1 lac people in Srinagar live in slums: Survey

Slum dwelling set to escalate by three fourths in a decade

SRINAGAR: The increasing number of slum dwellings in and around Srinagar city belies the tall claims made by the State government to transform Srinagar into a smart city and make city spaces more livable.

 According to a survey conducted by M/S IPE Global Private Limited in 2012, nearly 18,000 households are living in slums in Srinagar. The survey adds that 90,000 people in Srinagar live in slum like conditions. Broken down, this means that every 11th family in Srinagar lives in a slum with poor living conditions like primitive drinking and sanitation facilities.

 The city has undergone major changes in the land use pattern which has led to the expansion of residential colonies and illegal commercialization of land use. This trend does not have merely urban and social implications and consequences. Srinagar rated as the fourth dirtiest city in India, because of choked urban and city spaces squeezing its inhabitant’s poses a great threat to water bodies and heritage sites. As per the detailed inquiry report of 2009 on Master Plan violations/ deviations/encroachments in Srinagar, such violations have swollen unabated land use in Kashmir.  The authorities are and continue to remain remiss: No action has been taken against the violators. The enquiry report further states that about 95% structures have violated the land use either by raising illegal constructions or by conversion of agricultural land into other forms.

As per the documents of  Urban and Housing Development Ministry, Srinagar city has come up with more than 3 lac houses in and around the suburbs of the city in just three years time.  This has led to a flawed urban design defined by choked narrow lanes and unplanned expansion rate.

 Point out to this trend and highlighting the inequalities inherent to it, Raheem Wani Kralpori, a trader living in Bohrikadal , Srinagar said “The city has already moved from its municipal limits and is engulfing nearby villages and smaller towns. The rate of expansion is increasing day by day as people are building new houses but those who are unable to do it remain in dilapidated conditions.”

 The politico-economic and socio-economic fallout of this warped and flawed urban expansion has been poignantly illustrated by ‘GO GREEN’, an NGO- in the year 2014. The NGO conducted a study on ‘Srinagar city and its people’ and pointed out to higher rates of expansion and illegal use of land pattern. The study also reported that people living around peripheries of waterbodies are in more miserable conditions with poor sanitation and drinking water. Most of them live a marginal existence and eke out a subsistence living. The study further reports that with the growth of population, the number of slum dwellers is going  increase by three fourth in ten year’s time.

 In a vivid instance of government apathy and indifference, Ghulam Mohammad Dar, a resident of ‘Watal Colony’ which has come up over the years adjacent to heritage wall or Kalai near Hawal said “We are bound to live in these conditions as we are very poor and don’t have much money to buy land and build our own houses. I am living in the slum with my family for around 40 years and nobody from the government has ever come to us,” he said.

“The politicians come here only during election time and when elections are over, nobody even shows their face to us. About 300 hundred families reside in this shanty area. 

A non local woman,  Fatima Bano residing in the same area who had came from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan and  has married a local man Irshad Ahmed, a middle man by profession rued about their miserable plight. “My marriage has taken place 10 years before but the living conditions of our  family is not good. Nobody helps us, politicians come only when they need votes and finally when they come to power, they forget us like a horror dream”.

Abrar Ahmed, a teenager and a school dropout, living in Chountikul area near Dalgate, lamenting on the conditions and the plight of his  family stated, “Nearly 80 families reside around this area and most of us make a living  by scavenging. Our plight is definitely miserable as we are not even able to have two time meals for our family. I left school when I was in 5th standard as my father being very poor man could not pay school fees. To survive in these conditions, I have to work to keep my family going,” said

 Attributing the warped and flawed urbanization to corruption and political self interest, Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a well known social worker said, “There is absolute political corruption in Kashmir where every single government cashes in with people’s emotion. The flawed policies and unplanned decisions have made Srinagar a slum city. Government is talking about smart city but the ground realities are very different as our city which is known as share khaas has become a casuality of unplanned urbanization and bad governance”.

“Srinagar will be never a smart city unless government takes an initiative towards its people and their living conditions,” he further added.

Mohammad Farooq Shah, Assistant Director of JK Planning Department, laid the onus of blame on the Urban and Housing Development Department. He said, “We had already discussed the Master Plan violations with the department. We had sought details regarding the slum dwellers scattered in the peripheries of Srinagar and mostly in the downtown areas of the city.  Under this department, we put a planning proposal to the government which we normally called as Master Plans but the rest of the work is done under Urban and Housing Department”.

Regardless, the prosaic reality is that Srinagar city is fast turning into an urban agglomeration and an urban sprawl which has negative political, social, environmental and economic implications and consequences. But , alas, nobody seems to care about this ominous trend.

Frequent calls to the minister of Urban and Housing Development Mohammad Ashraf Mir, for soliciting information and further details remained unanswered.

Srinagar rated as the fourth dirtiest city in India, because of choked urban and city spaces squeezing its inhabitant’s poses a great threat to water bodies and heritage sites.

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