Jammu City – Hostage to development projects


Rajan Gandhi
Jammu City, which once stretched from “Raje Di Mandi” up to Gumat Gate only, expanded rapidly with some well-planned areas like New Rehari, Karan Nagar, Gandhi Nagar, and later on Trikuta Nagar, Channi, and Roop Nagar. With the migration from Kashmir in 1990 and many such unnoticed migrations from Doda, Kishtwar, Bhaderwah, Poonch, and Rajouri, Jammu expanded exponentially but haphazardly.
Except for a few colonies being developed by JDA and the Jammu and Kashmir Housing Board, which were not sufficient to cater to the ever-increasing demand for housing, numerous unauthorised colonies came up, and the process is still ongoing. The net result of all this is a total mess of concrete jungle with no landscapes, no parks, no markets, no hospitals, and no proper school space. Narrow lanes and defunct drainage have become a nightmare for the public, who, even after spending crores of money are still unable to access basic amenities like sewage, drinking water, electricity, and roads.
With no focus on streamlining this urban mess, it has become a problem beyond imagination. From time to time, some patchwork schemes were promised and half-heartedly implemented in bits and pieces, but decades of delay and incomplete implementation are the present situation. One such scheme sanctioned by the Union Government was the sewerage scheme for Greater Jammu under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission with a budget of Rs 149.23 crore more than a decade ago. There were delays and inefficiencies in the implementation of the scheme by the National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC) right from the project’s initiation. Due to various factors, such as administrative challenges, technical issues, or other reasons, the implementation of the project faced setbacks and did not progress as planned. Despite several stops and starts and the digging of every lane in Jammu City, the much-hyped project is nowhere near completion. Jammu’s public has been forced to undergo decades of torment with dust, sand, diversions, overflowing drains, and, for months together, even no space to walk on foot. One can imagine the plight of school-going children, patients, old people, and office-goers; everybody was at the mercy of contractors and officials. Jammu Municipal Corporation, which was supposed to connect household sewage connections with main sewage lines laid in every lane, failed to do so for reasons better known to them. Right now, these pipelines have become permanent abodes for the rats, and every locality now has multiple colonies of rats who are constantly digging underground tunnels. The net result is ever-sinking lanes and extensive damage to houses, especially those on slopes. There has been no study and no effort by JMC to control this menace, and the ultimate sufferer is the Jammu public.
The Akhnoor road widening and flyover project is another classic example of taking the public for a ride. Years of overruns, no proper alternative roads, dust, floods, traffic jams, and whatnot have been the new norms of the Smart City.
After more than a decade of continuous sewage failure, the next phase, which is still under implementation, is Jammu Smart City. A glance at the three annexures loaded on the Jammu Smart City website gives one a feeling of a dream city, which every Jammuite has been hoping for decades. A flagship project of the Prime Minister, 100 Smart Cities, has become another nightmare for the people of Jammu City. Instead of planning it meticulously, keeping in view previous experience and difficulties faced, the nodal agency again failed to apprehend the on-the-ground problems. The net result is that half of Jammu City has been dug up, with no sight of completion of the project. Utmost efficiency is shown in digging the drains, lanes, and roads when people wake up to find no place to take their vehicles out with no access to the road. The problem is more complicated in the old city, where the width of some narrow lanes is only a few feet. Practically every lane and drain in the old city had been replaced not long ago, some even two or three times. Interlocked tiles replaced the old standard one-square-foot tiles, and these new tiles never worked, resulting in time and again repairs and a never-ending problem for the residents.
The dream Smart City projects started; Apsara Road renovation is one such project that started a year ago and is still going on. It is easy to say that there is a cost to modernization, but a whole full-fledged market dug, no place for parking, building material dumped on the road itself, and ever-existing clouds of dust are what the shopkeepers got. The second major project has been the relaying of drains and footpaths in the old city of Jammu. Started from Raje Di Mandi, and by the time it reached Chowk Chabutra, the shoddy work and the resultant squeezed space left made people wonder what kind of smart city it was going to be. With no proper planning in place, no detailed maps of drinking water pipelines, and practically no deep digging to set the footpath below the level of shops, the reality on the ground is that some shops are now even six inches below the level of the footpath, choked drains with debris overflowing right between the markets, and huge dumps of construction material left on the footpath itself at many places. A few-foot-wide initially planned footpath has been reduced to a non-existent footpath. Work was held up for reasons better known to the JMC for a few months and has restarted again now.
Right now, one side of the drain at Kanak Mandi, Rajinder Bazar, Jain Bazar, and Sarajan di Dhakki is dug up. The debris has been lying there for days, and the ever-busy business hub of Jammu has been reduced to multiple dumping sites. Though every tender has a specific timeline to complete the project, this is never adhered to, citing lame and sometimes ridiculous excuses. Residents are never taken into confidence in the planning, with the result that long-standing niggling issues remain unresolved and the resultant outbursts by the aggrieved citizens. The public has been taken on a never-ending ride with contractors working on the projects in bits and pieces at their leisure. Despite complaints to the authorities, there is no visit by the concerned officials, and as a result, there is no punitive action. With an all-carrots-and-no-sticks policy, contractors are ruling the department, and the public is made to bear the nuisance created.
There are no alternative routes planned for traffic, and people are held up for hours in traffic jams in this scorching heat. The debris remains lying in the open for weeks, and with every downpour, it goes into the city drains on the lower side of the city. The main roundabout outside the Civil Secretariat witnesses whole garbage out on the main road within five minutes of the downpour. If this is the case with the Civil Secretariat, where the highest authorities are present in the complex, one can imagine the plight of other places and ordinary men. One fails to understand why, when set laws are already there for handling construction debris, and dumping of construction material under municipal acts, they are not being implemented by JMC itself. Officers never visit the sites and, as such, are not aware of the hardships of the public. Disruption in drinking water, inaccessible roads, sand, dust, and overflowing drains with human faeces are common sights. Authorities seem to be little concerned, and the dream of a Smart City is a nightmarish experience for the general public.
The entire construction and destruction activities have been going on for more than a decade, but only a few projects have been completed. The two mega-parkings of Bus Stand and Panjthirthi remain mostly unused, but another one is coming up after demolishing the historic Gumat stairs and gates. Denis Gate had already been encroached upon, five out of twenty-five heritage palaces at Mubarak Mandi had already been lost, and there is no one to save the centuries-old heritage of Jammu City. Once the City of Temples has been reduced to a City of rubble and debris, without completing the existing projects, new ones are conceived, announced, and started with much fanfare but linger on for years. While some get shelved even before starting and others keep on breathing on ventilators for years together, and the public gets tormented for no fault of their own.
Not going into the nitty-gritty of completed projects, but one thing is for certain: all tall claims are not factually true; a lot has to be done, and much is desired from JMC and Smart City officials. One expects more transparency in work, assurance of quality work, taking the public into confidence, and sticking to the timeline for the completion of various works. This never-ending circle of so-called development projects must end on a happy note rather than a period of suffering for the general public. Authorities must visit the project sites, specifically in the interiors of the city, and see for themselves what is going on and chalk out a plan to manage things properly instead of leaving everything at the whims and fancies of the contractors. Contractors usually take on multiple projects and keep rotating their workforce accordingly at their sweet convenience. Authorities must use the checks and balances at their disposal, including revoking bank guarantees, to make things work better.
Higher authorities must take things seriously to checkmate the contractor-corporator-official nexus. Smart cities are being built for the convenience of the public, and this spirit should be maintained at any cost. For weeks and, in some cases, months, a particular lane lacks the visit of sanitary workers as lanes and drains remain under repair for months together. One hopes good sense prevails and authorities take cognizance of the matter seriously to work out some immediate, workable solutions. Monsoon days are not far away, and it’s better to plan now than cut a sorry figure later on.