On a foggy morning on December 4th, when night temperatures in Srinagar had plummeted to minus 3.4 degrees Celsius, Adil Ahmed, a labourer with Jammu and Kashmir-based Hassan Road Construction Company (HRCC) Ltd, was busy digging a road at Lal Chowk, the heart of Srinagar city. Ahmed, a resident of the Charar-e-Shareef area of Central Kashmir’s Budgam district had decided to stay back in Srinagar in winter to earn some extra bucks for his sister’s marriage slated for April next year.
“At present, I am part of a project under Srinagar Smart City in Lal Chowk area,” says Ahmed. There are 90 other labourers, all locals, working on different smart city projects in Srinagar despite the extreme cold weather conditions.
Srinagar is, in fact, set for a major makeover with the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) implementing Smart City projects worth Rs 1000 crores.
At present, Srinagar wears a chaotic look with bad traffic as men and machinery are busy digging roads almost everywhere in Lal Chowk and its adjoining areas including Residency Road, Moulana Azad Road, Hari Singh High Street (HSHS), Amira Kadal and Red Cross Road.
“I am going to stay in Srinagar till this project is completed,” said Ahmed Kumar, well protected against the cold wearing proper gloves and warm clothes.
Smart City highlights
This is the first time in nearly seven decades that Srinagar is getting a major developmental push. Work on all the projects is unfazed by the harsh weather.
The historic city’s Smart City projects include revamp of water bodies, a new boulevard alongside the famous Dal Lake (Boulevard is the name given to the road stretch from Dalgate to famous Mugal Garden Nishat), renovation of the city’s well-known historic Mughal gardens, Nishat, Shalimar, Harwan and Cheshmashahi, water transport, new and clean pathways, a modern traffic management system, power infrastructure, Wi-Fi zones, open gymnasium parks, multi-level parking lots, electric buses, smart bus stops and cycling tracks along the boulevard.
Plus, other important projects like improving drainage systems and sanitation. Every time it rains heavily in Srinagar, Lal Chowk and its adjoining areas get inundated within a few hours given that the existing drainage chokes and turns the city into a cesspool.
Abdul Aziz Mir, in his 70s, owns a grocery shop at Lal Chowk. He barely remembers when the drainage system was last repaired or constructed. “Perhaps it was in 1960 when the Lal Chowk drainage system was last repaired,” he says. “Today we are happy to see work going on to re-construct the drainage network in Lal Chowk. Though the ongoing work has caused huge inconvenience to shopkeepers and commuters, we have to cooperate as this is for our benefit.”
Shahid Ahmed, supervisor at HRCC Ltd, said that the drainage system in Lal Chowk is being constructed on modern lines. “Sockage pits are being designed in a way that one can easily take its lid off in case of blockage,” says Shahid Ahmed. “Filters will also be used in the drainage and the solid waste will be lifted through modern techniques at particular points”.
In April 2023, Srinagar’s Polo View Market, established in 1954 by former Prime Minister of J&K Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, will wear a brand new look.
Under the Smart City project, it will be a well-equipped, pedestrian-friendly market designed to engage tourists. A majority of the shopkeepers sell handicraft items including crewel (a loosely twisted wool yarn used for embroidery), pashmina, paper-maché, embroidery, wood art items, etc.
Ghulam Ahmed Wani, who owns a shop at Polo View, claims they are hopeful that the market will present a new look once the project is completed. “We are told that it will continue to remain a heritage market with new facilities.”
“Traffic will not be allowed on this stretch, instead, there will be kiosks, big screens displaying Kashmiri culture, cuisine, art and other things,” adds Wani. “At present our business is suffering but we are cooperating with the government with a hope that our business will get a big push once the project is completed.”
There will be an Open Air Gymnasium in parks, cycling tracks along the boulevard adjacent to the Dal Lake, smart bus stops with bus timings/passenger system, craft exhibition centre, painting of walls, introducing electric buses, real time water quality monitoring system, real time noise check system, multi-level car parking in Lal Chowk area of Srinagar at a cost of Rs 26 crores with the capacity of accommodating 480 four-wheelers vehicles and 130 two-wheelers, water transport in Dal lake and river Jehlum (as an alternate means of transport) and last but not the least, solid waste management on modern lines.
Abdur Rashid Patloo, a houseboat owner in Dal Lake, told Citizen Matters that the cycling track was actually the demand of foreign tourists. “We had apprised the previous government many a times but every time this project got delayed due to shortage of funds and political unrest in the valley,” he said.
“The work on cycling track is on in full-swing and once it is competed, tourists can enjoy a cycle-ride on the banks of Dal Lake in morning and evening hours. This is something we see in Europe and gulf countries.”
Hectic days for traffic police
The ongoing work has necessitated traffic diversions almost everywhere at Lal Chowk. Traffic police are working overtime to ensure smooth flow of traffic, despite construction work adding to their work, especially the digging of roads for drainage.
“The task is challenging and we have got more man power and are doing our best to manage traffic in Srinagar in the wake of ongoing developmental works,” said Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Traffic, Muzaffar Ahmed. “For instance, we have allowed two-way traffic on roads that were otherwise one-way.”
The smart city projects are a welcome change after the seven decades of neglect Srinagar has faced. “Srinagar is the face of Kashmir but unfortunately the city always became the victim of political apathy,” says young BJP leader and the party’s constituency in-charge for Lal Chowk, Er Aijaz Hussain.
“There was a need to take an initiative and we decided to take up all major developmental projects simultaneously,” adds Hussain. “The Centre is pumping huge funds to give Srinagar a major facelift. These ongoing projects have multiple benefits— for city residents, tourists, commuters, street vendors etc. I am personally monitoring all projects and giving my suggestions to the officials concerned”.
Junaid Azim Matoo, mayor and head of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), which is the implementing and monitoring agency of Smart City projects said that Srinagar today is witnessing a massive change on developmental front.
“Development projects worth almost Rs 1000 crores are underway and It is for the first time that work on all these projects are going on round the clock,” says Matoo. The SMC has outsourced the work to constructing agencies to ensure timely completion of projects.
He confirms that a state-of-the art Plaza will come up around the clock tower (Ghanta Ghar) area.
“We have requested the construction agency to display a flex to show what exactly is coming up at the site,” says Matoo, adding that the deadline for the project is March 2023.
“Every such project brings inconvenience to the people but there is no alternative to it,” adds Matoo. “The good thing is that people are cooperating as all this is for their convenience.
“These projects will also generate local employment. All employees are locals which is a good thing.”
Similar Smart City projects are simultaneoursly going on in Jammu city, which is being implemented by the Jammu Municipal Corporation.