Encroached Old Jammu City

Rajan Gandhi
Municipalities in India were established in the early 19th century during colonial rule itself. The role of Municipalities in India has remained controversial frequently at the cost of quality of life of the citizens. But with passage of time numerous steps in post independence era have been initiated, significant towards official urban planning initiatives to undertake planned development of towns and cities in the shape of enactment of the Delhi Development Act 1957 leading to establishment of the Delhi Development Authority, followed by establishment of about 300 development authorities for as many cities or launching of the national scheme such as IDSMT in the Sixth FYP (1980-85), intended to address critical development needs of small and medium towns or publication of India’s first urbanisation policy in 1988 by the National Commission on Urbanisation(NCU) chaired by Architect Charles Correa, first to point out the inevitable leading role of cities in driving forward India’s economy and the necessity of integrating spatial and economic development of its urban centres or enactment of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments in 1992 known as Panchayati Raj Act and Nagarpalika Act. These empowered elected representatives of Districts or ULB to undertake economic and spatial planned development of villages, towns and cities. But since land is a state subject, only some states adopted the acts, resulting in slowdowns on the implementation side. The 2005-JNNURM launched by the Government of India was the first initiative of its kind in terms of the scale of investment of USD 20 billion over a period of seven years. 65 cities were selected under this initiative and finally in June 2015, the Government of India initiated the ‘Smart City Mission’, to improve the conditions of 100 cities within five years with an approved investment of USD 15 billion. The Smart City Mission idea appears to be the most comprehensive in nature and serious in terms of intention.
But as they say every act for betterment of public usually fails in Jammu as encroachments, no planning, no vision, no accountability are the hallmark of JMC as every nook and corner of Old City just speaks about the official apathy. With absolutely no augmentation in city parking, Old City is a classic case of virtually no facility though false declarations and tall promises. Despite Master Plan and Smart City Mission clearly depicting detailed plans for decongesting Old City which includes shifting of Sabzi Mandi at Parade, proposed parking and shopping mall at this place, multilevel parking near Atal Bihari Vajpayee Chowk or shifting of many government departments like District Police Lines, Director Health Services and many others for much needed space for parking, toilets, parks and other utilities but nothing has been done practically on ground. It seems Jammu City Planner’s office is just in hibernation mode. Four JMC toilet complexes, one each at front and back entry gate of Women College Parade, another one again adjacent to electricity office Parade and another one at Kachi Chawni Parking, all within three hundred meters, each one less than hundred meters apart. Most astonishing part is both Women College toilet complexes are locked, one on Dogra Hall side for years now and one at Parade side waiting for official inauguration much before lockdown. Astonishingly Dogra Hall Toilet Complex is built on footpath itself on this VIP Road. There is no footpath continuation after this toilet complex till Secretariat thereby risking the lives of pedestrians especially at night when motorists are just blinded by lights of vehicles coming from opposite end and pedestrians have no choice except to walk on road. Since this toilet is locked for years now it’s better to dismantle it and clear path for pedestrian. There is a passenger shed at Kachi Chawni which has been turned into lime dumping site by JMC itself on same footpath. The second toilet complex outside main gate of Women College, waiting for inauguration, is right on the road itself instead of utilising the space to widen the road to decongest this particular chowk.
The busiest stretch of Jammu, Parade road is virtually encroachers’ paradise. With a Chanakaya statue and Muscat light installed right in the centre of road without any planning, virtually one stretch of road is just barred for public. With chains on iron pillars on both sides, this side of main road has been turned into private parking with reharis, tea stalls, restaurant parking, open eating points and what not with encroachment of main road up to 20 meters. A sign board of JMC for no rehari zone and no parking just mocks at citizens. There are two Paan shops right on road, one in between two main transformers waiting for a major tragedy and other on footpath. Another sore in the eye and matter of grave concern is leftover building material by JMC contractors on main roads, which ultimately goes into city drains resulting overflowing drains and floods in low lying areas of Jewel and College road. Electric poles are lying on roads at Parade for years together with no effort to utilise them at some other place. The scene at Rani Park is no different as entire stretch is occupied by street vendors and reharis. Who has allowed all these encroachments, where are the civic authorities and police despite DPL a few meters away. All this cannot happen without active collision of politicians, JMC and police. For what Enforcement officials are employed, where is traffic police? If authorities can demolish a shop at din of night why they are turning blind eye to all these things is beyond one’s imagination.
Same is the story at City Chowk, Hospital Road and surprisingly main footpath opposite bus stand, just below JMC office, has been turned into old cloth market. If it is acceptable to JMC then days are not far away when whole footpaths of |Jammu are turned into shopping footpaths. Scooter/motorcycle are being repaired on main road itself from Ragunath Bazaar to Gumat, even at highly protected Civil Secretariat road at Dogra Hall also depicting the same sad story. Situation at busiest Purani Mandi is more grim as a so called projected park has been turned into dumping site, with all sides encroached by illegal vendors, tandoors, dye vendors, juice/cigarette vendors, momos, kulchaas, jewellery, footwear, practically what not choking the market with no space even to walk. As shopkeepers have totally encroached drains, there is no visible drain on entire Link Road .Why respective departments have repeatedly failed to fix the responsibility, take action on one and all will fall in line.
Dangling hundreds of fibre optic cables from Electricity and Telephone Department poles is the latest addition to the mess created in the Old City as if illegal electric connections are not enough. With the weight of these wires poles have started leaning and if not removed immediately some major tragedy in the shape of short circuit/fire is very much in the pipeline in coming time. This often damages the poles, obstructs Electricity Department service personnel in attending the complaints or regular maintenance works or obstructs traffic. Who gave permission to these vendors at first place as these private telephone cables are wired on electricity/telephone poles without proper authorization as it’s a punishable offence to illegally use these poles? In some cities PDD and BSNL is charging monthly rent of fifty rupees/per pole from these cable/fibre broadband companies. Are there any such charges been levied in Jammu, if not why as BSNL, PDD and JMC all are cash starved departments?
Miseries of Jammu Old City public don’t end up here only as one moves down to only available cremation ground at Jogi Gate where old pyre platforms were demolished for renovation but after years together the work is still at standstill, virtually no shelter from rain or sun and with no sitting place it is a nightmarish experience for everyone especially old persons. Another glaring example of misuse of authority is idea of construction of shops on cremation site facing city on main road with virtually no parking facility, a disaster for traffic and people coming for cremation here. Defunct electric cremation complex is another glaring example of how public money gets dumped into illogical planning. WHO, MHA, MoHFW guidelines clearly state that Electric Crematorium is the best way for last rites of CORONA victims but no efforts have been put to explore the possibility of reviving this scientifically approved crematorium when administration is running from pillar to post to perform last rites of COVID victims, eventually on Tawi river bank in open risking everyone’s lives.
Not long ago Commissioner of JMC had sacked Enforcement Inspector for non-reporting and conniving with violators in carrying out many illegal commercial constructions in the area with plethora of complaints. But why no such action on Jammu Old City enforcement officer despite repeated orders from even Jammu and Kashmir High Court to clear footpaths, encroachments and on road parking. Who are these persons who are planning disaster for old city, if the protectors of law themselves become violators to whom public will look for justice? Model cities are built with well planned, persistent efforts and not by knee jerk reactions for photo ops. This is the responsibility of administration and corporators to work in tandem to create greener pastures, parks, utilities, parking, all basic necessities for a normal healthy life of its citizens but nothing seems to work in Old Jammu City. After being declared UT, with stricter laws, no political interference and least rush due to pandemic situation and lockdown, it’s best time for JMC to act and remove all illegal encroachments from Old City to justify it being UT, a fragrance of change, a sustainable system. Change is always refreshing especially if done for betterment of public.