Archimedes had said more than two millennia back ‘Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world’. Of course, literally anything is possible including restoration of Nallah Mar but for that one must ask the question: to what purpose, at what cost and with what impact.
The Mar can be reconstructed, including lining it with bricks, exactly the way Bud Shah had constructed it six centuries back, but it will cost a fortune. Since the Mar will not be able to draw enough water on its own from Dal, as it was historically doing, because of the reduced water level in the Dal, we will instead need to install massive pumps to bring water into it from the Brari Numbal lagoon which in turn will draw water from the Dal. This will mean huge pumping costs.
Equally importantly, since the whole of Zabarwan hill range right from Brein to Dara has been urbanised, one is not sure if there is enough water flowing into Dal from the hill range for it to be able to afford to water the Nallah Mar as it historically was doing.
Restoring The Nallah Mar will mean losing the existing Nallah Mar road. This will be causing massive traffic disruption not only in the Shehr-Khas but for the population living towards north of Srinagar. Whole of the existing road network system in that area will go for a big toss.
And what about the hundreds of shopkeepers and other business establishment which have come up alongside the Nallah Mar road. These businesses will need rehabilitation. Even if we retain the shops and buildings and construct the Mar within the carriageway of the existing four lane Mar road, it will still cause massive impact to the businesses there.
Moreover, what will we be gaining from the restoration of the Nallah Mar – if it was about being Venice of the East, we have labyrinth of water channels flowing (not sure though if they are actually flowing) through the old city which have literally turned into sewers and in another decade, they will be like what Nallah Mar was in late 60’s.
Why do we not clean up these waterways and revive them -remove the garbage, filth, and encroachments, ensure no drains discharge into these waterways and then beautify their banks. With some investment into improving their hydraulics, I am sure these waterways can be used for water transport, including carrying tourists in boats to visit the interiors of the old town. After successfully demonstrating our ability to maintain these channels for some time, we can then revisit the issue of restoration of Nallah Mar
What if Nallah Mar Road had not been Constructed
For a minute imagine the Shehr-Khas, today without the Nallah Mar road. Of course we would possibly have had some widening of the roads in the old city done from time to time but I am sure despite that the whole downtown would have been a huge traffic mess if Nallah Mar road had not been constructed.
The businesses in the Shehr-Khas, particularly in Maharaj Gunj area, would not have prospered as much, rather many would have closed down. Likewise, the businesses carried out along the Mar road would not have been there.
And it would not be just about downtown – the expansion of the city that has happened towards north of Srinagar would certainly have been much less compared to what it is today. The Nallah Mar road acts at the main artery between Shehr-Khas and north, west and central Srinagar.
Lessons for Future
While we can delve into the past and point fingers it is only better to learn lessons from the past and make sure we do not repeat same or similar mistakes in future. As they say,’ learn to make new mistakes rather than repeating the old one’s’.
At the same time, it needs to be mentioned here that often we frame very strong opinions about issues without a full appreciation of the issue itself, the options available then to the people at the helm of affairs and the limitations they might have had to suffer,
Today we have three water channels, Chunth Khul, Sunhri Khul and Kut Kuhl, within the Srinagar city, who are begging for attention. These channels might not be as famous as the Nallah Mar but in their own stead each one of them is important and, if correctly developed, has the potential of making us forget Nalla Mar. Rather than lamenting on the past, why do not we commit to revive these three water channels?
Currently, they are in a pathetic state; because of the poor hydraulics they are heavily silted and have huge vegetative growth. They have been massively encroached upon and at places are used as a catchment sewers. Only the stretch from Ram Munshi Bagh Gate to Sule Galwan Bridge (between Radio Station- Burn Hall School) is clean but then it has very high chain link fencing on either side that it is impossible to look into it, not to talk of enjoying it.
What is needed is to revive these water channels. Besides cleaning them up, which will involve heavy desilting, removing of encroachments and repairing of the sides, we also need to study their hydraulics and make sure we can make available enough discharge in them to keep them clean and navigable. At the same time, we need to develop and have in place a protocol to ensure they do not suffer the apathy and negligence that they have had to suffer in the last sixty plus years.
Hopefully, with the revitalising of these three channels, we can also focus on Bab Demb and other water bodies like Khushal Sar, Gil Sar and Anchar, though the Khushal Sar has seen massive improvement, thanks to the initiative taken by Jenab Manzoor Sahib Wangnoo and his organisation NALCO.
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].