Old Jammu City

Crumbling and withering

Rajan Gandhi
The importance of Old Jammu City can be gauged from the fact that every tourist, interstate or of state, has to pass from this constituency as main bus stand is here only, every patient has to come here as SMGS hospital is here, every buyer has to come here as wholesale general market is here at Kanak Mandi and Ware House, every wedding shopper has to visit here as all leading jewellery and garment showrooms are at Jain Bazar, Lakhdata Bazar and Link Road.
Old Centre of power Mubarak Mandi Complex and present power centre Civil Secretariat are here only. In addition to these major hotels like Asia, KC Residency, Hari Niwas Palace, first mall of Jammu – City Square, Jammu Tourism Directorate along with JKTDC hotel, IGP – SSP – Crime branch Jammu offices and Jammu Municipal Corporation office are also in this constituency. Even RSS main office of Jammu and Kashmir is in this constituency itself. Gita Bhavan, the starting point of Shri Amarnath Yatra is also in the old city. Another milestone of this constituency is communal harmony as there have been no communal disturbance even during 2008 agitation as well and it will be worth mention that largest mosque of Talab Khatikan, Gurudwara Bibi Chand Kour, Raghunath Mandir and first Church of Jammu region are also in old city itself . Anyone standing at Kachi Chawni, Parade, Chowk Chabutra or for that matter any part of old city will vouch that there are more visible students from Leh, Ladakh and Kashmir who stay in PGs to pursue their studies in complete harmony in this constituency. Worth mentioning are numerous mandirs of old city due to which Jammu has been tagged as ‘City of Temples’.
Though all these things point out the stature and importance of old city yet it has not been developed as it should be with the passage of time. Most of the time it being the constituency of an opposition MLA it consistently lacked overall development with no proper parking facilities, old dilapidated bus stand, crumbling lanes and drains, no substantial parks or sports infrastructure, continuous drinking water scarcity with no plan to improve or repair existing infrastructure. Old Jammu City is crumbling and withering with the passage of time as no parking meant least business which resulted in exodus of locals to modern localities resulting in free fall of property prices. Half hearted approach to somehow set right the things has consistently failed. Though first multilevel parking of our state was inaugurated by none other than CM herself at City Chowk, built at an estimated cost of 50 crores but it is too little too late and resultant loss of business of Raghunath Bazar, City Chowk and adjacent markets is too obvious with all leading brands shifting to Gandhi Nagar or malls. Though more parking lots are in the pipeline like Panjtirthi, Circular road near Baba Lalji lane, near Samadhiyan opposite Gurudwara but the pace at which work is going on it will take quite a considerable time as no ground work has yet started. Much publicised Ultra Modern bus stand at an estimated cost of over 200 crores with shopping complex and ample parking for buses and taxis is also coming up but at snail’s pace. Maharaja Hari Singh Park and statue which has added an additional tourist spot along with development of Peer Kho Mandir area with fountain and park adding to the serene beauty of the Tawi bank but the stinking smell of city nullah directly discharging city waste into river Tawi one near Peer Kho and other near cremation ground makes one wonder is this place worth to sit. First one of its kind in whole Jammu region Gandola project is coming up which will give a tremendous boost to the pilgrimage, tourism and economy of the area with numerous self employment generation opportunities as per Government but where is the parking place for tourists as it is virtually impossible for tourists buses to reach Peer Kho for a ride or for that matter even locals as there is no parking place. Another mega project worth mentioning is Tawi River Front on the pattern of famous Narmada River Front but like other projects it is still in hibernation state. Even Smart City project has special package for Old City as it is proposed to be developed and restored as Heritage City with a plan to restore the old city to its original state with huge gates at Gumat, Mubarak Mandi along with whole complex getting its original shape with tourist hustle and bustle. Even Master Plan 2032 also has special plans to maintain this heritage status of the old city as some offices are supposed to be moved out of the city to decongest it and number of utilities like parking, public toilets, parks will be established in their place. Another prestigious project is Metro which will have bus stand as starting and ending point for all the proposed routes. But right now all these, be it Smart City or Master Plan 2032 or Metro, have proved to be day dreaming projects of the Government existing in books only and there is no respite to the people of old Jammu city .
Water scarcity is another unresolved issue, as leaking water pipes of Maharaja’s time are unable to cater to population explosion of the city and till date there is no plan in place to replace these rusted, damaged pipes and it may lead to epidemic anytime during summers as happened in Shimla. Only play ground of the city, Parade Ground, is a classic case of neglect as not long ago it was parking place for Civil Secretariat but ultimately State High Court altogether banned vehicle entry to the ground. Though some grills, grass topping has also come up but without any planning with the result, most of the mud flows down the drains during rains. Electric transformer within the ground and ever stinking municipal dumping yard outside speak about the official apathy. Lanes and drains of the old city are inadequate with no up gradation of existing ones and further maximum drains of bazaars had been encroached by shops. Widening of drains of few markets has started, but without any planning causing numerous hardships to the public and loss of business for shopkeepers. Lakhdata Bazaar is a classic case where for last one year drain laying work is going on and on with no immediate completion in sight. The whole road network of city is in dilapidated state as it is more than three years since black topping was done.
The chaos in the market area right from Ragunath Bazaar to City Chowk to JDA market to Purani Mandi to Raj Tilak Road to Parade is too visible to common man but not to authorities, it’s all encroachments only to the extent that there is no place for even public to walk leave alone vehicular traffic. One is astonished to observe that these are same roads where city buses used to ply or even SRTC trucks plied to supply ration to old city. How recently some new markets have come up in the city is another unresolved riddle, what is the role of Jammu Municipal Corporation otherwise. Even temples have not been spared, as Ram Mandir at Purani Mandi is a classic case where this temple has been converted to a full fledged market. This is the same Ram Mandir of Purani Mandi which caters to thousands of Amarnath pilgrims and the sanitation condition in the surrounding remains pathetic throughout Yatra, one can imagine the condition with thousands of pilgrims defecating in the adjoining drains and authorities just turning a blind eye. Politicians, officials, police nexus is obvious as despite repeated High Court orders to remove the encroachments they still exist right now openly mocking our judicial system and these encroachments are not only causing inconvenience but are serious security risk keeping in view of Jammu’s vulnerability to terrorists activities.
All these issues taken collectively makes one thinking, is it worth living in old city as lots of work are still to be done. Administration may take umbrage but truth is that Old Jammu city is dying. It is unable to cope with the mass of population and their aspiration for a life with basic minimum dignity – food, clothes and shelter. Pace of Mubarak Mandi Complex restoration is too slow and with this speed by the time some work will be completed, the earlier restored work will again start crumbling, JMC’s dumping site at Parade has to be moved out as it’s a blot adjacent to Civil Secretariat, more parking lots especially around Civil Secretariat have to be established, shifting and development of Sabzi Mandi area, establishment of more Primary Health Centres or evening clinics and dire need of improvement in sanitation conditions are few grey areas which ought to be taken care at war footing. One hopes various departments specially Tourism, Housing and Urban Development Department sit together to chalk out a workable strategy to be implemented at the earliest to save Old Jammu City from suffocating to death. Only time will tell will they succeed or not but residents are going to pay the price till then.