Gilgit paying price for indiscriminate urbanization (The Nation dated August 1, 2002)
Syed Shams ud Din
URBANISATION, when it occasions haphazardly without any town planning remaining on the anvil, takes its tolls. The dwellers of such massive human concentrations have to face an infernal state unless remedial measures are taken for doing away with such appalling state.
Gilgit city today seems to be the total antithesis of what it was some three decades ago when it lay in its pristine, glorious state free of any pollution. The existing two grand water canals called ‘dalejas’ in the vernacular, carried pure potable water which was also used for irrigation purposes by the inhabitants to get the erstwhile agrarian activity going.
There were verdant fields all around that owed their greenery to the abundant water flowing from the adjoining Kargha nullah. All around the periphery of each and every farmland, wild plants and flora grew in abundance. Even the water-logged area of the central town would get utilized for growing rice. The water carried by the canals was crystal clear and known for its purity being wholly contamination-free. There were no outbreaks of water-borne diseases like cholera etc. vis a vis the present situation horrific pollution that can metaphorically be termed metastasis. This is regardless of the fact that efforts on governmental level have remained on the anvil but their efficiency gets bedeviled by the explosion in population being witnessed here.
The two grand canals of Gilgit city as regional history bears out, were got constructed by the local empress called ‘Dade Juware’ during thr rule of her grandson Goritham, have always served as the arteries of Gilgit. Both the ‘dalejas’ run across the town starting from Naopura-Basin and terminating at Sonikote on the north-east.
It comes to the fore that Gilgit witnessed enormous demographic pressures which mainly het ascribed to its being the veritable metropolis of the Northern Areas. The construction of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) and eventual trade and commerce activity made it the veritable hub. What has been yet another source of attraction is the trade that got underway between Pakistan and China across Khunjrab Pass. In short, the population pressures here mounted and became all the more pronounced from 70s onward because of massive migrations taking place not simply from across the region itself but from the rest of the country as well.
The result of this was horrific decimation of agricultural land and rampant depletion of indigenous resources. The farmland came to be utilized uncheckably for the construction of more dwellings - all haphazardly and in an unplanned manner in that there existed absolutely no ‘blueprint’ to regulate the rapid urbanization of Gilgit. Preliminarily, piped water supply was nonexistent, hence new-built houses concentrated along above canals and sub-canals leading to the localities (mohellahs). Copnsequently, untold pollution and contamination of the water was witnessed in the town. Piped water supply was later ensured to the dwellers but nonetheless, the problems associated with drainage and sewerage kept on posing threats to the dwellers.
It is pertinent to mention that there were no noxious fumes or smoke-emissions decades ago. This was because of the fact that there was no vehicular traffic here at all with a very few jeeps faintly creeping about, unlike the present transport that keeps on surging year by year. This scribe remembers the days when the then kutcha jeepable road from Gilgit bazaar to the aerodrome, replaced by the present arterial road, called Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam, was first widened somewhere in later 60s. This entailed the extirpation of the majestic willow trees lining on either side of the road. During those days, Gilgit bazaar, unworthy of being called so, was merely constricted to what is presently called Raja Bazar and Sadar while Gharri Bagh with its monumental watch-tower in the front.
Gharri Bagh then gave a quaint look with a cluster of wooden ‘kiosks’. Trade and business activity was that much brisk as it is today. The entire town gave a primitive look with all the construction being made in the erstwhile way. The present hum and hive of the day was quite abroad to the dwellers of those days. Gilgit lay in a natural setting and hence provided a consoling lap for the lovers of nature for giving moments of genuine relaxation. Having television and flicking it off and on to suit one’s capricious tantrums as it is today, was quite unknown.
All commuters would travel on foot being there no transport facility. But notwithstanding this, there was absolute peace in the region. The entire area was serene and sedate, as materialism had not yet made inroads into that society. It was, therefore, a place giving perennial communion with nature without being sealed off by any din and spin.
But notwithstanding the fore-going, the changes so far, have positive dimensions as well in that the life style has changed indescribably with the modern facilities becoming available. Transport is now available to every nook and corner of the region because of a network of roads. The erstwhile travelling on foot is now almost nonexistent.
The dawn of modern communication era provided nationwide as well as international linkage – a facility now extending to every part of this region. Telephone has come to play a significant role in the life of the people in solving many problems while sitting at home. What however, was widely felt to be disgusting was the condition of the unworthy roads in the interior of the town which has at last, been ameliorated last year by widening the arterial roads befitting a city. The construction of the grand park in the center of Gilgit is yet another landmark that tends to provide all the recreational facilities to the dwellers and visitors.
The land having been acquired for the proposed extension of the Gilgit aerodrome was lying unutilized on subsequent abandoning of the project. Any delay in its conversion into the present park could trigger unabated litigation with numerous former owners turning claimants. But nonetheless, a futuristic planning aimed at tackling further concentration still seems the need of the hour to help all the future constructions strictly in accordance with certain standards and specifications to be set in the course of town planning.
There are numerous link roads in the interior of the town that await immediate widening. Piped water supply in terms of what is called the ‘greater water supply project’ needs be extended eastwards up to Jutial by resolving any dispute or problem that be.
Hopefully, efforts get underway also to complete the other park near the bus stand which is undoubtedly a laudable decision taken by the administration.