As Srinagar city is witnessing scarcity of land due to growing urbanization and business is expanding very fast, huge multi storied buildings for commercial purpose are being constructed and the number of such complexes is increasing rapidly day by day.
Especially in the last two years, roughly the city can be described as city of complexes as the city is witnessing an upsurge in the number of shopping complexes with many arcades popping up in and around city’s business nerve, Lal Chowk.
Displaying an array of items, Sangarmal the much hyped mall in the valley along with other shopping malls are frequently visited by thousands of visitors from different walks of life every day.
From Jewellery to furniture and designer wears to crockery, the mall provides a complete package for shopping under one roof.
Saima Tahir, a housewife from Rajbagh said that from the day mall opened she and her friends have been a regular customer of the mall. All fine quality garments one can find here. I now prefer to shop here even though I have to pay some bucks extra. Brand matters to me and I believe in quality.”
Nullifying the stereotype that malls are for elites, Adil Ahmad owner of a Jewellery showroom at Sangarmal said his shop caters to all the segments of the society. “I don’t stand here for the elites only. I make it mandatory that all customers who visit my showroom should leave satisfied,” Adil said.
SHOPPING COMPLEXES, a Positive trend.
Following the boom of commercial complexes, business community has also jumped in construction of complexes and shopkeepers seem to be eager to find a space in shopping complex instead of traditional shops.
Business fraternity and city planners favor the trend of shopping complexes. “We should prefer vertical growth instead of horizontal as the city is shrinking day by day,” Shahid Masoodi, an architectural engineer in Srinagar
Terming commercial complexes as beneficial for both customers as well as business class, experts term the growth of shopping complex in the city a good sign for the business.
“It is good for our business that more and more shopping complexes are coming up as they provide space to the people intending to start business,” said Mohammad Iqbal Sheikh, a shopkeeper in MS Shopping Mall at Residency road. “The shopping complexes create good impression among tourists visiting here,” he added.
Despite many advantages, Kashmir Trade and Manufacturers Federation (KTMF) is unhappy with the current boom of construction of shopping complexes.
KTMF secretary Bashir Ahmad Dar said In the long run shopping complexes are going to be disastrous. “Whosoever finds a space in city, he makes a complex without any proper planning,” he said. “Tomorrow if government plans to widen the road, most of the shopping complexes have to be demolished,” he added.
Dar said the government agencies like SMC and SDA are there to guide the people who plan to make complexes. “But they failed to plan it properly which will have disastrous repercussions in future,” he said.
Though the ‘development’ was good for the society but the many constructions have been done in violation to the master plan. The violations in league with the officials of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) mutilated the image of the city and endangered the sustainable development.
The unabated violations forced State High Court to takle cognizance of the issue under a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) under which as many as 40 buildings were sealed in October.
The sealed buildings were in violations of section 8 under JK Control of Building Operations Act 1988 (COBA).
It was witnessed that there are more than 3000 illegal structures in the town but so far only 40 structures have been sealed. Court had already taken strong notice of the SMC delay tactics when advocate for the petitioners Advocate Firdous Ahmad informed the court that the corporation issued demolition orders of the illegal structures on March 16, 2009, “however no action was taken after that”.
The situation reached to the extent that court is now monitoring the case itself and the assets of SMC officials are under scanner.
The court also sealed some property of Chief Enforcement Officer (CEO) of the corporation. “Corruption in SMC forced many to suffer. They allowed commercial activities in residential areas,” said a local from KAranagar. “We approached SMC many times with complaints but we were ignored. Had SMC acted that time, the situation would not have reached here,” he added.
An advocate of the high court said the sealing issue in the PIL came after a counsel casually submitted before court that he had to shift from Karanagar to uptown owing to conversion of residential area of Karanagar into business hub. “It is that time the court took strong note of it and hence followed the case,” he added. “the PIL was submitted seeking removal of vendors from roads in the city and it ended up sealing so many buildings,” he added.
Most of the malls in the city are either without toilets or are in unhygienic conditions.
“From past four years we are asking the Mall owner to repair the washrooms in the mall but he pays no heed to it,” said Sheikh. “Now we stopped begging before him instead we use washroom of a nearby Masjid,” he added.
The shopkeepers in much hyped Sangarmaal also complain of unhygienic conditions. “The toilets and washrooms are flooded with water as pipes are blocked,” said a stall owner. “Despite repeated requests, authorities never bothered to pay any heed,” he added.
The shopkeepers said they feel ashamed when any tourist visits the Mall. “Only cleanliness drive is done when some VIP has to visit the mall,” they said.
Tourists who visit the mall said that the authorities should keep the toilets in hygienic conditions. “I am very disappointed by the hygiene of the mall. It should be brought in the notice of the authorities to keep the toilets in hygienic conditions, Jasmine a tourist from Delhi said.
According to policy of State Pollution Control Board, the hotel which has more than twenty rooms should have a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) in operation. However no hotel has STP in operation or in working condition.
“Only one hotel, that is Hotel Khyber Himalayan Resorts had individual STP facility in place but yet to be made operational,” court observed while quoting affidavit filed by Gulmarg Development Authority in a PIL.
The Court had observed that SPCB is deliberately not performing its functions in accordance with the rules and regulations. “Officials reveal that the hotels having more than 20 rooms have been given consent although there is no STP.”
The court again took a tough stand this time and ordered to ban activities of many prominent hotels of the city.
LACK OF PARKING
The lack of parking facilities in these commercial houses is another biggest problem with the shopping complexes which has added to the traffic congestion in the city especially in the prime commercial centers.
Rampant violation of the building bye laws by most of the commercial complexes and shopping malls in the city is a cause of concern for residents who continually struggle to come to terms with the ever growing traffic menace
Despite the mandatory provision where commercial complexes should have a proper space for parking of vehicles, majority of the commercial houses comply with this provision of the law.
The problem is not restricted to the main commercial hub of the city. Even in the outskirts of the main commercial hub, shopping complexes don’t have the space for parking.
Chairmen Srinagar Development Authority recently said a multi-layer parking site is coming up at Old KMD in Lal Chowk. “We are making slots available for parking wherever we find any suitable space to reduce traffic congestion,” he added.