A candid interview with newly appointed DC Srinagar Aijaz Asad
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A candid interview with newly appointed DC Srinagar Aijaz Asad

· Positive cases among tourists very low · Immediate priority to black-top roads

Post by on Saturday, April 3, 2021

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Srinagar of late has seen spike in new Coronavirus cases prompting authorities to label city as orange zone. At the same time good chunk of tourists are visiting Kashmir to witness the arrival of spring. To ensure keeping virus at bay and allowing tourism players’ economic opportunities has challenges of its own. To discuss Covid situation and what authorities are doing for the development of Srinagar, Rising Kashmir’s Correspondent Misabah Bhat spoke to the newly appointed Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar, Aijaz Asad.   



Misabah Bhat: Recently Srinagar has been put in the Orange Zone. How are you handling the situation and how are you trying to overcome the challenges? 

Aijaz Asad: Categorization in Orange Zone does not put any stipulations in terms of seeking permissions for gatherings or traveling from one district to another. Orange Zone is basically a state of alertness. At this stage we have constituted a comprehensive task force of executive magistrates, police officials and other government officials of various departments to implement the guidelines that have been issued of late. To put it precisely it will be enforcement of wearing masks, maintain social distancing, hand hygiene and Covid vaccination. These are the four pillars of fighting this virus. At the same time, the orange zone demands more alertness from the entire population to adherence to Covid protocol. 


Misabah: Do you have any guidelines regarding public transport particularly buses that run overcrowded?

Aijaz Asad: There are guidelines, and the guidelines will stay as long as this virus is around us. For public transport, social distancing is very important. In Green Zone you can operate with full capacity while in Red Zone the distributions are very different. Having said that I would only say that the transporters, the owners of business establishments, the hoteliers they have been already communicated the directions very categorically and wherever we find violations, like few days back I  visited few establishments and one of the establishments which is very famous here in Srinagar I found no proper social distancing, the spacing between seat was not up to the mark it was actually overcrowded so we ordered removal of an entire row of chairs from the centre of the floor to open up space and maintaining an appropriate distance. So, instructions are already there and there will be strict adherence to these instructions and whosoever will violate the instructions we will take action against them.


Misabah: What are your preparations for tourists in view of these surging Covid cases?

Aijaz Asad: There is a misconception that recent positive cases are from tourists from outside, which is not true in fact positive cases among tourists are very low. In most cases, it is local travellers who are coming back from some of the hotspot regions, they are tested but the day they are tested they may be negative, and they may develop positivity or symptoms later on and for that we also have the entire protocol in a place like when a positive case is detected we have micro containment zones as indeed we have 10 micro containment zones in Srinagar. Once there are 5 positive cases, we declare a particular area as a micro containment. So, we are following the protocols and let me tell you that J&K has the strictest protocol at airports where nobody is allowed to move out of airports unless testing is done.


Misabah: Are there any institutional quarantines right now?

Aijaz Asad: There are no institutional quarantines as of now because we are closely, microscopically watching the situation as of the date the protocol are about the home isolation/quarantine and our medical teams keep a tab of positive cases and they ensure that home isolation is there and that people are not mixing at home as well. So, isolation is in place even for tourists if there is a positive case, they are isolated at the hotels which are the protocol that was set last time.




Misabah: With the rush of tourists what are the plans to enhance it further?

Aijaz Asad: J&K has witnessed a huge footfall of tourists this season and perhaps after many years, this is the time when the business community, the hoteliers if you see at Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Srinagar the entire winter all the hotels were full in fact many more people wanted to come but they did not get the accommodation/reservations that are the level of tourist footfall. As long as protocols are followed it will be good. Let me tell you also that this virus is global, and you see that you also cannot have a situation where life comes to a standstill, we have seen lockdowns and we saw what happened to the daily wager, what happened to the shikara wala, what happened to daily bread earners they faced the most brunt of it. We have gone through a lockdown phase and we have realised that adherence to protocols is the best way to control it. There is a big difference between the surges of last year and this year there is a vaccine now. In Srinagar, I have already appealed to the eligible groups/prioritised groups to come forward and get the dose of vaccination. That is important because it gives protection and immunity to the person.


Misabah: What about plans for enhancing tourism?

Aijaz Asad: Enhancement is not on agenda. Tourists are coming, it is natural they have their reservations, they have their bookings done so they are coming. It is a natural process that is happening in the natural course of things. Like there is bloom in Tulip Garden J&K is all over blooming and blossoming, everybody wants to see Kashmir at this point of time and following protocols things can be managed.


Misabah: Why isn’t the administration allowing some recreational activities like hot air balloon, paragliding, etc they will attract the tourists more?

Aijaz Asad: At the moment there are security concerns in that area.


Misabah: What about the car/bike rentals, are you going to provide them?

Aijaz Asad: We have transport agencies; we have local agencies who are providing bikes on rent. They are already there in place; it is not a new thing in Kashmir. People come and they want to go biking and do all the adventures that this place has to offer.


Misabah: Do you have any idea about the number of female exclusive washrooms that are going to come up under the smart city project?

Aijaz Asad: I do not have figures because now the smart city projects have been given to SMC (Srinagar Municipal Corporation) we will be supporting SMC in all its efforts to make public utilities, public conveyances especially female washrooms. It is a need of the hour and it is required.


Misabah: Are there any planned land acquisitions?

Aijaz Asad: No there is nothing like planned land acquisition. Land acquisitions have been there always and land acquisition whenever it is required for any project government intervenes only in that situation when public projects are involved.


Misabah: How much stress has been given to old city heritage sites?

Aijaz Asad: That is a very important question. Old city heritage has to be a priority and since I have taken over very recently, we will definitely keep the heritage of the city on topmost. Certain projects are already going on like preservation of shrines, temples; preservation of heritage buildings. Things have been going long under various centrally sponsored schemes. The city has a rich cultural and monumental heritage that needs to be preserved and we will make every effort to preserve that.



Misabah: Administration has installed electronic displays like metro cities, won't it add to visual pollution?

Aijaz Asad: It is about drawing a balance. On one side there is visual pollution, on the other side you can say a place of darkness, so these are two ends of the spectrum so where we draw the line. I do not think there will be visual pollution at this time because Srinagar is not that much illuminated or that brightened city at the moment. Having said that I feel that there is a lot more to be done and at the moment it is not about visual pollution, it is required people required good signboards, signages to have a sense of direction because once tourist comes from the airport, he/she should herself/himself get directions from the visual boards and we being a tourist destination it is very much required.


Misabah: Would you limit the installation of hoardings in the city?

Aijaz Asad: Yes, that is important. Hoardings should be limited to a certain number where it does not become a public nuisance. Wherever we feel that the hoardings are creating a public nuisance, there are provisions under law to tackle that.



Misabah: Being a Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar what is your vision for the city?

Aijaz Asad: The city needs a city life. And what is required for city life? You need a better transport system, better public infrastructure like flyovers which are essentials to make it a better city to live in. Surveys show that Srinagar is the least walkable city, we have to make it more walkable, so people find a space to move around. It is a challenge but remains a priority. Because of past winter’s snowfall roads got damaged our immediate priority would be to blacktop the roads once again. The priorities are actually decided by the people only; what are the demands of people; so, it’s about people’s priority. Our priorities could be different but then people’s priorities take the primacy.


Misabah: What about the lack of parking in the city?

Aijaz Asad: There are certain things that we inherit that are a part of history that we did not want to inherit but it is there. The more we would have planned in the past the better we would have been today; we have planned less in the past so that is why we are suffering. We have not planned our lanes, by lanes, drains we have not planned our parking. We have developed our colonies without leaving any space for drainage, without leaving any space for two-way vehicular movement. So, certain parts are things of our legacy and tackling them is like reversing the clock back which is generally not possible. We have a very limited number of solutions, some out-of-the-box solutions are required to tackle the situations, to make it a city that everybody would love to live in.


Misabah: What about the Lal Chowk car parking issue? Shopkeepers and customers want a proper parking lot.

Aijaz Asad: This issue has come to my notice and I am told that one parking lot has been developed of late and it will be made functional shortly. I think SDA (Srinagar Development Authority) has it under its ownership so we will be sorting it out shortly. In totality, parking is an issue and in collaboration with SDA we will sort it out soon.


Misabah: And lastly what will be your message to the people of Srinagar?

Aijaz Asad: My message for the people of Srinagar is that at the moment let us be together in fighting this virus, the virus does not discriminate between the rich and the poor. It is a virus that equalises, so we need to fight it together because saving lives is important and if a mask can save lives let us wear a mask. And let us go for Covid vaccination because that is in our interest.



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