In 2010, Srinagar earned the ignominious distinction of being the fourth dirtiest city in India, according to the national sanitation ratings by the union urban development ministry. The survey raised a question mark on the functioning of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, which spends lakhs of rupees on sanitation annually. The city scored a mere 19.1 on a scale of 100 in the National Rating and Award Scheme for Sanitation for Indian Cities. Srinagar figured in the Red zone, just above three little-known cities figuring at the bottom – Pilbit (UP), Lakhanpur (UP) and Churu (Rajasthan). Then came a surprise ranking of Srinagar as India’s ninth cleanest city by the leading Indian magazine India Today. Though the then NC-led state government was quick to trumpet the tag as an achievement for its rule, fewer people in Kashmir thought the ranking reflected the ground reality. The ranking came fresh from the devastating September deluge leaving in its wake the debris of the collapsed houses and the endemic dirt and filth which belied the India Today survey. The truth is, in fact, the opposite and has been so for the past more than two decades.
The time when Srinagar was verdant and green with a lot of open spaces and gardens is long past. And the responsibility falls on all of us, with government institutions charged with the upkeep of the city as the chief culprits, one among them being the Srinagar Municipality. However, our institutional neglect of the need for administrative efficiency and the planned development isn’t limited to Srinagar. The response to the Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan is a classic case of how seriously we take the sanitation and cleanliness of not only our city but also of the Valley as a whole. Shockingly enough, J&K did not use about 96 per cent of the money granted by Delhi for the sanitation programme for 2014-15, using Rs.4.66 crore of Rs.121.52 crore.
According to the Baseline Survey 2012 of the union ministry of drinking water and sanitation, J&K is ranked third, behind Odisha and Bihar, the worst performing states. Official data since 2010 shows the state never completed its annual objectives in construction of household toilets. The best it did over the past five years was in 2010, when it fulfilled about 60 percent of its objective. But if any place in the state has faced the worst neglect it is the Srinagar, a city which has historically been the locus of the west’s idea of an idyllic destination. But the government agencies charged to protect its beauty have connived with its systematic vandalization The head-spinning pace of the construction in the city has left the regulation far behind. Which means we are fast losing this once fabled city of orchards, an inspiration for the travelers – emperors, poets, Sufis etc for centuries. And this all happens under the nose of the J&K government and which following in the steps of its predecessors makes do with an operatic show of concern rather than actually getting down and dirty to make some redeeming difference. There is an urgent need to salvage a part of the massive damage we have inflicted on the city. And to start with, the government should atleast ensure that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan is fully implemented in Srinagar. This is all the more needed following the ravaging impact of the floods in the city.
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