Slums Swallow City’s Prized But Crumbling Heritage Site

Kalai, the heritage wall around Koh-e-Maran hillock in Srinagar is crumbling and slum dwellers, mostly non locals are fast taking it over. 

SRINAGAR: Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayed, made a whirlwind tour of Srinagar on Monday. The Chief Minister saw or was perhaps made to see all the ‘good’ things but missed seeing the reality of Srinagar which includes an insidious development: that of, illegal and unwanted cropping of slum dwellings in the summer Capital. Illegal dwellings of illegal squatters have mushroomed in Srinagar over the years particularly during the National Conference regime.

An example that illustrates the insidious trend is that of illegal settlements in and around the Kalai.

A survey done by’ Go GREEN’ an NGO based in Kashmir,  states that nearly 300 non local families reside around this area. The survey reports that these families have settled over there for past 30 years.

“The kalai is facing danger as most part of the wall has already collapsed due to lackadaisical approach shown by the authorities towards the monument and more importantly these non locals have put up their hutments over there which has also led to the damage of this wall. No one bothers here in Kashmir; they live here without any fear as authorities have given them a clear go,” said Altaf Ahmad Baba, a resident of Androon Kathi Darwaza.

“For the past 30 years they have settled over here and have become a part of the Kashmiri society which in actual they are not because of the Article 370 status given to the state of J&K. The government is not doing anything as it is a strong voting belt for these politicians,” said Mudasir Yaqoob, a computer teacher by profession residing on the other end of the Kalai near Bachi Darwaza Hawal.

As per the survey conducted by M/S IPE Global Private Limited in the year 2012 where it was reported that nearly 18,000 households are living in slums in the city of, which 80% people are from other states of India. The survey further indicated that over the past ten years the influx of these people has grown from 30% to 75%. The figures given in the report states that in the year 2011 to 2012 nearly 3 lakh rag pickers have come to the state and only 1 lakh, 83 thousand non locals have gone back to their respective states.

According to the Statistics Department of the state in the year 2013 and 2014 nearly 5 lakh non locals have come to the state and out of which 2 lakh and 46 thousand have made Kashmir their permanent abode.

Experts are of the view that there is no control over the flow of non-locals in the state and State government doesn’t want that there should be check of these people as there is a big nexus between them and the government. They want them to be in the state so that they can better utilize them for their own petty gains, like vote bank.

Dr Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, head of civil society group Kathi Darwaza said, “The influx of these non locals has tremendously increased from the last five years as state government is unable to check the flow of these people. As you go inside this area, one can easily navigate through these slum dwellers and they have made easy settlement over here. There is vote bank policy for these non locals which the government is very much utilizing without caring about the heritage sites of Kashmir.”

“As one can see, these people have inhabited whole monument and are having proper water and electricity connection which is understandable as the government wants them to settle here”, he lamented.

According to Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a well known poet and social worker, “There is a political mechanism working in Kashmir where these non locals are pumped here to settle down to have a vote bank for these politicians. The city’s essence has already been lost because of the political corruption persistent in Kashmir.”

“The question arises why the government is watching as a mute spectator over this issue is because for their gains they have made this city a dwelling for these non locals and secondly they don’t care about the heritage sites in Kashmir of which these non locals have made shelters for themselves. If one gazes over whole Srinagar they are everywhere,” said Dr. Manzoor Ahmad Bhat, a civil society activist.

A study has revealed that of the 4.75 Kilometre long Kalai, an estimated 800 meters are missing while some 700 meters are badly damaged. The structure is in disarray despite the fact that it was declared a ‘protected monument’ in 2010.

As per the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) norms, 100 meters of area around a monument has to be kept free of any structure. The Union Government is planning to double the radius of the restricted area. But for Srinagar, encroachments are so close to the Kalai that people residing “illegally” enjoy with their backs resting on the Mughal Wall.

Director of Archives and Archaeology, Mohammad Shafi Zahid says, “from last 30 years we are saying the same thing that Kalai is facing danger from these slum dwellers but unfortunately these people are staying there posing the dangers to the monument. In 2012, tourism department took the renovation work of the monument and later on Urban Development Department took a survey of the area and tried to rehabilitate these people, but they are still staying there, he gushed helplessly.

“The tail piece is that the successive governments have been utilizing these slum dwellers for their petty political ends and will not interfere in this matter,” says Prof Zahid Manzoor of Makhdoom Sahab.

As Chief Minister would be preparing to head for the winter capital, Jammu, this glaring issue stares the state and society of Kashmir in the face. Unattended it can only cause sorts of problems-social, economic, and political. As they say, ‘ a stitch in time saves nine’; it is about time that the state acts before the problem becomes unmanageable.

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