SMC ‘sabotages’ Srinagar beautification plan

The beautification plan of JK’s summer capital has received a setback as the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) has shelved the Jammu and Kashmir Bank’s plan to restore the pristine glory of Brari Nambal lagoon situated in Shaher-e-Khaas.

Brari Nambal plays an important role of regulating hydrology of Dal Lake by releasing its surplus waters into river Jhelum via a conduit at Fateh Kadal. However, in absence of conservation measures, the lagoon has turned into a cesspool. Piles of garbage, obnoxious weeds besides extensive encroachments have severely affected its fragile eco-system.

For almost two decades now, this ‘Gateway’ to downtown Srinagar- Shaher-e-Khaas- is craving for government attention. Even as the issue of restoring the glory of this important lagoon was discussed several times, the lack of will of successive governments aggravated deterioration in its fragile eco-system. Today, this lagoon is on the verge of extinction.

The State’s flagship and only listed company, Jammu and Kashmir Bank had at the request of the SMC authorities agreed to develop the lagoon with add-ons like public park, jogging tracks. However, sources said the SMC authorities have put the project in the backburner.

“Even as the current political dispensation has ‘vowed’ to restore glory of the lagoon, the message of ‘financial crunch’ being carried by the government only negates the oath. It is also unreasonable to expect a government which is in deep financial crisis, to spend funds on such projects in near future,” said an environmentalist.

Documents with us reveal that in March this year, a team of SMC led by its then Commissioner Dr G N Qasba had launched a campaign to motivate local business houses to lend support to various projects aimed at beautifying the Srinagar city. Though the response was not encouraging, it was J&K Bank alone which fuelled hope.

The decisions taken on March 12, 2015 by the two organisations at the highest level—Chairman J&K Bank and Commissioner SMC among other things included the development of Brari Nambal lagoon at an estimated cost of around Rs 20-25 crores. The expenditure was to be made by the J&K Bank under its corporate social responsibility initiative and was to be incurred over a period of 2-3 years depending upon the scope of work.

To kick start the project, SMC was supposed to submit the Detailed Project Report (DPR) to the bank. Sources said no such DPR was submitted. “The SMC top brass is denying having any knowledge of such plan. However, the technical wing of the SMC handling such projects have accepted about the existence of this plan where J&K Bank had agreed to restore the pristine glory of this water body with add-ons— without tampering the local ethos and environment,” sources said.

Besides conservation of the lagoon, the J&K Bank proposed to construct Rose Garden, English Garden, Bogon Velia Garden, Topeyari Garden, French Garden and Lilly Garden in it. It also proposed a children’s play area, water body with fountains, amphitheatre, walking and jogging tracks, boating and adventure zone court. However, sources revealed, the file is pending with SMC Commissioner.

Meanwhile, reports indicate that a consultant of international repute was hired by the SMC to work out a plan for restoration of the water body. The consultant had submitted a detailed project report to the SMC. In the DPR, the consultant has observed that at present the lagoon is in a dilapidated condition with landmass, Radhs and solid waste scattered all over.

“There is only a very small channel of about 10 meter width which is functional at present. The flow through the channel is very meager. Further, the feeding channels namely Rainawari, Nowpora channels are encroached upon and silted up. The end results are that the flow from the Dal-lake into Brari-Numbal Lagoon is partially blocked and hence the circulation of water in Dal and Nigeen Lakes is limited. This proposition contributes to the deteriorating condition of the lake as no proper circulation and flushing takes place,” the consultant states.

Pertinently, following a sustained campaign highlighting the lagoon’s deteriorating condition, the government in 2013 had ordered short term conservation measures including immediate cleaning, dredging, expansion and beautification. However, due to paucity of funds, the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) and allied departments failed to launch conservation measures.

Restoring the lagoon has emerged as a litmus test for the government. On June 14, the Minister for Roads and Buildings, Gardens, Parks and Floriculture, Muhammad Altaf Bukhari visited Brari Nambal and directed the LAWDA to prepare a comprehensive project within a month for restoration of the lagoon. LAWDA has recently submitted a comprehensive project estimated at Rs 70.52 crore for restoration of Brari Nambal.

The J&K Bank had also agreed to construct state-of-the-art environment friendly public convenience at Poloview at a cost of Rs 3 crore approximately. The present public convenience at Poloview is in a bad condition and has become a source of inconvenience for people.

Besides, sources said, street lighting plan of the city too stands shelved by the present dispensation in SMC. “The J&K Bank had proposed to SMC that it will undertake beautification from Dalgate to Radio Kashmir by way of installing latest street-lights without any charges. However, the proposal is gathering dust,” sources said.

Commissioner SMC, Tufail Matoo said, “Unless LAWDA acquires proprietary land in Brari Nambal, we cannot approve the J&K Bank’s DRP. Besides, the DPR is sketchy and there are some technical issues with it. SMC is committed to ensure development of Srinagar but within set parameters. However, I will review the DPR in consultation with concerned officials,” Matoo said.

Meanwhile, experts have expressed surprise over the “inept” attitude of the SMC authorities. “What is the hitch in beautifying the Srinagar city, which is the prime job of SMC?” they asked. “It looks fishy because SMC was not going to spend a penny on the projects the J&K Bank has proposed. It seems SMC is sabotaging development of Srinagar under pressure from some political quarters,” said the experts.

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