one of the oldest cities in the world. The 2000 year old city is something one should have been proud of. Only few decades back Srinagar used to be the capital of “Paradise on Earth” but not now. Description of Srinagar especially its gardens, popular avenues, chinars, the Bund walkway, and the shimmering waters of Dal Lake given in some of the earlier travelogues seems like a dream. A dream now gone sour! It is not a proud moment for a Kashmiri when his capital city, probably one of the oldest in the world is rated as the 4th dirtiest city in India. To know the difference between the Srinagar of yester years and now, it is interesting to quote some extracts from some old travelogues of Europeans. Margaret Cotter Morison in her book “A lonely summer in Kashmir” written in 1904 says, “Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir and the only big town in the country, is a place full of life and picturesqueness, which captivates the visitor by its novelty and perpetually amuses him by the many quaint similarities to places seen before. With the polo-ground, tennis-courts, and smartly dressed ladies, one might think oneself in an ordinary Indian station; at the Residency garden-parties, where croquet is played on the softest of lawns, and strawberries and cream dispensed under cool spreading trees, any one would think himself at a country house in England; on the river above the town, where house-boats are crowded close together for over a mile, the sight recalls Henley a few days before the regatta; a row down the town where houses and temples line the banks, where gracefully carved wooden balconies overhang the water, where men and women loiter chattering on the steps, and half the population lives in boats, brings back faint memories of Venice.”
The descriptions of Srinagar seem out of this world. Where have these gone? Destroyed by the greed of the people and the apathy of the rulers! What does Srinagar of today look like? Mounds of stinking garbage strewn in every nook and corner. Dug up roads, overflowing drains, coverless manholes, and swarms of wild and vicious dogs prowling everywhere! The famous River Jhelum is like a sewer taking in sewerage from all the towns and villages on its banks. The view from the world renowned boulevard is more disheartening. One gets the stink of a dying water body. It is more so in hot weather. Lake is in its last throes of death. So far no one has been really able to arrest its further deterioration. The reasons for these disasters are many. The first is the edifice of corruption on which the state runs. The departments concerned with the maintenance of the character of the city and keeping it clean are doing just the opposite. There is absolutely no accountability. There is a free for all prevalent everywhere. One department is paving the roads and the other one is digging these up! There is no co-ordination. The only thing that makes things move is underhand money. Municipal Corporation, Urban Development Department, Public Health Engineering, Power Department, and so on ensure the upkeep of the VVIP and VIP areas. All civic facilities are to be provided here on top priority. Rest does not matter.
What is “Smart City”? The Times of India carried a story describing the concept of the “Smart City”. “A city equipped with basic infrastructure to give a decent quality of life, a clean and sustainable environment through application of some smart solutions. Assured water and electricity supply, sanitation and solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport, robust IT connectivity, e-governance and citizen participation, safety and security of citizens. Public information, grievance redressal, electronic service delivery, citizens’ engagement, waste to energy & fuel, waste to compost, 100% treatment of waste water, smart meters & management, monitoring water quality, renewable source of energy, efficient energy and green building, smart parking, intelligent traffic management system”. 100 cities had to be selected for making these “Smart Cities”. Where do Srinagar and Jammu stand? Every state will have only one “Smart City”. In our case, the first tussle will be between the twin capitals.
It will be a big boon if Srinagar is selected as one of the Cities. However, before one goes ahead, we will have to convert our people into “Smart People”. But before converting, the authorities will need to overhaul all the people and become them accountable. Not only the common people but all our administrators and managers. So let the concept of “Smart Cities” be modified to include the conversion of the city dwellers into “Smart People”. Otherwise, Srinagar instead of becoming a “Smart City” will continue to smart under the misdeeds of its managers, administrators and the people living there in.
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir
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