Jammu and Kashmir Government Fiddles on Floods, No Action Only Celebration
An amazing photograph taken by PTI during the Kashmir floods
SRINAGAR: The Government and some civil society organisations planned to celebrate last year’s destructive floods in Jammu and Kashmir reported to be the worst in a century.
It was given out that the celebrations were to honour the peoples’ determination and resolve to survive the worst disaster in the state’s recent history. But were seen as diversionary tactics to shift attention from the questions that need to be answered, and the action that is required urgently on the ground.
The first that still remains unanswered a year later is why did this happen? Merely saying it was a Divine act of retribution for our misdeeds is not enough. That is rather an easy route to escape blame which otherwise devolves on the authorities and those responsible for vandalising not only the River Jhelum itself but its entire catchment area as well as its flood basins.
Kashmir used to have incessant rains earlier too. In fact, spring and autumn are rainy seasons in Kashmir. So why these floods that still cast a shadow of trauma over the entire Valley? There has been extensive cutting of forests by timber smugglers in collusion with the security forces and forest official. Even young trees have not been spared. Meadows have been over grazed. The result is a quick run off. The rainwater hardly stays in these areas and quickly comes down with earth and boulders down the slopes. Thus the river rises in a very short time causing floods.
Almost the entire valley used to be a flood basin and the water would thinly spread without causing much harm. We have drastically deprived the river any room to thinly spread its excess waters. Most of the flood basins in the vicinity of Srinagar have been converted into housing colonies. Srinagar was known as the Venice of the East because of numerous canals and water bodies. The canals have almost all been filled and converted into roads and the water bodies have been encroached inch by inch and converted into land. Only the names remain! Nalla Mar, Gill Sar, Anchar, Khushal Sar and so on.
Dal Lake is in the last throes of death. We have not only encroached the lake from all sides but also polluted it beyond redemption. Same is the fate of Wullar Lake which was reputed to be the second largest sweet water Lake in Asia after Lake Baikal in Russia! To tame the river somewhat our ancestors had constructed embankments especially to save the city of Srinagar. However, we have vandalised these everywhere by constructing houses, hotels, hospitals and in some places even mosques!
There are two things which needed to be done. First was to conduct an investigation for various failures at all levels. This was essential to prevent similar floods in the future. But more urgent than this is for the government and the people to take initiate flood control measures. These include dredging of the river all along its length; desilting of the flood spillover channel; clearing of some of the flood basins and strengthening of the embankments. Nothing has been done so far.
On the contrary the government is celebrating its yearlong inaction. What an irony! Had this happened in any other country, apart from some people been put in the dock, massive flood prevention measures would have been completed by now.
While the government had been planning celebrations, the people were preparing to protest the government apathy and inaction. To sprinkle salt on their wounds as a finale to the celebrations, the government did not even allow this and detained most of the political and trade organisation leaders.
Can there be anything more undemocratic and callous than this! What a shame!
(Mohammad Ashraf was the Director General, Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir government. His house has been extensively damaged in the floods and he is still living in rented accomodation)