The residential areas of Srinagar city are fast turning into commercial jungles. Once considered as posh colonies, localities like Raj Bagh, Wazir Bagh, Karan Nagar, Jawahar Nagar and Bishember Nagar have witnessed mushroom growth of shops, corporate offices, hotels and other commercial establishments. Some people for whom living in these areas was a status symbol in the past are now most keen to relocate to more peaceful places.
A casual tour through the residential colonies of the city is enough to feel and realize the chaos it is descending into. The residential areas have undergone haphazard conversion into commercial ones both with and without official consent. With rampant violations of Master Plan, residential localities have turned into claustrophobic and noisy market places. With more and more people building new structures or converting existing ones for commercial purposes, the privacy of their hapless neighbours is severely compromised. Many residents are forced to flee their homes in search of peaceful neighbourhoods.
The malls, hotels and other commercial buildings are without proper parking lots. This results in chronic traffic problems on the streets. As footpaths become parking lots and the traffic capacity of roads is significantly reduced, it results in congestion, air and noise pollution. Water and power supply in such areas also gets severely affected. From sanitation point of view, the existing sewerage or garbage disposal facilities do not support additional activities in residential areas and that is why their sewage drains often get clogged.
The insatiable materialistic desires of a section of society means there is no end to its commercialization instincts. Those who initially resisted commercialization feel crammed in from all sides and eventually sell off their houses to commercial interests. With the tranquillity lost, they are left with no option but to move out.
We need to understand root causes of the messy commercialization. In Kashmir, like many other things, it all boils down to lack of enforcement. Inadequate implementation of Master Plan is most certainly a major cause for mushrooming of commercial activities in the city. The government has failed to regulate commercial development which encourages unplanned commercialization. It also has severe impact on environment.
In today’s fast paced world, we all crave for calm and quite surroundings. For this we need more open and preferably green spaces. However, rapid urbanization is taking up every little space we are left with. Unfortunately, we prefer concretization of the city over greenery.
Given the frightening pace of commercialization, there is no room for complacency. We need to get down to work as soon as possible and stop the conversion of residential areas. There is a dire need for collective efforts to stem the city’s further descent into chaos.
There is a need for formulation of environment friendly commercialization policy, capable of meeting the demand for commercial uses without affecting people’s lives in residential areas. Conversion of residential plots into commercial ones should be strictly regulated and revised from time to time. Infact, separate zones need to be clearly demarcated for commercial, leisure and residential purposes. The long-term plans must also be adequately supplemented by medium and short-term plans which should be regularly reviewed.
Further commercialization in the belts already declared for this purpose should only be allowed keeping in view the increased traffic load and parking needs. To keep a check on commercial activity in residential areas, broad guidelines like road width should be strictly enforced.
The residents cannot expect government to come to their rescue all the time. Srinagar is not the only city battling the conversion of residential into commercial zones. But unlike our passive approach there have been efforts from people in other cities to check the dangerous trend. In 2012, concerted efforts by resident welfare associations in Bangalore secured orders from Karnataka high court barring fresh construction of non-residential nature in residential areas.
There is a need for a strong civil society initiative in this respect. We can learn from the experiences and success of groups like Citizen Action Forum (CAF) of Bangalore which spearheaded the legal battle against commercialization in residential areas.