Srinagar’s Draft Master Plan – 2035 has an entire chapter dedicated to ‘Natural and Cultural Heritage’ and its conservation strategy includes 28 diverse tasks. The only problem: More than one-third of these tasks fall under a non-existent body, the Jammu & Kashmir Heritage Conservation & Preservation Authority (JKHCPA). The state passed its own Heritage Conservation and Preservation Act in 2010. Taking up the task of preserving tangible and intangible heritage, the act called for the formation of an authority ‘for the purpose of exercising powers and performing the functions assigned’.
Seven years have passed but the body responsible for implementing the act has still not been formed. Only two meetings have been held for its formulation and both have failed to appoint staff members. In 2013, the state cabinet created posts for the JKHCPA which still lies vacant.
Saleem Beg, the state convener of INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage). was part of the initial meetings to formalise the authority. “We wanted Urban Development to take the charge but it was seen as a technical department so the authority fell under the Department of Culture” he said.
Dilshad Khan, Secretary to the state’s culture department responded to queries by saying “You can contact the ‘director’ ”. The JKHCPA doesn’t have a director, Khan later clarified that she was referring to the Director, Archives, Archaeology and Museums. The said directorate falls under Khan’s department. When its director was contacted, he clarified that it’s the Department of Culture which is responsible. Though different government bodies were contacted for information about the JKHCPA, everyone remained clueless.
This obliviousness affects the future of conservation in the state. The nine tasks the JKHCPA has in the Srinagar Development Authority’s (SDA) Draft Master Plan include comprehensive mapping of heritage buildings, socio-economic surveys and conservation under public-private partnership. When asked about JKHCPA’s role, Khan said, “It doesn’t have anything to do with the draft plan”.
The question on how the tasks will be achieved without a functioning body remains unanswered. The SDA’s senior town planner, Farzana Naqashbandi has worked for two years with her department on the draft plan. Yet, on being asked why a non-functioning body was given tasks on conservation, she struggled to clarify.
INTACH’s convener was not surprised with the responses and points to other problems with the draft master plan. “They’ve taken our data but interpreted it in reverse manners. Conservation happens in the entire cityscape, not by identifying specific buildings as the plan does.” he said.
The plan divides the city into two zones for conservation, a division which is the opposite of INTACH’s four zones. Identifying historical sites has also taken a priority, yet for a city like Srinagar treating historical sites in an isolated manner may prove difficult for its long term conservation.
The city has for long suffered from encroachments on land and on water bodies which form its heritage, further the issues of insufficient sanitation, road and drainage networks add to the woes. “When you take a monument out of its surroundings, it lose its context. After the militancy, bureaucrats have become security conscious, they don’t move out, which means they don’t know what they’re doing” says Beg.
If the master plan is any indicator, the JKHCPA is needed for the long term policy on cultural mapping, community development, and urban design with regards to heritage. But if the last seven years are a testament, the body is absent.