Constructions Turn Gulmarg Into Concrete Jungle10 November 2010
Gulmarg: A small hoarding in this famous tourist destination catches your attention as you have the first glimpse of the Gulmarg Bowl. It reads: “Pitching tents is prohibited in Gulmarg.” The shabby hoarding, on a roadside, makes you believe that the Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA), which has been entrusted with the job of safeguarding the tourist place, would be performing the task in an effective manner and protecting its environs to the best possible extent. But just some 400 to 500 meters away from the hoarding, there is something that amply demonstrates how Gulmarg has become the victim of official apathy and politics over the years. And if GDA is doing anything to the place, it is this: causing its death, rapidly. A ride in and around the Gulmarg Bowl raises one fundamental question as to whether the Gulmarg “Development” Authority is really “developing” the place, or we should not mince words to rename it as the “Gulmarg Destruction Authority.” One side of the Bowl, of late, appears like the old city area of Srinagar where massive concrete constructions have taken place and many of them are still in progress. “Gone are the days when laws would determine constructions in Gulmarg. Today it is money and influence that is ruling the roost here,” says Ghulam Ali, an educated local resident, pointing towards the giant structures that the private players have erected in the heart of Gulmarg. Most of the structures are under construction. “They are mostly hotels which are coming up amid pine trees,” said Sartaj, who runs a makeshift restaurant here, referring to structures on which the construction work is on. “Every day and night, trucks dump construction material in Gulmarg. Neither the GDA nor the Municipality officials have been able to curb the practice. That is why we have been saying that the officials are facilitating illegal constructions in Gulmarg.” Besides the private players, Army has also constructed structures in Gulmarg Bowl. Several buildings, mostly two to three storey and concrete, have come up in the past one or two years in Army’s High Altitude Warfare School. Some of the buildings are still under construction while a majority of them have been completed and painted. It is still not clear what for the buildings are, among which there is a three-storey school as well. “I don’t think anybody has asked Army why it was going for the massive constructions in Gulmarg,” Ghulam Ali said, referring to the GDA and Gulmarg Municipality officials, who were supposed to look into the issue. “Till the giant structures came up, nobody ever bothered to see if concrete constructions can be allowed in Gulmarg, which is known for its natural beauty. The forces could have spared Gulmarg Bowl and raised prefab structures somewhere else, if at all they required them. Concrete constructions in Gulmarg Bowl should not have been permitted.” Whether Army has sought permission for constructing the concrete buildings is not the prime concern for the stakeholders here. “That (permission) is for GDA to see. Our concern is the Gulmarg Bowl, which has lost its sheen due to these monstrous structures. Why should anyone come to Gulmarg to see buildings?” asked Sartaj. “Constructions have spoiled the beauty of this place. If you go around, you’d find scores of concrete structures have come up here. This place has been vandalized.” The question, according to the officials, is how the Jammu and Kashmir government has allowed concrete constructions in Gulmarg, notwithstanding the fragile environment here. “Whether Army or private players have erected the structures legally or illegally is a matter of investigation. The point is that these structures have spoiled the glory of Gulmarg, which can’t be compensated. Everyone associated with Gulmarg expects the state government to have a pro-environment policy, keeping in view the significance of this tourist destination. It is thronged by hundreds of foreign and local tourists throughout the year,” said a Forest Department official here, insisting not to be named. “Open fields and pine trees distinguish Gulmarg from Srinagar. But once there are only buildings around, why would a tourist bother to visit here. This would mean an end to skiing and ice-staking which take place here every year.” If officials are to be believed, it is the “local politics” and “official inaction” which are primarily responsible for Gulmarg vandalism. “You can directly blame the GDA, Police and Municipality for allowing unrestricted entry of construction material to Gulmarg to facilitate concrete constructions. But there is more to the issue,” said the Forest Department official. “The private players, who are undertaking constructions in Gulmarg, are all influential people, well-connected with the power corridors. Who will dare to put a halt on their projects?” he asked. Interestingly, new roads have been carved out to and from the spots where constructions are taking place. This has been done to facilitate easy transportation of construction material, which is seen in abundance in the Gulmarg Bowl. “There are some cases where GDA has given permission for minor renovations. But in the garb of that, structures are being extended,” said Sartaj. “Apart from influential people, there are some ordinary persons ruling and ruining Gulmarg. How is it possible for anyone to erect a structure if the laws don’t permit so? What about the environment? Isn’t its protection a matter of concern? This should give you an idea how politics is ruling the roost in Gulmarg and how much official involvement there is in all this.” Locals, who spoke to Greater Kashmir, demanded an impartial inquiry into the “construction mafia” in Gulmarg. “The GDA has recently ordered an inquiry into the constructions here. But how can it do it when it is a party to its vandalism?” said Shafiq, a student who resides at Bothpathri. “The state government must hold an impartial inquiry to see how and why the constructions took place when there is a full-fledged GDA, Municipality in Gulmarg. The violators must be punished just because we can’t afford to lose this place to constructions.” As one leaves the Gulmarg Bowl, the hoarding again catches your attention.