In 2016, when the state-owned J&K Bank came up with the proposal to demolish the iconic Grindlays Bank building on the banks of river Jhelum in Srinagar to pave way for construction of a new office space, the news went on to make headlines. People from across the world, including foreigners, who have seen this 108-year-old European style landmark, once part of British Residency in Kashmir, went up in arms prompting the bank to reconsider its decision.
Interestingly, over the years rarely has any building been constructed in Kashmir that could compete with the architectural grandeur of the past legacy, standing tall in the shape of built-up heritage. While there are over 100 protected monuments including Mughal Gardens in Kashmir, a few years ago the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage had listed 850 heritage structures in Srinagar in need of conservation.
It is believed that after the historic contribution of the Mughals, as also of their predecessors in construction of landmarks, it was finally during the Dogra regime that Jammu & Kashmir got some of its most magnificent buildings, which continue to serve till date in the form of government buildings, schools, colleges, hospitals, and guesthouses.
A noted expert on heritage and former bureaucrat Muhammad Saleem Beg, who heads the state chapter of the INTACH says that in the post ‘47 era “some interest was paid in architectural relevance, but distortions worsened since the 60s.”
The result is that multi-crore investments have produced nothing beyond what government itself now terms as “concrete monsters.”
But finally, in a significant development, the state government has stressed the need to drastically change the outlook towards the construction of buildings. In March 2016, Minister for Public Works, Naeem Akhtar Andrabi called a meeting in this regard. “Stop creating concrete monsters, build aesthetic structures,” the minister, as per an official, told the engineers.
The engineers have been asked to draw inspiration from heritage buildings. Officials say that since then engineers and architects are working on the “landmark directives”.
Experts look at the government decision as a “significant move”. “A statement of intent has been made and this is a very positive sign,” said Saleem Beg.
Perhaps, this is just the beginning to put Kashmir back on the track of architectural grandeur. The J&K tourism department is keenly working to fulfill the aesthetic requirements and revamp Kashmir as paradise on Earth.