This is the final part of the trilogy of essays on Kashmir’s urban history and architecture and how the Srinagar city should shape up under Smart City Mission.
Cities accommodate 31% of India’s current population (Census 2011). By 2030, urban areas are expected to accommodate 40% of it. Fifty-three percent of the population in India will be living in urban areas by 2050 (UN 2018). Three Indian cities—Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi—feature in the top 20 megacities in the world.
This increase in the pace of urbanisation poses spatial and infrastructure management challenges for a country. The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) in India is an initiative that aims to efficiently and effectively tackle these challenges.
The SCM, launched on 25 June 2015, is a joint effort of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) and all state and union territory (UT) governments. It initially aimed to be completed by 2019-20, but has since been extended. One hundred cities and towns in different states and UTs of India have been selected under the SCM—they are home to more than one-third of the country’s population. Srinagar City is one of the 100 cities selected under the SCM.
The Mission aims “to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology, especially the technology that leads to smart outcomes” and ensure that these cities are “liveable, inclusive, sustainable, (and) have thriving economies that offer multiple opportunities to people to pursue their diverse interests… smart cities are cities that work for the people.”
The SCM aims to draw a strategy for area development and pan-city initiatives, thereby creating efficiency in the city administrative regime. Pan-city development envisaging the application of select smart solutions to the existing city-wide infrastructure to improve liveability.
Area-based development (ABD) will transform selected existing areas by retrofitting and redevelopment, or development could be on a Greenfield site. The entire city is not selected. Out of the total area under the Srinagar Municipal Corporation of 246 Sq. km., only the downtown area has been selected for ABD.
Guidelines on Smart City provide monitoring at three levels – national, state and city. The Smart Cities Mission in India is a centrally sponsored scheme. It also requires state governments and urban local bodies (ULBs) to contribute an equal amount for implementing projects under the Smart City Proposal (SCP). States are expected to seek funds for projects outlined in the Smart City Proposal from multiple sources.
Smart cities aim to adopt information and communication technologies (ICTs) to reduce the burden on municipal or city-level administrative regimes and to upgrade the city infrastructure. As ICTs become integral to local governance, they will help in reducing the distance between the policymaking, its implementation, and the citizens. Further, they are expected to help improve the quality of life, create employment and enhance the income of various social groups, leading to create inclusive cities. At the city level, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) is created as a limited company under the Companies Act, 2013. This SPV plans, appraises, approves and releases funds to further implement, manage, operate, monitor and evaluate the smart city developmental projects in the concerned city. The SPV can acquire the assistance of consulting firms, and appoint project management consultants (PMCs).
Total cost of Srinagar smart city project, as per the SCP document is estimated at Rs. 3603.48 crore. The proposal of Area Based Development and Pan City Solution is to be financed through:
- Convergence – Rs. 1560.04 Cr (Central and State Schemes)
- PPP projects – Rs. 864.1 Cr (Redevelopment Projects)
- Debt – Rs. 402 Cr (not part of SPV’s funding)
- Smart City Funds – Rs. 989.84 Cr
The objective of the smart city initiative is to promote sustainable and inclusive cities that provide core infrastructure to give a decent quality of life, a clean and sustainable environment through application of some smart solutions such as data-driven traffic management, intelligent lighting systems, etc.
However, smart cities have posed more questions than answers. The most vital among these is how smart city planning can be made inclusive and how citizen participation can be enhanced.
The SCM emphasises that “smart people” need to actively participate in governance and reforms, but so far, it is the elite, corporate giants and official development assistance (ODA) donor countries that have envisaged and planned smart cities across India. For example, France offers its expertise to Nagpur, Puducherry and Nagaland, Japan assists Agra and Varanasi, Dubai is negotiating with the Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh governments. In the case of Amaravati smart city, the master plan has been prepared by Surbana International Consultants, an urban consultancy firm based in Singapore and two smart cities in Gujarat and Maharashtra by Cisco.
The term ‘smart cities’ is not new and has been used by global technology firms, particularly since 2005, for “the application of complex information systems to integrate the operation of urban infrastructure and services such as buildings, transportation, electrical and water distribution, and public safety.”
It is also a known fact that International Business Machine (IBM) is the pioneer of the smart city concept. The patent for the concept of smart city was registered by IBM in 2011. It was amidst the financial recession of 2008 that IBM orchestrated the smart city concept as a strategic move to benefit from the changing urban landscape. IBM as part of its smart planet challenge invited cities across the globe to compete for limited expertise, grants and consulting that it would offer. Although the competition was meant to last for three consecutive years, it continues to take place every year, on a rolling basis, given the surge in interest among the cities.
Among Indian cities, Delhi (2011), Pune (2012), Ahmedabad (2012), Chennai (2013), Allahabad (2015), Surat (2015) and Vizag (2016) have all competed in and won the IBM challenge. IBM is currently involved in about 2,000 smart city projects worldwide, generating about $3 billion in revenue, equal to almost 25% of its operations. After seeing the IBM’s competitive advantage in the field, other players such as Cisco, Siemens AG, General Electricals, Intel, HP, Google, Microsoft, Capita, Serco, Philips, Oracle, SAP, and Accenture started to take an active interest in smart city building projects across the globe.
The prominent, generalised, role that the global firms play at the helm of smart city building has almost entirely diminished the potential role of local knowledge, that is, skills and competence of citizens, could play. Most technology-based solutions are “force fitted” by technology firms. This form of city development enhances a technocratic model of governance where corporate interests are upheld at the cost of citizens’ right to their city, and suppressing innovations and technological frames that could emerge from the grass roots.
Srinagar Smart City
Srinagar as the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir has gained prominence in various functions of tourism, administration, commerce and economic development. It is the fastest growing city of Jammu and Kashmir.
Strategically located on the cross roads of NH-1A and NH- 1D, Srinagar is connected to Jammu through Anantnag by NH1A, and also accessible to Kargil and Leh by NH 1D. It houses an international airport, with a record number of 102 flights a day, in April 2022. Srinagar Railway Station connects Baramulla to Banihal, which is being further connected to Udhampur in Jammu. The work of last leg of Chenab Bridge was inaugurated in August 2022.
The current metro area population of Srinagar is 16.6 lakhs and projected for 2035 is 22.2 lakhs. The rapid urbanization has led to several issues such as slums, inadequate transportation system, pollution and heritage and environmental degradation. In addition, the unplanned urbanisation has put a burden on the existing infrastructure.
The Srinagar Smart City Proposal (SCP) envisioned “transforming Srinagar into an eco-friendly, resilient and socio-economically vibrant city that celebrates its natural and cultural heritage creating harmony and opportunities for all … and aspires to leverage its natural and cultural heritage/ tourism, through innovative and inclusive solutions, enhance the quality of life for its citizens.”
Three main action areas were identified to make the vision implementable:
- Promoting Srinagar’s Identity
- Resilient, sustainable and liveable Srinagar
- Promoting Inclusion
The City and its residents continue to face several problems, as were listed in the SWOT analysis of the SCP. Some of these, which have also been discussed in the previous articles, are:
- Srinagar consists of six lakes viz Dal, Nigeen, Khushaalsar, Hokharsar, Gilisar and Anchar. The shore line of the Dal Lake is integral to the culture of the city. It has interconnected network of drainage with river Jhelum, Dal Lake, Nigeen Lake, Brari Nambal and Khushal Sar which are under threat from increasing water pollution due to inadequate drainage/sanitation system, untreated sewage and solid waste which finds its way into the waterbodies. The City faces serious threats due to unauthorized urbanization in the flood absorption basins, making the city vulnerable to immense risks of floods.
- Absence of incentives and guidelines lead to persistent loss of heritage architecture/ buildings due to commercial pressure. Traditional houses in old city risk dismantling by their owners due to high maintenance/ repair required for these buildings. Several buildings and houseboats have been destroyed in fires, especially in the past few months when a large number of such incidents were reported.
- Srinagar lies in Seismic Zone-V. The buildings are vulnerable to collapse, particularly heritage structures made of timber, brick and mud mortar. These need safety audits.
The ABD intervention chosen for the downtown area comprises Jama Masjid in the north, Lal Chowk in the south and historic precincts on east and west banks of the Jhelum for “retrofit+ redevelopment.” The core city (downtown or the Shehar-i-Khas) along the two banks of Jhelum has compact built-up form with distinctive open spaces in the form of squares and streets. The area has a high concentration of buildings of heritage significance. Artisan clusters are located along the river bank and availability of water transport is unique to the city of Srinagar.
This prime part of the city has suffered from economic degeneration, urban decay and a disconnect from the rest of the city as well as from the flow of tourists. The area provides a wonderful opportunity for urban renewal and rejuvenation and for achieving the goals of strengthening the urban environment, conservation of natural and built-up heritage, and enhancing connectivity.
In order for any city to become smart, it must first fulfil the criteria of being a liveable, resilient and a sustainable city. The SCM is a chance for the cities to meet these criteria. However, most issues remain unaddressed, such as solid waste management, affordable housing, smart parking, walkability, public transport, urban mobility, cleaning of Srinagar’s several water bodies and improving public utilities. Every city needs to address its local problems and not apply blanket solutions.
There are several projects listed, on the Srinagar Smart City website, as completed, and the upcoming projects. However, most of these schemes remain on paper and/or are implemented with little or no inputs of the local experts and/or communities. There is no clarity on the pan-city level plans of interventions or improvements. In recent months there has been a spate of activities, which again seem to be piecemeal facelift projects.
The existing paved area at Lal Chowk, which was constructed at a considerable cost has been demolished. According to the SMC, a public plaza is to be built here, as part of the redevelopment plan to make the city centre a place where pedestrians can move around freely. The demolished structure, which was a plaza with benches and shaded areas, could have achieved the same with perhaps a few modifications, if at all. As per some reports the iconic clock tower is to be renovated as well.
Electricity lines are being constructed underground at Residency Road and M.A. Road and various city roads are being redeveloped to maintain uniform carriage width. The extra space on the road is to be developed for the on-street parking. It is claimed that once it is completed, there will be ample space to park vehicles on both sides of the road and proper spaces for pedestrians and cyclists. However, the extent of this development is limited to specific stretches only and doesn’t take into account the overall vehicular traffic and pedestrian movement plan.
Four toilets have been constructed along and near the Dal Lake. Firstly, none should have been built at the edge of the lake, hindering the pedestrian movement and spoiling the lake view. The sewage disposal is a big question mark. Even the other toilets, on the opposite side, across the road should have been discrete facilities, with wayfinding signage that are not loud. In addition, these have been poorly constructed and, considering the level of maintenance of such facilities, these are quite likely to become stink spots.
Dal Lake and other water bodies are being deweeded in order to clean them. However, hydrology experts say that this is being done unscientifically. Prof Kundangar adds that this has resulted in a toxic bloom called Microcystis.
It cannot be stressed enough that there are several pressing and urgent issues that the city needs to address.
One of the primary objectives of the SCM was also convergence of all previous and current schemes being carried out by various local bodies. Works under various departments and separate from the SCM are still being carried out. There are small restoration projects being carried out at Nishat Bagh and Shalimar Bagh. There are other works which are proposed by Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) such as the one at Bemina.
Promoting Srinagar’s identity should be a priority. The city has immense potential to become a world class tourism destination based on its natural and cultural heritage (tangible and intangible) resource. This can be achieved through proper management of the resources, enhancement of the infrastructure, training, capacity building and further addressing the needs of the crafts sector located in the old city, it being already designated as a part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Improvement of infrastructure, marketing and outreach, product diversification and design development will significantly contribute to enhance livelihood opportunities. Further, there is the potential for using inland water transport for supplementing other modes of transport for exploration of the core city by the visitors
The city has several monuments, heritage precincts, public spaces and the Jhelum waterfront. There are 11 ASI protected monuments, 9 buildings of heritage significance notified by the State Department of Archaeology, 9 sites notified as significant heritage sites and over 950 buildings sites listed by INTACH. Some of the significant heritage precincts are government owned buildings which lie underutilised. These buildings, open spaces and settings of water bodies have the potential to become vibrant public spaces and provide facilities for the communities and tourists alike. Reuse of these buildings especially those situated in and around the old city and near river Jhelum can provide immense opportunity to positively contribute to the quality of life of the citizens.
ABD work on the downtown, that is the old city, historically the hub of trade and commerce, must be taken up on priority basis to revive its pristine glory, prosperity ad inclusiveness of various communities. Besides structural interventions and retrofitting and conserving buildings, the streets of downtown need to be revived as the primary public realm in combination with other community open spaces.
This is essential to make the city walkable and it is the intact fabric of the city that makes it so. Usually the discussion is about creating adequate and attractive pedestrian facilities, rather than walkable cities. To make a city walkable, the walk must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting. Which means that most needs of daily life are located nearby achieved by mixed use planning. For safety, the street have to be been designed for people of all genders and age groups. Buildings and landscape should shape urban streets into “outdoor rooms,” in contrast to wide open spaces, which usually fail to attract pedestrians. The side-walks should be lined with unique buildings and signs of humanity abound, achieved with form based codes.
Piecemeal projects of pedestrianizing streets, as is being done at the Polo View market, are cosmetic treatments and do not resolve the larger issues of unsafe streets, dangerously haphazard traffic and parking. Nor will painting of walls and flyovers improve the fabric of the city.
Although Srinagar has an innate potential to serve as a commercial and IT capital in the region, such developments need detailed ecological impact studies. Srinagar needs to be developed in combination, with other prominent cities, and as an intrinsic part of the larger valley. Else there is an imminent threat to the already shrunken water bodies and wetlands where land is being, or proposed to be, reclaimed, as in the case of Narkara wetland.
Narkara, a semi-urban wetland, has shrunken to a great extent in the last 50 years. The land around Narkara is distributed equally between the government and the local stakeholders, with the locals having been mandated to use it for agriculture purposes only. Unfortunately, rampant construction is seen around the government-owned parts of Narkara and the area around its spillway channel, greatly reducing its carrying capacity. The J&K government had been proposing to build an Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Krishi Vigyan Kendra, and Sabzi Mandi over hundreds of kanals of Narkara. The government had also issued about 100 kanals of the wetland for starting Transworld Muslim University. The IIT project has been stalled as the High Court issued a stay order on construction and urban development in and around Narkara. The PIL was filed by Environment Policy Group – an NGO based in Kashmir.
What remains of the wetlands and water bodies needs to be scientifically cleaned and conserved with an utmost urgency. Roads and infrastructure, especially the storm water drains, should be designed considering the changes in urban form and projected growth of the city, with plans in place for implementation and maintenance.
Considering the vulnerability of Srinagar City to multiple disasters such as floods and earthquakes, it becomes imperative to incorporate resilience. Although, there is an existing system for disaster management in the city, however it is reactive in nature. There is a critical need for a flexible and dynamic approach to building resilience that goes beyond risk mitigation.
According to the World Bank, urbanization, environmental degradation, climate change, and development related processes and planning shape and configure hazards, rapid and unplanned urbanization, which takes place on marginal lands and hazardous areas, in combination with poorly constructed settlements and degraded ecosystems, puts more people and more assets in harm’s way.
Extensive research has shown that resilient cities need to demonstrate resilience against four categories of stressors natural, economic, technological and man-made, and demonstrate seven qualities, which are, reflectiveness, resourcefulness, robustness, redundancy or spare capacity, flexibility, inclusiveness and integration.
Critical infrastructure that is deemed necessary for the built environment of the city must remain functional at an optimal level during the disaster. Therefore, it is necessary to design, develop and manage resilience of the critical infrastructure in the built environment of the city. Additionally, given the unique nature of the cities in terms of the built environment, it is essential to consider city-specific needs while designing resilient solutions for the city which may include re-engineering the infrastructure to make it more resilient so that it can cope with any disaster.
The SCM should be a long-term programme, not restricted to five or six years as currently envisioned. And most importantly these plans need to take in to consideration the physical and urban geography of the city, the hydrology, population mix and growth of the city. Conservation, preservation, retrofitting, redevelopment and new area developments have to be done with the view of balancing the old and new, along with the city’s infrastructure development, which usually falls behind real estate development.
Future decisions should involve all stakeholders. There is an absolute need to promote smart cities using the quadruple-helix model where public, government, industry and universities come together and build necessary technologies. The quadruple-helix model allows us to combine knowledge and competence from all the four key players in a city context.
In addition, and very importantly, as is the case with other cities of the mainland, in order to limit the urban growth of Srinagar city, the current SCM needs to be linked to the villages of the valley. The lacuna in the current mission mandate can be filled by directly addressing the opportunities provided by renewable off-grid production to increase employment and diversification in the rural economy, with a particular focus on rural youth. Smart cities need smart villages, for a spatial shift. This is crucial to Srinagar with its rich tradition of art and craft and also since agriculture is a large contributor to the economy of the valley.
Indian cities are at a low level of development, and given the quality of governance, and the social and economic problems facing these towns and cities, any transformation will take a long time. Critics of the SCM’s performance so far should realise that rapid change is impossible when local governments are financially strapped and large sections of the society are poor. Although it cannot be an endless wait for the citizens. Governments too should refrain from making unrealistic promises and policy priorities need a major shift.
Jaspreet Kaur is a Delhi-based architect and urban designer.