First make Srinagar liveable then let it graduate to smartness
Like any other city, Srinagar —the largest city and the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir— is growing in terms of its population, housing, traffic and so on, with each passing day.
The exponential growth, over the years, has resulted in several problems facing the people here. The problems include overcrowding, traffic congestion, shortage of drinking water, erratic power supply, inadequate sanitation facilities, failing sewerage systems, inadequate waste management, increasing pollution, so on and so forth.
The governments, that be, have failed miserably to chalk out the policies to tackle these problems resulting into the situations that make the populace to suffer.
For example, rains cause water-logging in most of the city areas flooding roads, lanes and by lanes. This problem is a chronic one as the city lacks the proper and required drainage and sewerage systems. In a recent workshop on ‘Sewerage and Drainage issues of Srinagar’, held in Srinagar, officials revealed that Srinagar has only 650 km extended drainage system, meant to drain out storm water and sewage, which is 1000 km short of the actual requirement.
Similarly, in snow seasons the administration fails to clear the snow-clad roads, link roads, lanes, and by lanes. Last winter, Mayor, Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) Junaid Azim Mattoo was honest enough to acknowledge the fact that the administration lacks resources in terms of snow-clearing machines to tackle the problem. He said that the city had a motorable lane network of more than 1,800 kilometers, which could not be cleared without snow clearance machines. “The SMC GIS team had measured the total lane network in Srinagar as 2,111.88 km of which 1773.34895 km accounting for ninety percent were motorable while the remaining lane length of 338.54995 km was non-motorable,” Mattoo wrote on his official Twitter handler.
Apart from these problems, Srinagar — which, a decade ago, registered its population as more than 1.2 million (2011 census) — also faces electricity and drinking water shortage causing immense hardships to the people.
In given circumstances, the authorities every now and then claim that they are making efforts to reduce the hardships of the populace. And truly, the government has several plans and projects in hand, which if executed and implemented properly and in a time-bound manner could change the scenario of the city.
The Smart City project is the most ambitious of them. This project as a part of Smart City Mission was launched by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) Gol in which 100 cities were to be selected for “Urban renewal and retrofitting with the objective to promote cities that provide core infrastructure, give a decent quality of life to their citizens, and apply smart solutions to improve services and infrastructure”.
The Srinagar Smart Project comprises two parts; Area Based Development and Pan City Solutions, which was approved in April 2017. Experts say that the project has the potential to sort out most of the problems faced by the people in Srinagar. However, they are skeptical about the implementation part of the project because of its slow progress.
To understand the issues related to urbanization in Srinagar and the prospect of government projects including the Smart City project, Kashmir Images spoke to several experts and concerned people.
As for as the Srinagar Smart City Project is concerned, it can be classified into three parts: complete projects, projects under construction, and those that will be taken up in the near future.
So far, 23 development projects under this programme have been completed and work is continuing on 21 projects. Projects that have been completed include the preservation of Khanqah-E-Naqashband (shrine), Khanqah-E-Maulla (shrine), Imam Bargah-Hussain Abad, Raghunath Temple; renovation of some historical markets, areas around the Jehlum River; construction of bicycle lanes along the bund, smart classrooms in some schools; up-gradation of some health centres, fire services; improvement of the road along the Jehlum; creation of sports infrastructure in three stadiums and some schools and so on.
As for ongoing projects, there are 21 projects currently under construction at Smart City Project. These include the Multi-level parking near Lal Chowk, Vender Zone near Khalsa School, development of green areas under flyovers, Integrated Command & Control Centre (ICCC), and so on and so forth.
All these projects are running under a fixed schedule and we will also start a double shift work on some of these projects.
Work on several of the 98 total projects will also begin soon. We just added some of the new projects to Smart City last week. Some of these newly added projects are Food Court near Vending Zone, Smart Toilets, Free Plantation Activities, Fibber Optic Network in the city, Water Transport System, and many more things.
As the smart city project is an umbrella project of so many developmental projects, with time we will see a massive change in terms of overall development in Srinagar. One must understand that the overall project of a smart city is an ongoing project. It is like a company and that is why it is called Smart City Limited. There are three types of projects: Equity projects, Conversion projects and Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects. For equity projects, money will flow from Smart City Limited, various departments will convert funds for Conversion projects, and PPP projects will be managed by Smart City and Private contributions. And it will be a continuous process.
Presently, we are focusing on projects that are necessary. Important projects will be addressed on a priority basis. As long as this process continues, problems will be reduced. Apart from that, we will also tackle some projects that require massive infrastructure development. For example, the sewerage system is to be fixed and that requires huge infrastructure and will be time consuming. We have prepared a master plan for that. Traffic management and other things will also be taken care of. I assure you that the entire development process in Srinagar is going in the right direction and at the right pace.
Smart City project is a well conceived ambitious project by its very structure. However, we lack sufficient technical and managerial capacity required for its proper implementation. The progress, for example, in its implementation is slow because it did not have proper staffing in place until the recent past. Also, the CEOs have been transferred frequently.
The lack of expertise is another obstruction. For instance, the preservation of heritage is one of the major components of this project, but we do not have the proper in-house expertise to work in this direction. One feels bad to see we have not been able to implement the scheme the way it was supposed to be.
The lack of expertise results in the loss of purpose. Take, for example, the pathway of Boulevard road. It was rebuilt under the smart city scheme. However, the tiles on the footpath were laid in a way that the pedestrian walkway width got reduced. They tried carving out a design while laying the tiles, but in the process, we lost the surface area of the pathway. This is a minor example but helps to understand what happens when there is a lack of expertise required in the developmental projects.
To conclude, let me say it again that the Smart City project is an ambitious project and we must understand that it is basically an investment project, not a public expenditure project. It essentially requires technical capacity and sufficient expertise for its proper implementation. I think involving people in terms of getting their advice and suggestions about the implementation part of the project are of utmost importance. Unfortunately, this project has been bureaucratized, whereas it needs to be democratized. There is hardly any public engagement or an interface that could evolve a support mechanism for running the components of the projects.
It is sad to see the pathetic condition of Srinagar city, especially Shahar-e-Khaas. Come rainy season, lanes and by-lanes of the residential areas here resemble the canals. At some places in the city, the filthy sewerage water enters into the lawns and corridors of the houses, causing immense suffering to the residents.
In the uptown, places like City Center Lal Chowk and adjacent areas drown under the rainwater, creating a flood-like situation in just an hour-long rainfall.
Look at the roads and link roads of Srinagar city, and you will find traffic jams everywhere. That is because road-widening plans are not implemented.
Also, people in several areas of Srinagar are facing an acute shortage of drinking water and power supply. If those who have been at the helm in Jammu and Kashmir over the years had taken care of the civic issues here, we would have not been facing these problems.
In this scenario, when I hear about the Smart City projects, I feel that the people are being befooled on the name of this much-hyped project. What is the fun of coloring a building which is shattered from bottom to top? We, in Srinagar, need the basic facilities first. We need proper roads, water supply, electricity, proper mobility facilities, school buildings, and so on.
After having these basic necessities, it will be good to see the city getting converted into a smart one. I don’t understand if they have so much money, that they want to build a Smart City in Srinagar, why don’t they first provide the people basic facilities. I think the talk of a smart city is an eyewash to divert attention from the lack of basic civic facilities.
A smart city is essentially an urban area that uses machine and system-driven solutions to improve the living standards of its citizens. In a smart city, everything — be it the management of traffic, waste, drinking water, mobility, health care, education, and so on — is digitally managed, delivered and monitored.
In cities in Europe, for example, water usage is gauged by smart meters and then water management plans for the future are also chalked out accordingly.
Similarly, citizens in these cities are provided with smart cards to use for mobility. People recharge these cards and then use them to travel in buses, trains, and metros, etc. A digital-driven mechanism is also used in the education and health sectors in these cities.
We definitely will love to have our city upgraded to a smart one. Firstly, it improves the standard of living; and secondly, because the development of an urban area is imperative for the overall development of the region, it is a proven fact everywhere in the world that urban centers drive the economy. The engine of the economy is always at the urban centers.
In this backdrop, everything announced about the Srinagar smart city by the government deserves to be welcomed. However, it requires two things: The resources and the time-based implementation of projects. We cannot build a smart city in Srinagar, the way we have been building core infrastructure. Take for example the process of building the Rambagh flyover here. It took us almost a decade to complete this project. Therefore, all the developmental projects related to the smart city must be time-driven. So far, we do not see these projects being built under a timeline resulting in cost overruns and loss of utility.
As far as the resources are concerned, neither the authorities are able to tell us that where the funds for the smart city project would come from, nor did the recently announced budget come with an enhancement for urban planning. The fact is that our budget lacks the funds for the requirements of even a normal city. Take the example of traffic management in Srinagar city. We have around 3.5 lakh vehicles running on the roads every day here and we see traffic choking on every nook and corner of the city. Are there any funds for improving urban mobility? Years ago, we were told that the metro is coming into the city. Where is it? Is there a deadline for the metro? What about the increasing load on our healthcare? Will we be in a position to cater to the increased healthcare demands 10 years from now?
Take another example of waste management. We produce 400 metric tons of waste every day in Srinagar to dump it at the Achin dumping site, which is filling and completing its capacity fast. Where would we take the waste after this site is filled? Look at the growing population of Srinagar. Ten years ago, there were around 12 lakh people living here in Srinagar and the population has been continuously growing. Keep this scenario in mind and then imagine the amount of electricity and drinking water which we would require in coming ten years. We are facing a scarcity of water in the city, even today. Even in city centers like Batamaloo and adjacent areas’ taps mostly run dry. People in these areas have installed hand pumps to tackle the shortage of water. How can you think of building a city at par with European cities, when we do not have even the basic necessities here? Let us first make Srinagar a normal city before converting it into a smart one. We must utilize whatever we have, to provide basic requirements in the city. We are yet to find a solution for getting rid of the stray dog menace. We are at a very primitive level of urbanization as has also been depicted in the all-India ranking of the liveability of cities. We are at the bottom of that list. I am of the firm opinion that the money which is required for developing a smart city is not available to us, simply because allocation and requirement do not match. Due to these reasons, I am skeptical about this much-hyped project of Srinagar Smart City.