Nallah Mar Development Project (Facts and Figures)
On 28th June 1971 Nallah Mar Project construction was inaugurated, when G.M.Sadiq was the Chie Minister and Pirzada Gulam Nabi was the Chief Engineer Irrigation & Flood Control Department. In his welcome address, the Chief Engineer described the project as a landmark in the annals of this historic City and a step to elevate the standards of public health and hygiene.
The waterways of Srinagar – once famed for their splendor and beauty, which prompted travelers and visitors of the City to bestow upon it the title of “Venice of the East”- had become the principal cross that the then planners had to bear. Among the problems that confronted and impeded the progress and development of the City, the pride of place surely went to the Nallah Mar – originally designed as an artery of communication between the Dal Lake and the River Jhelum but later turned to a featuring open drain, traversing the most congested and densely populated parts of the City.
The Nallah Mar was constructed on the approximate pattern of the Venetian Grand Canal by the legendary Budshah (Sultan zain-ul-Abidin) (1422-1474 AD), the leitmotif of whose reign was an upsurge in welfare works. It derived its flow from Dal Lake and not only linked the lake with the river but also irrigated sizeable tracts of agricultural land at the terminus. As the City expanded and grew, the resultant shift in the centers of activity led to the diminution in the importance of the navigation function of the channel, process which was accentuated by the introduction and fast pace of development of motorized transport. The more urgent problem of flood control dominated the stage in the forties and fifties and measures, which deprived the Nallah of its water, were implemented. The deterioration that set in finally concluded in disuse and the Nallah offered itself as the most convenient place for the dumping of garbage, disposal of raw sewage and sullage and encroachment to the habitation on either side, which like the rest of the City has no public sewerage disposal system. The ultimate result was the creation of a health hazard of formidable proportions in the shape of an open repository of every kind imaginable.
Re-activation of the Nallah and its restoration to its original position as a Navigation and Irrigation Channel having been considered and found to be hydraulically and economically infeasible, the options narrowed down to:-
- Conversion of the Nallah into a Storm Water Drain by large scale pumping at its off-take.
- Filling up of the Nallah to convert it into an avenue with a sewer underneath.
The annual recurring costs, past experience and the almost petrified state of sludge existent in the Nallah worked decisively against the adoption of the first alternative. Conferences, meetings and consultations, in which technical experts no longer in active service participated, yielded unanimous proposal i.e. the utilization of the Nallah as a trunk sewer overlaid by a Road.
As is wont with such projects, the establishment of the cardinal frame of reference catalyzed thinking on a wider plane and in an enlarged dimension. The re-developmental possibilities of the areas on either side of the Nallah could at once be visualized. Apart from beautification, ease of circulation in communication and regulation and zoning in consonance with principles of Urban Planning, it became increasingly clear that the dovetailing of the scheme for elimination of the health hazard and that for reconstruction would go a long way towards making the entire proposition financially remunerative.
In its essentials, the scheme proposed comprised of:-
- Construction of a 15,000 feet trunk sewer of precast cement concrete pipes from Andh Masjid to Guzarbal, catering to a population of about one lac and eighty thousand (inclusive of probable increments for the next thirty years). The part of the City which this population inhabits is bounded by the Dal Lake, Tsunti Kuhl, River Jhelum and Anchar Lake in the East, South West and North respectively and constitutes a distinct independent zone for sewerage and sewage disposal. This proposal would not, therefore conflict or interfere with the scheme for the sewerage and sewage disposal of the City as a whole. In fact the sewer would be an unalienable part of the overall scheme.
- A system of branch sewers to be initially laid in streets and roads having adequate widths to permit such installation and ultimately in others as they are improved under the Master Plan.
- Filling up of the Nallah, with earth to be obtained from Flood Spill Channel, up to Road formation level (ranging from 5-15 ft.)
- Construction of a 2.5 miles long Road over the filling with an overall width of 80 ft. (later modified to 64 ft), comprising dual carriageway 24 ft. each (later modified to 20 ft. each) divided by a central strip 8ft (later modified to 4 ft.) in width (underneath which the sewer shall be aligned) and flanked by sidewalks of 12 ft. (later modified to10 ft.) width.
- Provision of pipe drains, with manholes, on either side of the road for disposal of storm water.
- Acquisition of 40 ft. wide additional strip of land along the road for construction of shops and residential flats.
- Construction of
- Three storeyed shop-cum-flat blocks 177 ft.x 25 ft, each with a service road 15 ft. at the rear.
- Eighty no. shops in two markets situated at traditionally commercial locations ( later modified to 5 blocks shop-cum-flats 57 x 47 ft each.)
- Two Super Bazars in close vicinity to the markets at (ii) above (later modified to 26 no. shops 26 x 25 ft.)
- Single storeyed shops 751 nos.
- Transit camps 8 blocks each of 10 units
The total No. of shops shall be about 1,536, their size at the front and the rear being 11ft x 14 ft and 11 ft, x 9ft. each respectively. (later deleted)
The residential flats shall be of three categories :
- Single room flats with kitchen and bathroom. -(later deleted)
- 2 Room flats with kitchen and bathroom. -(later deleted)
- 3 Room flats with kitchen and bathroom.-(later deleted)
The existing width of the Nallah ranged from 33 ft. to 40 ft. only and in the enlargement to 120 ft. necessitated by the above proposals, acquisition of 390 houses and about 70 acres of land was involved.
The total investment on the entire scheme was estimated to be Rs. 535.87 lacs. The execution of the project was envisaged to be phased over a period of four years in consideration of the availability of materials, working conditions, organizational capacity of the Department concerned and the time consumed in procedure for acquisition.
In a write-up appeared in Kashmir Ink posted by Arif Shafi Wani, it is now after about four decades, questions arise in the minds of people as:
Why did we fill up Nallah Mar?What persuaded the then state government to turn the glorious, historic stream into a road? Was it an environmental need? Was it politics? Or was it the bureaucratic greed?
It is said that the Nallah Mar waterway crisscrossed through the Old City, served as navigational route and major outflow channel of Dal lake for centuries together. Its waters originated from Dachigam rakh and after accumulating in the Harwan reservoir moved through another canal up to Shalimar and Nishat.
Starting from Brari Nambal lagoon, Nallah Mar flowed into Khushalsar, Gilsar lakes via Eidgah and joined Anchar lake. Its other artery flowed through Noor Bagh into the river Jhelum.
Noted historian Fida Hasnain said in 14th century, Budshah closed down three peripheries of Brari Nambal and a new canal was dug from Baba Demb to Aanchar lake.
“The canal bed was tiled with flat stones at places with bricks so that the canal remained clean and water flows smooth. Budshah dug the canal to regulate water level of Dal and save people from floods. The waterway also facilitated the Dal dwellers to sell vegetable and streamline the water transport system in the old city. Later he connected the canal with new city Nowshera,” Hasnain said.
Muhammad Aziz Tuman, a houseboat owner is quoted to have said that Nallah Mar was favourite haunt of foreign tourists. “We used to ferry foreign tourists in Doongas through Nallah Mar to Ganderbal and Wular lake. Tourists were so mesmerized by cleanliness of the Nallah Mar that they referred it as Venice of Kashmir. They used to buy traditional handicrafts in markets located on both sides of the Nallah Mar and get abreast with our rich culture,” Tuman said.
“The great Mar Canal for its translucent waters, glazed tile basin and rows of garden-roof house had made many European travelers call my city as Venice of the East,” recounts noted columnist ZG Muhammad.
Turning nostalgic, ZG said, “I have rich memories about every bridge over the Nallah Mar…..The Naid Kadal, the Bohur Kadal, the Saraf Kadal, the Qa’ed Kadal and Raazay Kadal.” He narrates the scenes in wee morning hours on the busy banks of the canal with boats filled to capacity with fresh vegetables and barges loaded with green fodder for cattle and brawny laborers unloading stones and bricks from massive boats.
“I vividly remember when we used to go on school excursion in Dongas- in wee morning hours gathered on couple of finely chiseled lime stone ghats on the Nallah Mar to embark upon boats – the famous one was Salam Peerun Yarabal – named after a high ranking official of Maharaja Hari Singh’s Government. This ghat was on the confluence of the sparkling blue lagoon- Brari Nambal, there were many other ghats also,” he said.
“On day’s long excursion to Dal Lake, Qamar-Sahib’s Astana in Ganderbal, families used to embark on boats at various ghats of a couple of mile long Mar Canal that vivisected the City of Sultans of Kashmir- now known as Shahr-i-Khas. There used to be lots of fish in the Mar canal- I remember, we used to fish in and around Salam Peer-un-Yarbal between Naid Kadal and Khanyar.”
Noted poet Zarief Ahmad Zarief recounts the grandeur of Nallah Mar. “The canal was not just a waterway but part of our culture,” he said.
“I remember Kashmiri Pandits with devotion used to go in shikaras through Nallah Mar to pay obeisance at Kheer Bhawani temple. Muslims used to travel in Doongas to the revered shrine of Qamar Sahib (RA) in Ganderbal. On its deck, they used to display sheep with different colours for offering at the shrine.”
With animated eyes, Zarief remembers how as a child he used to travel with his friends on the Nallah Mar bridges —Nowpora, Saraf Kadal, Kralyar, Naidyar, Narwara Kadal, Ranger Kadal, Dumbe Kadal, Kaw Dar Kadal, Bohri Kadal, Kaid Kadal, Rajouri Kadal and Pachi Kadal.
Samuel Bourne, a highly-acclaimed colonial photographer had taken a photograph in 1860s, showing the ‘Marqual Canal’ (Nallah Mar) in Srinagar. The photograph is among 30,000 collections of British Library’s online gallery. “Natural lakes, canals and narrow lanes winding amongst old timber houses typify the city’s fabric. It was a favourite of the Mughal emperors as a cool and refreshing alternative to the plains of North India where they held their government. They planted beautiful gardens with stepped terraces and flowing watercourses. The Emperor Jehangir (reigned 1605-1627) said of the area, ‘If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here,” the caption of the photograph reads.
Abdul Salam Sheikh, then vice-chairman Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) replied as:
Who facilitated filling of Nallah Mar?
When I took over as VC SDA, the filling of Nallah Mar had started under the then secretary Housing and VC SDA, Peerzada Ghulam Nabi, a very competent engineer Kashmir has produced
There are allegations that Nallah Mar was filled up for political reasons to quell voices of dissent in Shaher-e-Khaas?
This is not true. Filling up Nallah Mar had nothing to do with politics. Nallah Mar was a running channel pre-1947. As a youth, I used to meet my relations there and I have seen small boats carrying vegetables passing through it. It is not all of a sudden that somebody dumped soil to stop flow of the channel. We have to understand that Nallah Mar was governed by water level of Dal lake. Unfortunately, water level in Dal got depleted which affected the flow in Nallah Mar. Gradually, Nallah Mar was rendered defunct and turned into a garbage dump. It had become a health hazard as people were suffering from number of diseases due to the putrid smell emanating from it.
Why Government failed to revive it?
People living near Nallah Mar wanted to revive it. There were two options with the Government, to fill or activate it. But restoration was not possible at that time from engineering point of view because of low flow of water from Dal.
The water flow near the navigational gate of Dal used to be so fast that it was difficult for shikaras to negotiate it. Actually, there has been drastic decrease in inflow of waters into Dal from catchments through Dachigam and Telbal nallah due to depletion of glaciers.
Harwan reservoir from which water was supplied to Srinagar city remained dry. Water from Dal has to be pumped into the reservoir for supply. Situation was getting worse and only option left was to fill Nallah Mar.
The condition of Nallah Mar was so bad that after returning home from the site, I used to remove all my clothes and take a bath.
During your tenure, Government started construction of colonies on Nallah Mar embankments and shelved laying pipes beneath the canal to allow water circulation? What were the reasons for it?
Government had raised a loan of Rs 60 lakh from Housing Board of Government of India which provided that after the filling, there will be housing colonies on both sides of the Nallah Mar. But the colonies did not prove economical as a result Sheikh Sahib (then Chief Minister) said government was unnecessarily paying interest and decided to return the money to the housing board. Only one or two buildings were constructed at Baba Demb and they are still there.
We tried to put a permanent drain and embed some pipes there, but because of financial constraint, it could not be done. But side drains were provided and those are still functional. Kashmir has got good engineers and they can give suggestions to restore the canal but it is impossible now.
As a Kashmiri do you have any regrets regarding filling of Nallah Mar?
Government had no option but to fill it. But everything has two sides. It has become a boon that a road goes through heart of the city, otherwise there would have been traffic mess. And it provided employment to hundreds of people who have shops on both sides on Nallahmar road.
Ajaz Rasool, hydraulic engineer atated as:
Nallah Mar drained waters from Brari Numbal lagoon which in turn was connected to Dal Lake, to Khushal Sar and finally to Anchar Lake and Jhelum. The main function of the canal was primarily to function as a navigation channel and subsequently draining the excess waters from Dal Lake to Anchar Lake and Jhelum.
The built up residential houses of Srinagar City were located on either bank of the Mar Canal. Many bridges across Mar Canal provided access to its two shore line areas in the congested city habitat.
The man made canal thus formed a hydrological feature of Srinagar City which regulated excess flow of Dal lake by draining it to Anchar Lake and Jhelum besides also being a feature of inland transportation system for boats.
But by mid-seventies the canal became a receptacle for the waste water, sewage and solid waste from its adjoining congested populated area due to which foul conditions were often witnessed during summers when the decomposition of waste would give foul smell. The residents living on its banks would thus prefer keeping the windows of their houses opening towards the Mar Canal shut to keep away the bad odours. The once clean flowing Mar Canal thus became a cesspool and a health hazard.
With the development of road network, the inland water transportation lost its importance. So a Circular Road Project was envisaged and implemented by the State Government through its Public Works Department. Under the aegis of this Project, one of the features adopted was to convert the Mar Canal into an arterial four lane Road by filling up the canal.
The Project was implemented and in order to keep the outflow of this canal intact a major pipe drain was envisaged to be provided and laid underground in the median strip of proposed road. In fact, the said large pipe drain was laid for about an approximate length of a kilometre or so but then abandoned for reasons not known. As a consequence of this, the out-flow from Brari Numbal got choked. This issue became controversial and often debated in the society with voices raised to restore the outflow.
In order to offset the ecological consequences that got set in due to the choking of hydraulic outflow as a consequence of construction of Nallah Mar Road, the Government constructed an underground RCC Cut and Cover Conduit in the Dal Lake Conservation Project in mid nineties which connects the Brari Numbal with River Jhelum at Fatel Kadal and affords a designed gravity flow of 250 cusecs from Lagoon to the River for 40 percent of time in a year depending on the available Dal Lake water levels. However in case of River Jhelum flowing higher than the Lake level, as in floods, the conduit flow is to be shut through control gates to prevent the high River Flows entering the Brari Nambal lagoon.
The Nallah Mar Road, on the other hand, opened up the vistas of business in the congested city habitat by providing good road connectivity and improved the economic conditions in the area.
The fact remains that the construction of Mar Canal in the first instance as well construction of Nallah Mar Road subsequently both remain to be the man-made incursions rather than natural features of city topography and both have in some way or the other affected the ecology of Srinagar City.
My personal experience:
So far as I remember I have witnessed that whenever water taps would go dry, people used to carry water from Nallah Mar for drinking/washing purposes. There used to be lot of duck weed, which used to be carried for feeding ducks at homes. We used to board doongas at And Masjid for going on school excursions and return late at night de-boarding at the same place. Fresh vegetables got from Dal Lake would be available in the shikaras every morning at Bohri Kadal. Foreign tourists would make paintings of the stone arch bridges of Naid Kadal, Bohri Kadal and Saraf Kadal etc. As children we would also take bath in Nallah Mar. But at the same time, I too have been witness to the death of the Nallah, when it got turned in to an open drain catering sewage from adjoining drains, besides regular dumping of solid wastes, causing obnoxious smell. People around ran a campaign to fill up the area to relieve them of the environmental disaster. Even the sloping banks on either side of the Nallah were encroached upon by extending their structures raised on wooden posts and dropping sewage and sullage directly into the Nallah. Perhaps the authorities were left with no alternative other than filling it. But unfortunately the laying of the proposed 4 ft. dia trunk sewer was abpndoned beyond Bohri Kadal onwards for unknown reasons. Perhaps people lost patience due to long time taken in construction of manholes and they preferred speedy filling up of the Nallah. The other reason put forth is financial constraint and shelving of the laying of trunk sewer through the central verge in future time, which never matured.