Clueless outsiders bewitched by picture-postcard depictions of Kashmir on state government brochures need to be disabused of the fantasies they must certainly weave about a dream holiday in the Paradise On Earth. If Dr. Farooq Abdullahs enticements by liquor and cinema have not yet heightened expectations of climactic moments in houseboats, or the valleys supposedly pristine countryside, it is only fair to remind gullible tourists spending hard-earned money to visit the valley that the highly-touted Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonamarg and what-have-you will welcome them with exact replicas of the urban squalor typified by Srinagar itself. There is no guarantee that the other tourist spots now being brought on the tourist map will not eventually meet the same fate.
Since winter has torn off natures veil from the misdeeds of Kashmirs rulers, and denuded trees have laid bare the reality of the capital of earthly paradise, a traveller would be well advised to insist on a hike up the Shankaracharya hillock Kashmirs Koh-e-Sulaiman or even the Hari Parbat Kashmirs Koh-e-Maraan for an on-the-spot judgement of the claims made by the state government. He or she may then write to Dr. Abdullah that his recommendation of opening liquor and cinemas is perhaps the most apt prescription to boost tourism in Kashmir. Travellers, particularly to Srinagar, will certainly need a stiff drink after savouring the citys charms, and require to lose themselves in Bollywood which specializes in show-casing urban and rural Europe to make up for the urban and rural disaster at home.
It is a wonder that no leader of the ruling class has ever been struck by the progressive decay gripping Srinagar for decades in the total absence of an overall blueprint and vision of how the city should develop and spread. There appears to be no code governing new construction, either in the already congested parts of the city which is most of it or in the so-called residential colonies spreading and springing up like a rash. The plethora of government departments, including the top heavy Srinagar Municipal Corporation, plays no role whatsoever in defining a philosophy of development, and guiding people in adhering to it. In the absence of a central authority that would have defined the form and content of construction in the city, and enforced the code, Srinagar has turned into an architectural nightmare, with neither rhyme nor reason in the monstrosities that go for its buildings. The rare tracts that began as planned projects have gone down the decrepit lane as even the purely residential areas have turned into a commercial cacophony.
Successive governments in the state have totally relinquished control over the use of land for construction, resulting in the mushrooming of unplanned colonies that at best resemble squalid slums with no planned layout, narrow, winding alleyways for roads, and residential buildings that have been put up without any architectural merit. This systematic defacing of the city landscape has taken place when every building in the municipal limits requires permission, an exercise now exclusively serving as a money-minting machine for the officials concerned. For the years the city municipality has functioned as a corporation with a full complement of expensively elected and maintained corporators, it has not made a single mention of the awry growth of Srinagar, but only served to multiply its ills by a blind adherence to past practices, mostly harmful. It has not even made a pretence at arresting the growth of ugliness in city architecture by putting its droves of engineers to some constructive use.
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