Is Jammu turning into a concrete jungle?

Karanvir Gupta
Jammu is at the cusp of devastation. Ask how? While the walls across the city have been embedded with historic murals, the pillars of the fly-overs are painted with stories from Jammu, the facade lighting at the walls of Bahu Fort and Maha Maya keeps flickering, and the four bridges shine bright during the evenings – Jammu Smart City continues to be one of the most disliked projects by people of Jammu. The hate only continues to grow and the Jammu Smart City project has still not been able to find love from the people of the land the team deems to uplift.
Has anyone wondered why a project worth millions has not hit a chord with the people of Jammu? Has the team at Jammu Smart City ever asked this question to themselves and brainstormed that why despite so much effort and continuous attempts Jammu Smart City continues to fail the aspirations of the citizens of the very city they aim to convert into a smart city?
It pains me to write this but every time I take a step out and roam around in the city, I feel like walking in the concrete workshop. I have cross-questioned myself many times about me being extra critical about this entire Smart City hullabaloo, maybe because I see my city changing and nostalgia is the price I pay for the development of my hometown. At many occasions I have tried to convince myself that development happens out of a comfort zone. But I have failed in convincing myself in favour of “how Jammu is being converted into a smart city” while the fact remains the project continues to kill the city more and more every single day.
Have you taken a road trip from Jammu to Patnitop? The moment you cross Udhampur, you will come across mountains that are now naked – devoid of forests and trees – the very DNA of the place. Just 15 years ago, they were dense jungle. One might say, “Oh! That is not on us, that comes under J&K Forest Department!” But ask a Jammuite, and they will tell you how unabashedly these mountains have been ripped of their true wealth in the name of development! The story of Devika river down the hills and 186cr for river rejuvenation is a no hidden story either. The sham is all over social media.
But I am not alone in feeling that Jammu is being devastated at the hands of so-called development in the name of the project – called Smart City – without a vision and a clear direction. Recently there was an extensive discussion and protest by Climate Front Jammu on the unnecessary relocating of Jammu High Court Complex in the Raika forest. This would mean cutting down 38006 trees to relocate a building. For people who do not know, Raika forests are called the “lungs of Jammu”. That is what makes Jammu – Jammu! A home where you can enjoy city life while being at peace with nature and breathing fresh air with low AQI.
Tawi WaterFront project is yet another cog in the wheel. The project is a threat to the natural course of Suryaputri Tawi river and a future menace for the public of Jammu. Has anyone bothered to study the highest rainfall received by Jammu in the last 100 years or so? Have we forgotten the past trauma when Tawi has flooded the bridges along with it? Do we think changing the natural course of a river is actually building a Smart City?.
Have you ever taken a ride towards Sidhra and noticed how trees are being cut mercilessly and mountains being towed down for the highway project? The Upper and lower Majeen are being ripped down of the age-old trees. Do you think it is ok? Concrete, concrete everywhere. That too at the cost of dense-thick fully grown forests and natural topography. Have you ever bothered to ask yourself, “Is this the Smart city we want to give to the people of Jammu?”. “Is this the smart city people of Jammu aspire for?” I really want to ask, “do people in smart cities not breathe air and drink water? Is concrete and so-called infrastructure enough to transform a city into a Smart City?”
Talking about mini problems at hand, have you noticed the yellow uneven speed-breakers erected (and now uprooted as well at some places) across the city. Surely, the purpose of the speed breaker is to slow vehicles down but not at the cost of convenience. Did anyone think that these speed breakers are a menace for pregnant women, ailing people, patients being taken in an ambulance, old people fitted with varied instruments in the body such as catheter, etc. Maybe that was a miss! But did you notice 18 plastic pots kept at the centre of Apsara road entrance? I thought plastic was not good for Smart cities but I see every main Chowk hosting these plastic pots. Maybe that was a miss too! And the money collection at each public parking. Almost 10-month pending driving licence applications. The unending contamination of canals in Jammu. Non-availability of dry-wet segregated garbage vans. This list goes on and on but the photo-ops don’t stop.
There are many more such misses in the city but I will keep them for another day. Nature is being attacked, topography is being played with, public convenience is not being thought of, basics are not being thought through and clearly there is no vision. The question then remains to be asked is “Where is the smartness in the Smart City project?”
We fail to understand then “what purpose does the Smart City project aim to serve?”, “why are we so confused about what will ideally entail in a project like this” , “what makes us think that development is equal to more concrete work in and around the city?”, and still if intentions are right, “why are we not able to translate those intentions into action and impact?”
But as I said, I keep telling myself, everything will be fine and Jammu will not lose its natural ecosystem but the speed at which Jammu and its people are being overridden at the hands of this Smart City Project puts Jammuites at unease. And I am not alone, more and more people I talk to, I realise they feel the discomfort too.
I have only tried to research more about, “What is a Smart City?”. And each definition points to – A smart city is a municipality that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare. The key characteristics of a Smart City are viz: a technology based infrastructure, environmental initiatives, a high functioning public transport system, urban planning and increased livelihood for people to live and work within the city. Unfortunately going by the definition, Smart City doesn’t even qualify to be called a Smart City project.
The challenge is that “Smart City” and “Development” have been misunderstood here. Development doesn’t mean building more infrastructure. Smart City doesn’t mean erecting pillars everywhere. Both do not mean throwing up unplanned activities across the city. It also doesn’t mean copy-pasting models from other cities. What worked for them might not just work for Jammu. The foundation of Smart Cities is very clear from Day0 – they are meant to accelerate the accomplishment of SDGs across India and the world. But on ground, Smart City projects have taken a twisted outlook.
The idea of a Smart City is to keep the local heritage (including architecture, culture, history, environment, language, ethos, stories) intact while future proofing the city from possible challenges a city can face in the times to come. The core objective is people welfare in a connected, healthy and assuring ecosystem powered by technology. Alas! We are way far from that.
The tough part is for projects like these it is imperative to understand the people and the place. The sad part is that it is not being done. The bright side is, it is a great opportunity to begin today. I write this article as an emotional appeal and a rational request to relook at how we aim to build and transform Jammu into a Smart City while keeping the Jammu and the public of Jammu at heart of the project.