Flood Prevention Not Preparedness
The Jhelum has still not been dredged
There was recently a high level meeting to discuss flood preparedness and it was decided that mock drills would be conducted to test it. In fact a tented colony was also set up to house the persons who would be displaced!
Instead of wasting time in mock drills to test the flood preparedness, the government should get down earnestly to implement urgent measures for flood prevention.
It is a pity that we have learnt no lessons from the disastrous floods of the present century. The latest example of neglecting and damaging nature, especially during the present period of global warming, is the Kerala flood. They faced a disastrous situation, even worse than in Kashmir. There were hundreds of casualties and large scale destruction of property. Things will take a long time to return to normal.
Fortunately, in the case of Kashmir nature was rather lenient. And for the last few years it has been giving us enough time to set our act straight by taking preventive measures. However, both the government and the people seem to be totally unmindful.
The last government wasted four precious years! The most important measure was to increase the carrying capacity of the River and the flood spill over channel. Nothing substantial was done. In fact, a Kolkata based firm allotted the contract for the job during Governor’s rule has been discontinued due to very slow progress and breakdown of machinery.
A government of India panel in the wake of the 2014 floods had thoroughly investigated the causes of the disastrous flooding. They had pointed out the decrease in the carrying capacity of the River and its flood spill over channel in the last few decades because of the absence of any dredging being carried out there.
From 1986 till very recently no dredging was carried out in the outflow channel resulting in a drastic fivefold reduction in its carrying capacity, from 17,000 to 3,531 cusecs (cubic metres per second). Nor were any effective steps taken to increase the flow velocity in the 96 kilometre Sangam-Wular mild slope stretch of the Jhelum.
Last year the Chief Engineer for Irrigation and Flood Control publicly admitted that nothing substantial had been done to dredge the River and the Flood Channel.
Recently the newly appointed Secretary for Irrigation and Flood Control gave a detailed interview to a newspaper reporter. Incidentally, he was the Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar during the century’s disastrous flood. As such he knows that prevention would be better than the cure! He admitted that the dredging had not been completed and would take some more time. According to him departmental dredgers are being used for the purpose.
Apart from various environmental causes, the two main factors resulting in the flooding and inundation of vast areas are the decreased capacity of the River and the Flood Channel and the weakness of the embankments. He confirmed that both these aspects are being given priority. The embankments have been surveyed to ascertain the weak points. A large number of encroachments on the River and Flood Channel banks have been removed.
The Secretary invited advice from experts in the field. Hopefully, it will come. However, it would have been better if an open discussion on the subject were held where various experts and others could give their opinion.
Kashmir has always been prone to floods. In fact, most of the migrations from Kashmir in earlier times have taken place after the famines which used to result from disastrous floods. The story of King Avanti Varman’s illustrious minister Hakeem Soya, who secured the valley from floods and improved irrigation, is quite well known as it was taught in schools, although Kashmir’s history books seem to have disappeared now.
Recently there has been a lot of reporting about declaring Srinagar a “Smart City”. There is no point in declaring Srinagar as a “Smart City” or improving its roads by flyovers and so on. The first thing is to secure it against the disastrous floods which may be visiting us off and on. There cannot be anything more pathetic and tragic than a couple of day’s rain being unwelcome in Kashmir, which has always survived on rain. The rain used to be considered as a blessing but now it is a nightmare!
There is no time left to apportion blame but the most immediate need is to undertake the urgent measures to secure the “City of the Sun” from floods. Not a difficult or impossible task. The only requirement is to get the job done honestly. It is a known fact that all engineering works are money minting proposals.
For a change both the authorities and the people need to be honest and sincere. The lead has to be given by the popular leaders and prominent citizens supported by the government. Leaving the job entirely to the government is virtually making preparations for the next disaster.
In the interview the reporter praises the role the new Secretary Flood played in dramatically improving tourism as its Secretary and Director-General, despite the worst conditions. He hoped that similar dynamism and action would be shown by him in mitigating the impending threats of disastrous floods in future. Let us hope and pray he does so, and succeeds in earning the name of a modern-day Hakeem Soya . . .