For years, Bashir Ahmad, owner of Zainab Textile Emporium, a textile shop on the Bund in the heart of Srinagar city, would send applications to different departments, requesting them to revamp the walkway on the banks of River Jhelum. This walkway was popular with the British in the pre-Independence era. The irrigation and flood control department (that manages the Bund), the Srinagar Municipal Corporation and floriculture department were all petitioned to remove the stones on the road and repair the entry gates to the parks.
"That day never came; they could not even repair the entry gates. Cleaning the Bund was out of question," Ahmad said on Saturday, sitting on the stairs of his shop. The owner of a recently-established café called Chai Jai, Roohi Nazki — wife of Jammu and Kashmir finance minister Dr Haseeb Drabu — decided to hold the spring festival Phulai in the park on the banks of the Jhelum.
It was a great show. Artists painted, Kashmiri folk singers sang songs and vendors sold street food. Kashmir’s elite, albeit a few of them, descended on the park as the Jammu and Kashmir Police battled protesters in the nearby Lal Chowk. There were policemen in uniform and plainclothes — outnumbering the people, even though it was a private event. And almost every department of the state government was present.
"Three days ago, I was shocked when the Department of Floriculture came and started planting trees on the sides of the road. I have been running this shop for the past 15 years and this is the first time I have seen them," said Wasim Mehraj Khan, three generations of whose family have run a small shop on the Bund.
The Bund used to be a 'royal route' and walking on it was once considered a privilege. There was a time when people, Khan said, would wear new clothes before walking through it. Today, motorcycles and cars zoom in and out of the road. The state turned a blind eye to this menace and everything was normalised. No one thought of preserving this heritage walkway until the minister's wife decided to hold the festival.
"This two-day festival was a blessing in disguise," said Ahmad, "I have never seen a municipality vehicle cleaning this road, but they did it for the festival. It doesn’t matter but at least it is clean now. But it shows how sick our society is." The controversial commissioner of the Srinagar municipality, Dr Shafqat Khan, seen as a PDP loyalist, visited the park and made rounds of the Bund three times before the festival, sources said. So did a group of engineers from the irrigation and flood control department. Floriculture department officials were omnipresent. When his men were shelling protesters in the Maisuma area of Srinagar, the SHO of the Kothibagh Police Station, was making rounds of the park to see ensure that everything went off without a hitch.
The Srinagar municipality cleaned the road, removed stones that had been lying there for 20 years and erected blockades to stop vehicles from plying on roads — all of which was for a festival that witnessed the participation of less then 100 people each day. "I want to make this road beautiful, walkable and lovely again," said Khan to Firstpost, outside the festival venue. When asked why the corporation never bothered to clean the road earlier, the commissioner had no answer and instead of entering the venue, having spotted journalists, decided to take a walk on the road with his men.
The Bund in Srinagar was developed by the Dogra regime and was fully developed by Maharaja Pratap Singh in the early 1920s, as a walkway for western tourists, most of them British and officers of the Raj, who used to live in the houseboats anchored along the walkway. "The British loved to walk on the Bund and Kashmiris had little interest in it," Ahmad said, "But what surprises me is that the different governments never showed the kind of enthusiasm for cleaning-up as they did since the day the wife of the finance minister decided to hold the function."
To make the festival a success, the entire government machinery was put to work for this two-day event. The primary purpose of the Bund was to protect the city of Srinagar from the flood waters of the Jhelum. As the footfall of the tourists to the city increased, handicraft, carpet, jewellery and fishing equipment shops came up along, making it a favoured shopping hub. Executive engineer of the irrigation and flood control department, Sartaj Singh told Firstpost that he had knowledge about the spring festival, but said the department had not received any money from the concerned individual or from the organisers of the festival.
"We will send a letter to them if plants are damaged or any other damage is done to the park due to their presence." When asked why, despite repeated attempts by people to the department to repair the gate of the park, they did it just for the festival, he said he had no knowledge about it.
Updated Date: Apr 03, 2017 10:04 AM