Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir was earlier known among the best cities of world has now turned out the dumping ground and is bereft of its all modern civic facilities. The city which crossed population over one million has extremely become a worst example among the cities in India owing to its inefficient governance, and ill planned developmental road map after becoming the den of corruption for majority of its public servants.
This crumbling city which otherwise substantially contributes to the tourism sector has not witnessed any renovation or change in its outlook for many decades. Thus the common people have been witnessing the worst of nightmares while living in it. In other words the negligence for over decades by successive regimes have made it almost non-liveable city.
Meanwhile, recently the Government of India in a daring move conducted the urban local body elections in state despite facing lots of criticism by the mainstream political parties who refused to participate. New Delhi aimed to hold the polls for the bodies to strengthen urban infrastructure and ensure the delivery of services committed to the dwellers of urban areas.
Srinagar city which also went through the polls got its two top slots filled with two young and educated leaders. Mayor Junaid Azam Mattoo and Deputy Mayor Sheikh Mohammad Imran are educated abroad having an inclusive vision of development of international standards and are committed to build up the infrastructural requirements of city in a short span of time. The work in this regard is already underway.
Asem Mohiuddin Editor, The Legitimate seized an opportunity to interact with Sheikh Imran to now his ideas and ways of taking city out of mess.
Encroachment and Vendors
I first asked him about my nightmare in the traffic jam when I headed to meet him at his office.
From my office to your office it is approximately 2 Kilometres distance. But it took me around fifty minutes to reach you. Isn’t it an indication that you have become a deputy mayor of a worst city in the world?
It pains, Sheikh Imran replies, when you say it is the worst city in the world in terms of infrastructure development and services but, undeniably this is our harsh reality. Now the time has come when we shall call off this mess and rebuild this city to revive it to its past glory to make it one among the best cities of India having fresh water lakes, serene environs, standard roads and footpaths, drinking water facilities, best transportation and all that what any common person desires to have in his city.
And it will not take so long, he continues, I am sure in next three months change on ground will be visible. We are working on a comprehensive proposal to ensure all stakeholders are on board and no one is affected. It is fact that when we build the infrastructure and clear the mess from roads and markets the economy of hundreds of people gets affected. But we are working on a proposal where none is affected and all are benefitted so that the city would thrive.
For example; before we start clearing the road encroachments and remove vendors we will notify places for them on pattern of Palika bazaar Delhi. So that their livelihood sustains alongside the city’s developmental needs. But again we will not touch every part of city instantly and we will make zones and segments and work on them one by one.
It may surprise you that Srinagar is the only city in the world where load carriers (407) have been redesigned to carry passengers. Who approved them to ply on roads is another question which is not our priority right now to know. To tackle with this issue we have devised an incentive wise scheme to clear this junk and replace with best possible transport. We will buy these outdated buses from the stakeholders and give around 30 per cent subsidy on new passenger buses. Rest of the finances will be provided by bank with our recommendations to these bus owners. This will not only help these transport owners to improve their economy; however the common people will also enjoy travel in world class transport system. But alongside we will make strict rules for the bus stops and drivers have to strictly follow the standard parameters like red line, blue line and yellow line. This will be done in next three months though the road infrastructure may take a year or so. I assure you that when you come to my office next time you will prefer public transport instead your own car and will reach in five minutes time.
An ordeal in receiving Permissions and certificates from SMC
There are 35 services to be provided by the SMC as per the law and we are in process of reclaiming them. We will decentralize the powers from the headquarter and death and birth certificates, permissions for buildings will be provided at ward level as no one shall be forced to visit SMC for such purposes. All the departments including PDD, PHE, UEED have to work as per the master plan devised by SMC strictly. PDD cannot erect poles wherever it wishes and make frequent obstructions on paths and roads. Similarly, R&B can’t macadamize roads first and later UEED will dig these roads to build the drainage system. They have to work in coordination or pay the damage they cause to the public property. Even I witnessed some influential people would object erecting poles or installing transformers outside their houses and later the concerned officials would do same outside the house of any person which is lesser influential. This has to go and we have come to deliver justice and equality among all.
Even the digitization of records, geo-mapping will be done now. We will imbibe the culture of transparency and accountability.
Shifting of Dal Dwellers
Our predecessors have committed blunders and we are bearing its burnt. When we had to shift 300 families form Dal lake we shifted just 50 families. And when we had to shift 600 families we shifted 50 and when we shifted 600 the population rose to 60000 so the population blast is imminent. Secondly we have dumped this population at other places instead to rehabilitate them. It is injustice when you shift the dwellers from Dal lake to Budgam. Instead we have hundreds of kanals of lands illegally occupied around Harwan area they could be shifted there. But I would not hold my predecessors accountable until I do my bit. We will question them for their failures only after we deliver and people accept the change in city. We have to work on many proposals alongside restoration of Dal Lake.
What is actually the roadmap?
You are right, it needs huge funding and detailed project reports. And we are absolutely working on that. In fact the already prepared master plan which is well consulted with the proper consultation of all stakeholders will be utilized. Moreover, SMC has no dearth of funding but its revenue generation has been overlooked and misused so far. We can earn upto Rs 1500 crores annually from advertising agencies who have been raising hoardings, boards and other stuff to advertise their products on public spaces. This all belongs to SMC and nobody is paying to us. Similarly, telecom authorities have erected towers without our permission and there is no revenue from them. Whenever they are asked they are moving to court to stay our orders. This is over now, they have to pay.
Similarly, we are also working with PDD department so that we can levy minimum charges to every household against our services along with electricity bill. This will also help us to generate over Rs 2000 crores annually. By virtue of other ways more revenues will come and annually SMC can generate upto Rs 6000 crores that are sufficient to run basic services.
Moreover, we also get funds under centrally sponsored schemes to build up infrastructure. We have no problems to count. But we have money, support from the government, passion and commitment personally to rebuild this city. So I will rebuild city first before I question my predecessors. If we perform we will thrive and if not we will perish.”
Companies and telecom authorities
I want all those companies who advertise on public spaces, telecom authorities who have not sought permission to come forward and seek the legal permission before we act.
Private School Authorities
Similarly, I also want the private school authorities who have built school buildings without permission to come and get the permission approved by us before we act under law against them.
Vendors and Shopkeepers
And all those vendors and shopkeepers who have illegally occupied public space must remove the encroachments themselves and don’t force us to deal with them in a way we don’t want.