Soon after the project was started and, as happens with anything in Kashmir, people have for long associated conspiracy theories with the planning and implementation of the Nallah Mar Project. We shall discuss them in a little more detail in the next section.
Also, well after the project was implemented, people started reminiscing about the Mar and as is norm here the State’s engineers were blamed for the loss of the beautiful Mar.
They continue to be blamed for their shortsightedness and their myopic vision, in that they could not conceive a better plan and alternative to address the issues and problems plaguing the Mar in the 50’s and 60’s.
Ever since its construction, the Nallah Mar Development Project has been hanging like an albatross around the neck of state’s engineers as they continue to be blamed for their failure to come up with a proposal which would retain the uniqueness of the Mar
Since the construction of the Nallah Mar road involved acquisition and rehabilitation of a few hundred households, one of these popular conspiracy theories has been that the project was conceived and implemented only to erode the vote base of a particular political party which had a very strong following along the erstwhile waterway. The other theory has been that the Nallah Mar road was constructed to provide easy access to security forces into the interiors of the old town.
It is a fact that construction of Nallah Mar road vastly improved the accessibility into the interiors of the old town which had always been known for having frequent law and order problems. However, to suggest that the Project was conceived for just providing easy access to security forces into the interior of the old town is certainly a stretch.
As regards the theory of dislocating a certain group or section of the voters, let us have a quick look at the numbers. A total of 400 houses involving 650 families were to be relocated under the Mar Plan.
Some of these families were to be relocated in nearby areas and others were to be given plots. If we imagine about 600 families were relocated to other areas, and average family size was around 8 people, we are talking of about 5,000 people.
Out of this roughly half would have been eligible voters, considering the other half would be below the minimum voting age and also some very elderly people who were unlikely to vote. So, a total of about 2500 votes spread over possibly 3 assembly constituencies of Eidgah, Khanyar and Habba Kadal. Averaging around 800 votes in each assembly constituency.
Presuming 70% of them were belonging to a particular party it does not add up to effectively relocating 500 to 600 votes per constituency – very high level figures but sharing them here to give reader a feel of the numbers. The real numbers could possibly be even less.
Certainly not the numbers to be taken very seriously in an assembly election. Moreover, the manner in which the elections were held then it was very unlikely that winning an election or formation of a government would depend on the voting in these three constituencies.
Change of Design
Many people are curious to know who changed the approved design of Nallah Mar Development Project and deleted the proposal to have a sewer underneath the road. I think the more pertinent question to ask is ‘why was the design changed’ rather than ‘who changed the design’. I do not think the answer to either of the two questions is readily available with any degree of certainty and confidence.
When the execution of the Nallah Mar Project was started, as per the original design, a precast pipe sewer was laid for the first 1.5 km (up to about Bohri Kadal) but later the design proposal was changed and the precast pipe sewer delete from the works.
We all know laying a deep sewer line (ranging from 12 feet to more than 25 feet depth) with equally deep manholes in a channel full of muck (decomposed garbage, night soil etc) is a very difficult, arduous and time-consuming affair and involves high cost. It needs to be mentioned here that at the time the Mar project was executed, the excavators (JCB) which we see on literally any construction site today were not available then and all the work was carried out manually.
Thus the likely reason for deleting laying of the sewer seem to have been the slow speed of the progress of works and difficulties associated with the laying of the sewer pipes. With the new dispensation assuming power in the mid-70’s when the project execution had started, the focus must have been to demonstrate the speedy project execution to send a message to the general public that they were accelerating the pace of developmental projects. In the bargain, the sewer works of the project were the unfortunate victim.
Besides deleting the construction of sewer from the project, the plan to construct single, two and three room flats and other building works, except the shop lines, was also deleted from the Project.
In an article authored by Er M Ashraf Fazilli, Er Abdul Salam Sheikh, the then Vice Chairman, Srinagar Development Authority, the executing agency for the Nallah Mar Development Project made two interesting revelations:
i. that the proposal to have a deep sewer under the road was abandoned because of financial constraints and,
ii. since the housing component of the Project was not economical and that the government was paying interest to HUDCO for the loan taken from it, the then Chief Minister instructed to delete the housing (read building) component of the Project and return back the money to HUDCO.
To be continued…
The piece was first published on Greater Kashmir.
Iftikhar Drabu is a published author, a Civil Engineer by qualification, and a student of history.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir. Feedback and counter-views are welcome at [email protected].