But there is no reason for us to lose hope….
The recent weekend comment in this newspaper on March 1, 2014 titled “Making our urban space green” and another write-up by town planer Shafat Ahamad ( GK, 28 February 2014) titled “Vandalization of Srinagar Landscape” prompted me to write these lines.
Till seventies of the last century Srinagar city was known and appreciated for its scenic beauty, diverse plantation and greenery. The city limits and its vicinity with inimitable landscape was dominated by water bodies and vast green cover. However, with the arrival of so-called modernization the whole ecosystem and topographic structure of Srinagar and its surrounding area got badly disturbed. Modernization is not a curse but ill-advised and halfhearted development with a hidden agenda of fraud at back of your mind is what demonizes the concept of modernization. Premature democracy (that too flawed) ruined the age-old sacred concept of preserving nature and value our surroundings. During the last several decades Srinagar city along with other urban habitation has grown many folds but without any regard for environment, traditional architecture and proper planning particularly with respect to civic facilities. Imagine the plight of a city that had been bestowed with most beautiful environmental features by Almighty being under immense pressure from vandals, land grabbers and indifferent administration!
Till few decades ago Srinagar city was a unique urban unit with distinctive landscape features. Foothills of Zabarwan range, hillocks of Hariparbath and Shankaracharya; cluster of water bodies surrounding the old city; a beautiful vibrant river full of life along with several waterways passing the middle of the city; several gardens and vast green land within the city gave a singular look to Srinagar in the whole sub-continent. But now this city is struggling under the weight of ill-conceived modernization. Filling of Nallamar and erection of concrete structures of SKICC (Sheri Kashmir International Convention Centre) and Centaur Hotel in the Dal Lake along with vandalization of erstwhile polo ground and Goal Bagh is history now. Defacing once fashionable and charming ‘Bund’ along the bank of river Jhelum, squeezing of one-time beautiful and spacious Hazuri Bagh, and many such unwise ventures has robed this city of its charm and green lungs to breathe. The vandalized sight of erstwhile Naseem Bagh along with several other gardens stretching from Ashai bagh up to Habbak provides a pathetic look. These, once gardens of solace and orchards of heavenly fruits have been turned into big stinking slums. Almost all the gardens in Kashmir valley particularly within and on the outskirts of Srinagar city were laid by Mughals and are formal in design. These gardens are heritage gardens and are always referred to as study material while studying the art of garden designing. But these gardens are now inching towards death with every passing day due to negligence. To look after these gardens and other parks we have a full-fledged department of Garden Parks and Floriculture, but unfortunately this department has failed miserable in protecting Kashmir’s landscape legacy.
I firmly believe in the saying that ‘pessimism is a great sin’. So, even after much of vandalism I am yet optimistic about city of Srinagar particularly of its environment, ecosystem and landscape. A holistic, multi-pronged developmental approach with utmost sincerity can restore the landscape semblance of this historic city particularly its green cover. Instead of running the landscape division of public works department by hard-scapers (civil engineers) administration should seek assistance from professional landscape experts, qualified arboriculturists and agronomists. The lack of expertise within the R&B landscape division is visible almost at every place in the city. Plantation of extended photo-period loving plantation under the shady flyover at Jahangir Chowk (which died for want of sunlight after much of shoot system protraction) and narrow leaved avenue plantation with narrow stomatal openings along Maulana Azad road and other roads speak volumes about inexperience of our landscape management authorities. In Kashmir only two landscape assignments at SKIMS and area around indoor stadium that were shaped some three decades earlier can be termed as well conceived and properly designed projects possessing every feature of contemporary landscape designing with enough plantation suitable to climatic zone of Kashmir. Interestingly both these projects are informal in nature, a deviation from traditional formal landscaping (Mughal gardens) prevalent in Kashmir. Unfortunately, both these landscape areas are presently craving for proper maintenance!