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Urban Planning in G-B : A Mirage Yet

THERE CAN BE no gainsaying the fact that in the present era, horrific demographic phenomena are being witnessed all across what is called the Developing World. Pakistan being one of them, is experiencing a litany of very complex and exasperating situations as the direct outcome of and stemming from unplanned urbanization which have overtime, kept exacerbating as populations kept surging with ferocity and concentration humans taking place so haphazardly, sans proper and effective urban planning. This eventual hodge-podge urbanism without any careful planning oft-results into dire situations in all localities shorn of adequate open spaces, public parks, direly needed green belts, sidewalks - posing great dangers to health of the respective communities, Gilgit city being a classic example in Gilgit-Baltistan. Admittedly, those living in an environment offering qualitatively better conditions discernibly have a better outlook in juxtaposition to those inhabiting places offering unhealthy living conditions. In short, communities bereft of salubrious environment are but, doomed to face dire situations in terms of countless health hazards as a consequence. This at once, brings into focus the import of 'Architecture and Town Planning' to address all the myriad problems by ensuring an efficacious planning to be innovatively undertaken to guide planned constructions pursuant to what is called a Master Plan and concomitant regulations that have to remain in force to imparting worth-living conditions. A full-fledged institution managed by the persons with expertise alone, can help address all the issues albeit remaining well cognizant of the area's cultural heritage as well - in order that the latter needing preservation without being allowed to fall a victim to the so-called modern life-styles. In an interesting ‘piece’ appearing in social media sometime back, the writer, perhaps himself a town planner, underscored the significance of 'urban planning' and during the course, made an \apt reference to the celebrated Urban Planner S.B Zisman, saying: “The essential question is not where to build, but where not to build”. Let it be reiterated here that any lackadaisical approach in the context of urban planning at places and the absence of strict adherence to the master plan at certain urban centers generally, has been generative of innumerable problems and messy affairs. This has all the more been the cause of great alarm generally while the situation in the peripheral regions is particularly pathetically exasperating.
Gilgit city, circa 1934.

In this respect, Gilgit-Baltistan has all along, lagged far behind all the rest in this particular context as the flurry of activities spanning 1970s onward, till to date bring this all to the fore. Thus things like a Master Plan, concepts of urban-planning have been abroad here in this region as a consequence of which, it has all been hurtling along bein there in vogue a state of 'free for all' that resulted into mushroom growth of intra-city dwellings simply involving conversion of the ancestral stone or brick-built houses of the mohellah or localities into concrete buildings in the changed times and climes.Take the example of the region’s provincial metropolis Gilgit, which has been subject to and victim of the sort of merciless urbanism it remained endlessly subject to especially from 1970s onward. Until 1960s, it offered verdant fields with pure, potable water of Kargah nullah flowing along the two historic Grand Channels got them built so strenuously during ‘Dade Juvare’ era – the famed ruler of the area. One reliving those times would profitably recall how the inhabitants of the area kept using until then, the pure and uncontaminated water of the 'dalejas' freely for drinking purposes but ironically, things underwent an abrupt change for the worst, from seventies onward as a result of constructions undertaken so haphazardly, in the complete absence of a Master Plan so direly needed to ensure urban planning and directing a regulated sprawl in keeping with the mounting demographic pressures.

A view of Gilgit Town from Konodas, circa 1934.
Put in a nutshell, this was the direct outcome of population explosion getting underway since 1970s onward leading to catapulting this frontier town into the present bustling city. During these ventures, both the erstwhile ‘dalejas’  were gotten polluted with the passage of time as a result of  the rampant and uncheckable constructions to hurriedly meet the growing demands of a bulging population. This horrific metamorphosis then led the populace to depend squarely on piped water supply to the bazaar area as well as the mohellahs during the course. This all occasioned because of an apparent apathy of the respective authorities remaining blind to these changes through all these decades who never bothered to establish a full-fledged  department of architecture and town planning to conceive of and hammering out a Master Plan so direly needed to allow the expansion accordingly.

One, reminiscing those times, is to recollect vividly that the entire area except that of Raja Bazar, Saddar Bazar and Cinema Bazar including that of the surrounding mohellahs, comprised farmland with verdant fields glistening with pure drinkable water until seventies where seasonal cropping was undertaken by the respective owners uninterruptedly - a pristine state that was allowed to fade and the vividity of this place lost soon afterwards in the face of the demographic transition versus worsening state in terms of effective town planning to sustain the rapid grow of the numbers. Such unwise measures everywhere engender suffocative atmospheres there be no vent the overpopulation, social tensions or turbulence, and political frustrations could be the sequel. 
Sadly, the worsening state that followed the decade of seventies as a result of the lackadaisical approach adopted by the authorities who all along, acted as silent spectators while the population of Gilgit was horrifically swelling because of drift of people from  adjoining areas - a streaming into the city led the owners of the the farmland to resort to embarked on unplanned constructions to cater to the rising demands of people flocking towards this city, in the absence of there being any check whatsoever. Had there been any Master Plan in place to regulate the sprawl, Gilgit would have had an intra-city network of arterial roads to address the contemporary issues as well as future traffic snarls as being ironically witnessed nowadays.

No Lesson Learnt Yet: What is, nonetheless, more saddening is that no lesson whatsoever, seems to have been learnt from the past yet as is well testified by the the ominously unplanned sprawl still getting underway in Gilgit city and the adjoining areas falling under its municipal limits. Firstly, it sprawled and expanded towards mohellahs Amphari, Kashrote, Barmas, Haiderpura, Nagaral, Kulchinote, Khomar and Jutial. The last named had earlier been villages called mouzas. It is noteworthy that the nearby Danyore, now made sub-divisional headquarter, at this point in time, presents almost the same landscape as Gilgit once had in late sixties. This locality, a mega-village until recently, has fast turned into a township in terms of and in keeping with the way it sprawls uncheckably in the absence of there any stringent regulations put in place to guide the expansion. It is high time that a prudent planning is carried out at this stage to avoid things to precipitate by keeping in minds the fate of Gilgit city as illustrated in the above. Though difficult yet not insurmountable remains the task of still guiding all future constructions within the municipal area of Gilgit city if a Master Plan for the city’s future development is is put in place at the earliest for strict enforcement. Keeping in view the happenings of the preceding four decades, one may genuinely conclude that the rest of the area adjoining Gilgit as far as Basin. Nawpura on the west, from Jutial to Sakwar and Minawar and from Danoyre to Oshikhandas-Jalalabad up to Chamoghar to the east while Sultanabad towards Jutal, will have immense human concentrations in the decades to come. Likewise all the district headquarters of the administrative districts - all will be facing the same situation. Given this, prudence demands that a full-fledged department of architects and town planners put in place at the earliest to task it with the implementation of a Master Plan for Gilgit-Baltistan to be followed in letter and spirit to avoid hardships to the population and ensuring them a healthy and hassle-free living. The prevalent situation demands that the authorities wake up from their deep slumber for being cognizant of horrific problems resulting from unplanned urbanization lest it should be very late. The haphazard constructions as said before, are likely to further sprawl towards unattuned to a Master Plan to guide the metamorphosis taking place.

It certainly not the time to remain silent spectators from the sidelines as such a lackadaisical approach all along in the past led to turning into an infernal state of two and a half mile stretch of Gilgit thereby making it unworthy of and unfit for living for the environmental reasons eversince the polluting the grand water courses (dalejas) exacerbated by lacks of intra-city arterial roads to ensure intra-city transport system to synchronize with the emerging realities and standing the test of the changing times. This all has stemmed from the complete absence of a Master Plan and building regulations in place to direct the development on scientific lines projecting all future needs to accommodate the transformations and diversities in developing trends. It is noteworthy that no efforts whatsoever, were made all along in the past to put in place an institution to be specifically tasked with the conceiving a Master Plan, proposing laws and performance-based prescriptive byelaws by way to launching pilot projects for the said performance-based byelaws and contemplating allied legislative measures and enforcement mechanism by taking up viable developmental paradigms. In the light of the prevailing scenario of mushrooming buildings/constructions sans a Master Plan and the absence of a clear regulatory mechanism, the state of affairs in the city have precipitated overtime in the environmental context, ad nauseam. Nor is there equally the baseline land-use data. Whatever may have remained in force as byelaws sans any viable master plan to be enforced by a specifically instituted a full-fledged architecture & town planning department at the provincial level to devolve these functions. This has, obviously engendered innumerable difficulties as the city was allowed to sprawl at whim there being no blueprint to direct the expansion in an environment-friendly manner attuned to the spirit OF and in conformity with the much-needed town planning and buildings regulations. Had a mechanism like this was put in place and strictly enforced, the current hodgepodge and the concomitant horrific landscape redressed. Alongside this, countless health-related issues including sewage/drainage addressed significantly. Since these imprudent measures got underway from 1970s onward endangering the flow of pure, drinkable water of the time the Dadi-e-Jowari canals (daleja I and II) polluted as a consequence of the rampant and unplanned constructions along them. Building Control Regulations: It is however, vital to note that no regulations were ever made enforceable here or adapted those in force in the rest of the country, doe application through a ‘department of architects and town planner’ - specific institution to deal with these crucial matters competently to check building violations, illegal constructions along right of way and conversion of and use in residential localities of high density. These are all the main reasons and issues related have a bearing on the management and planning and are as such complex and convoluted, falling under the jurisdiction of the above urban land management institution.
An aerial view of Gilgit city
In the current pathetic landscape, Gilgit lacks a proper network of intra-city road connectivity whatsoever, with the result that the roads -  do not have the capacity to sustain the ever increasing intra-city vehicular traffic which is further compounded by the commuters-laden vehicles entering into the city everyday, from the adjoining areas and vice versa. In such a complex scenario  which is the direct outcome of the narrow roads incapable to sustain such a growing traffic. No measures like anti-encroachment drives against or 'wrong-parkings' could prove effective unless parking areas at crowding places in the bazaar area are identified and built to minimize the pressure.

Let yet another crucial matter be discussed threadbare id est that when the prospective Master Plan remains on the anvil and assumes finality, the inhabitants (landowners) of localities like Danyore witnessing a population boom, may be persuaded to abide by  the building regulations while carrying out constructions attuned to and in conformity with the prospective Master Plan, in an effort to turn it into a well-built urban centre by averting any deleterious effects to arise from an unregulated urbanism as experienced in the case of Gilgit city.  


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