MOHAMMAD ASHRAF | 5 OCTOBER, 2017
Criminal Negligence in Flood Prevention
One had sincerely expected that the people and the rulers would learn a lesson from the worst flood of the century which occurred in September, 2014. Even though it did not result in a major loss of life yet it caused extensive economic losses in terms of property and goods. The material loss was in thousands of crores and the poshest areas of the capital city of Srinagar were savagely ravaged. No doubt the flood was a backlash from the River Jhelum and all its associated water bodies which had been vandalised by the people and the rulers. Encroachments on the River’s banks and usurpation of the flood basin by the government in terms of new colonies and establishments had annoyed the River so much that it stuck with a vengeance.
Most of the experts who analysed the disaster had observed that the flood was due to extreme vandalisation of the environment in the catchment areas and usurpation of the flood basin. The River which gave life to Kashmir has been vandalised and desecrated by us. The muck and filth of almost entire Kashmir is made to flow into the River. Its banks have been encroached in most places especially in the city of Srinagar. For last half a century or so no one has bothered to dredge it and take away the silt. Over and above everything else its flood basin has been snatched and converted into colonies. Where else will it go except overflow its banks and sometimes may even change course. Most of the wetlands and water bodies have either been filled up or encroached upon. The historical channel Nala-i-Mar has been filled up and converted into a road. We have hardly left any space for the extra water to flow in anywhere. In the catchment areas, most of the rainwater would get absorbed but now it runs down straight as we have totally denuded the catchment area of the River. One cannot rule out sudden disastrous floods in future especially because of the universal climate change. Reclaiming all the earlier backups to prevent floods may take time. We needed to go for immediate preventive and protective measures.
After the devastation and displacement caused by the flood, one would have expected people to remain under shock for a long time. Not only did they restart massive constructions in the flood affected areas of the city but violated all building bye laws and norms with the connivance of the authorities. There has been no chastisement as one would have expected from such a natural disaster attributed by many to be the “Divine Retribution” for our misdeeds! The government has been brooding over many schemes for prevention of floods and protection for the city areas. However, the progress on ground has been abnormally slow. The most important aspect is the dredging of the River and its flood spillover channel and strengthening of its embankments especially in the city of Srinagar a major portion of which was submerged in the last flood. During the short spell of Governor’s rule, the dredging operation had been started through some Kolkata based firm. However, there were some mechanical problems and the progress has been extremely slow as admitted by the Chief Engineer in charge of Flood Control. If one travels along the Bund in the city or along the embankments of the flood spillover channel, nothing substantial seems to have been done. Instead, the dug up soil is in huge mounds all along the channel. Just 10 feet of water will spill over the embankments. The worst is the fate of the flood spillover channel. With the deposition of huge amounts of silt and wild growth, it is almost on level with the banks especially in Mehjoor Nagar-Ram Bagh areas. In addition, there has been a spate of bridge construction creating massive hurdles for free flow of water.
Sometime back, the State Chief Minister had constituted a committee for initiating immediate flood prevention measures. She is herself the chairperson of the committee. It is not known whether the concerned engineers are briefing her regularly of any progress on ground? It will be worthwhile for her to just take a round of the flood spillover channel just from Mehjoor Nagar to Ram Bagh Bridge to know the actual ground situation. Given the will and determination, it is not difficult to execute most of the flood prevention measures like dredging, strengthening of embankments and clearing of filled up water bodies on a continuous basis. Usually, in such important projects there is a special monitoring team of consultants or experts who monitor the work on a day to day basis. God Almighty has given us again a grace period till next season. The sooner the government moves at the top, the better. In the alternative, one has to keep fingers crossed for another calamity which will, unfortunately be, of our own making! However, it needs to be emphasised that any dereliction in undertaking these most urgent measures without wasting any further time amounts to criminal negligence!