Is Srinagar City Rapidly Turning Into A Slum?

6 February 2015
Kashmir Reader
Tawseef Yousuf

Srinagar: The UN urban prospective report (2010-11) states that the number of people living in cities is expected to be more than 5.5 billion by 2025, two times higher than current urban population (2.4 million) globally. This trend is prominent in the developing countries of South Asia like India, where the urban population is going to be 80% of the total population by 2050 (UN Habitat, 2010). Urbanization is happening universally and will continue. We are faced with a choice between planned and unplanned urbanization. Planned urbanization requires a holistic and multidisciplinary approach. The urbanization along with a sustainable growth has been a great task nowadays, keeping in view the positive economic, social and ecological development. The increase in the sustainable urban population has a great impact on the economic development of a city therefore in the past few decades the urban sustainability has been a major concern throughout the world. However, the biggest challenge is, 'The growth of the world population and the development of consumption patterns cannot be sustained economically, ecologically and socially simultaneously. Sustainable urbanization is a dynamic process that combines environmental, socio-economic, political and institutional sustainability.'(UN Habitat, 2004). Urban planners advocate that city problems are not simple but their nature is complex and intertwined. Urbanization scenario Urbanization is the oldest and one of the most pervasive processes of change that has been shaping societies all over the world. It is a dynamic, positive and a desirable phenomenon, as it is conducive to economic growth, social change and physical development. Over the past few decades, the developing countries have witnessed massive urbanization. On one hand, the major urban centres have shown considerable growth over time, both in terms of spatial expansion as well as population growth, while on the other hand, the smaller urban centres have shown sluggish growth or signs of stagnation. Urban development is lopsided and hence, proper infrastructural and other facilities need to be provided in the smaller and medium sized towns in order to ensure their growth and economic development. According to census of India, presently 27.37% of the population in Jammu and Kashmir live in urban areas. The figures for the Kashmir Valley are slightly higher than the state average and the all India average (31.16%) with 31.6% of the population living in urban areas in a total of 46 urban centres distributed unevenly in the region. Kashmir, which is functionally a city-centred region, for the geographical, historical, socio-political and economic forces of urbanization have shaped and contributed to the emergence of urban primacy of Srinagar city. The phenomenon of urban primacy is strongest in the Jammu and Kashmir state; since, the single largest city i.e. Srinagar constitutes around two-third of the state's urban population and is two times larger than the second largest city of the state, Jammu. Srinagar, a primate and characteristically diversified as well as unique city, unanimously serves as a regional centre in the vast catchment with limited yet small urban centres. It is not only the largest urban centre both in terms of demographic size and areal spacing but also a rapidly growing city amongst all Himalayan urban centres. Its population is larger than population of all the urban centres put together and most of the urban centres fall in its sphere of influence. At the state level, the index of primacy works out to be 2.72 in two city index i.e. Srinagar and Jammu (2011). In Kashmir, the index of primacy of Srinagar works out to be 7.9 for two city index (Srinagar and Anantnag) and connotes that the city is eight times larger in population than the second urban centre of Anantnag, depicting its command over the Kashmir region. Srinagar city for being the capital of the state, all the developmental processes and infrastructural advancements are made available here which attract people from all parts of the state, which could be understood from the fact that Srinagar is the only metropolitan city of the state. Highlights Srinagar city is the largest urban entity in the entire Himalayan region in terms of population and constitutes the most urbanized district as well. The city despite its physical threshold and constraints is likely to expand and grow. In case the growth is not channelized and regulated it is likely to intrude toward a settlement pattern characterizing of unorganized, unplanned mess and haphazardness. The scale of the urban problems in Srinagar city is enormous and the situation is worsening due to unorganized - unplanned urbanization and related social trends. Continued wealth inequality, increased immigration, increased part-time employment, and independent family trends have all contributed to growing urban problems in Srinagar city. A number of housing clusters have mushroomed in and around various locations of metropolitan area of Srinagar city in haphazard and unplanned manner, without a proper layout and devoid of service lines and other essential facilities. The existing urban problem of Srinagar, which requires immediate attention, would assume challenging propositions in case not addressed and taken care of at a proper time. The city has been growing at the hands of realtors and land mafias and thus there's no planning. Ultimately, this growth is obviously going to be a problem than a solution. 'No one is paying heed' to the master plan (2012-2032). Zoning wasn't adhered to in the past nor is at present. For that matter, we have commercial complexes in residential areas, educational institutes in commercial, residential areas in green belts and likewise. It is literally a mess everywhere with no exception from any locality within or around the Srinagar city. Quality of life in the urban setting is a multifaceted phenomenon determined by the cumulative and interactive impacts of numerous and varied factors like housing conditions, infrastructure, access to various amenities, income, standard of living, satisfaction about the physical and social environment. Of all these factors, housing is the basic necessity of man and the most important indicators for measuring quality of life. Since shelter constitutes one of man's basic needs, it does have a profound impact on the health, wellbeing, social attitudes and economic productivity of the individual. Different states define slums differently as in Jammu and Kashmir, 'Slums are identified on the basis of total living conditions. Slums are generally characterized by overcrowded kutcha buildings, dilapidated structures with unhygienic living conditions, inadequate basic amenities, poor layout, accessibility and poor ventilation'. The environmental characteristics of slums vary with distance from central area to the periphery of Srinagar city. In general the housing quality, roads, drains are quite different from core area to peripheral area. Slums are increasing day by day in Srinagar city due to unplanned and haphazard constructions. Although a number of works have been done under various policies, schemes and plans but there are gaps that need to be addressed. The problems of down town or the core of Srinagar city are becoming critical with the increase in population and deterioration in existing level of services which are assuming serious propositions in all aspect of urbane living which requires immediate attention, and would assume challenging propositions in case not addressed and taken care of at a proper time. The Srinagar city core has undergone a socio-economic degeneration which can be accessed from decreasing trend of participation ratio (30.6 % in 1981 to 26.3 % in 2013). The Srinagar city core has majority of the building structures in poor or derelict conditions which may nearly turn it into a slum or blight zone in a decade or so. The primacy of the Srinagar city is gradually declining in the state, but is still prevalent within the Kashmir region. A sort of 'dual primacy' exists in the state in the form of two cities of Srinagar and Jammu. Srinagar city and its countryside have strong functional linkages in one-way or the other, directly or indirectly. The degree of influence and relationship is inversely proportional to distance from the city. Sphere of Influence of Srinagar city is vast that is about 17000 Km square (2011). There exists a zonation in hierarchy of urban centres around Srinagar city, in descending order-primary, secondary and tertiary zones of influence. The zone having direct as well as major influence is the primary zone of influence located in the immediate surroundings of Srinagar city. Way-out Therefore, massive concerted efforts need to be made with best of administrative actions and deft political handling for the sake of our future generations. An urban policy with an impetus on decentralization through decentralised planning is mandatory for uniform and balanced development of urban centres of Kashmir. Impetus must be provided to generate new growth centres and the existing ones must be revived. Proper investments in developmental sectors like infrastructure, education, occupation is needed, which will relieve existing pressure on Srinagar city. Improvements to be made in the physical infrastructure, education and healthcare sector so as to fulfil the needs of the deprived sections. As the basic education is nearing the universalization level, there is a dire need of ample numbers of secondary schools and institutions for higher education. The land allocated under residential use as per the master plan of 2012-2032, should be optimally used to bridge the housing gap. In situ upgradation of slums, wherever possible, with provision of basic facilities need to be taken up. There are lack of resources for capital expenditure on environmental protection and beautification of the city. Nevertheless, this inner core of the city ought not to be left to decay. Fortunately typically slums don't exist in Srinagar city core but in only one locality. There is a need for revitalization of the city core for economic efficiency including urban renewal and re-development, upgradation of infrastructure, poverty reduction, employment creation, promotion of trade and related developmental activities. An urban housing policy with an impetus whereby, inner city areas would systematically decrease in population, the middle areas remain almost static and the surrounding outer areas increase. The author has done PhD from Kashmir University and teaches in a city school at Jamia Masjid. Feedback: tawseefyousuf@gmail.com