New Delhi/Sringar, Jan 27 : There is a peculiar nostalgia and romance in a place from the past. One interweaves happiness with the corner-chai store, the bustling bazaars, the narrow lanes with low handing cables, city-squares, shrines in eerie places, monuments, temples and mosques, the cries of the vegetable sellers, men of God asking for food, and the birds returning home after sundown - there is a certain tranquillity in a place from the past, the absence of which puts one in distress.
Srinagar has a distinct personality constantly metamorphosing through eons of social, cultural, political, and linguistic periods. It has its memory characterised through architecture, art, literature, and folklore. We see her as a living, breathing person that nurtures and provides for us as we grow, and gives us a sense of security and belongingness. And thence we must take up the responsibility to memorialize its history.
The Centre's project to turn Srinagar into a Smart City is progressing fast. To relieve the pressing needs of modern-day issues of overcrowding, transportation, inadequate infrastructure, medical and educational facilities, a comprehensive plan has been laid out. This mission is a brainchild of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India.
The Ministry defines smart city as a city "which is liveable, sustainable and has a thriving economy offering multiple opportunities to its people to pursue their diverse interest." The project comprises of two parts: (a) Area Based Development with an estimated amount of Rs 2870 crore and (b) Pan city Solutions with an estimated cost of Rs 765 crore. Srinagar Smart City Limited has been established to transform Srinagar "into an eco-friendly, resilient and socio-economically vibrant city that celebrates its natural and cultural heritage creating harmony and opportunities for all." The programme aims -- Efficient land use; inclusive housing facility to all; improving roads and pathways to organise transport and public movement; preserving and developing open spaces like parks and gardens; cost effective and citizen friendly governance with online transparency, easy accessibility and digitisation; and giving identity to the city by promoting its local art, craft and culture.
Srinagar city's proposal to the Ministry of Urban Development focused on improvement in the inadequate transport system which could be improved by developing inland waterway transportation. It also emphasised on the need to restore and maintain the graveyard of monuments and historical buildings of the city. The historical sites today are sleeping in neglect and efforts are being taken to revive them while upholding their historical essence.
As Srinagar falls in Seismic Zone-V its traditional architecture of timber interlaced with masonry was in tune with the climate and seismology of the region. The Jalali House built by Agha Syed Safdar Jalali in 1863 is an example of such long lasting construction and proof of vernacular architecture.
But today there is no escaping from skyscrapers which project the 21st century human ambitions. However one must agree that their omnipresence gives a mechanical feeling that kills the soul of the city. But as citizens we can rewrite the story by raising structures in line with the present environment and by not constructing monotonous towers. The Ministry of Urban Development impresses that the Smart City Mission requires smart people who actively participate in governance and reforms, and this is our opportunity.
Old structures allow the mind to wander, to think of the wars won and lost, the empires raised and perished, the people who walked the streets. The cities built on our ancestors' pride feel so much more complete with them. The historic character of Srinagar must not fall victim to economic gain. If cities are considered epicentres of human achievement, shown through the phallic symbols of modern architecture, we should question progress and growth if it means losing the essence of how we got there in the first place.
Srinagar has lived a diverse and vibrant history ranging from the Mauryan Empire to Kushanas, to Mughals, Sikhs and Dogra rule. In downtown areas you can spot pagoda-like roofs, listen to the Friday sermons, visit the Borhi Kadal, Zaina Kadal and Mahraj Gunj, named after the Maharajas that ruled Kashmir from 1846 to 1947. These bazaars offered special varieties of dried vegetables, dried fish, and herbs for the ill. These areas represent the microcosm of Kashmiri culture, social, economic, and spiritual identity. The Maharaj Gunj established by Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1864, the main hub of economic activities till partition must be revived. Other symbols of the ancient days like Lal Chowk's Clock Tower should be made functional again. Local historians say it was named after Lenin seized power in Moscow in 1917.
Srinagar is one of the oldest cities in the world with a history of 5,000 years. The city once known for its natural environment, gardens, waterfronts, house boats, lakes, wetlands and traditional Kashmiri handicrafts has lost its grandeur years back due to haphazard urban planning, unauthorized dwellings, and unabated encroachment on wetlands which have made it vulnerable to floods. Citizens must also step up to take responsibility. One such example is 'IHSAS' NGO who have successfully retrieved Gilser Lake to its original position.
The Downtown of Srinagar city having historical and archaeological significance was once under strong consideration of UNESCO to declare it as a world heritage city. However, the UN body designated Srinagar as a part of its Creative Cities Network (UCCN) in 2021.
The Smart City project is now planning to raise the paradise lost from the dead. The project should cater to the modern needs without disturbing Srinagar's DNA that piques the curiosity of tourists. Srinagar must not lose glitter for gold. A harmonious relationship between the old and new environment will maintain physical fabric and socio-cultural aspects of the city. Its historic centres affirm its cultural, spiritual and symbolic dimensions where the roots of the city took shape, and the nature of the built environment, rich in past values adds to the daily experience of the dwellers. The Smart City structure is hopeful to achieve such a visual integration.