Skeletons have started tumbling out of government’s flood-loss-assessment closet to reveal that official machinery was pushed to “superhuman” task and that while adhering to guidelines commonsense was allegedly ignored.
Official documents reveal that in Srinagar, 59,455 houses – amounting to 68% of the 87,000 damaged structures -are eligible for least relief from the government as they have been declared Partially Damaged. The government has classified the ravaged structures into Partially, Severely and Fully damaged depending on the constructions as Pacca or Kacha. Fully Damaged category gets maximum relief.
For the loss survey, the official machinery was put on task, almost "10 times" their ability, a burden which is feared to have affected public aspirations on compensation.
This is simply because the number of devastated houses in Srinagar remained more than the aggregate of all other districts.
Though not all the affected houses were fully damaged, experts said given the floods and lose soil conditions, the structures should have been declared as Severely Damaged.
Initially, the Revenue officials including Patwaris were assigned the task of assessment. But following some complaints of discrepancies, the exercise was call off.
Finally on the intervention of the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, the assistance of Roads and Building (R&B) department was roped in. On the fateful day, Omar had called a meeting at 9:30 AM. Official documents reveal that on October 11, Chief Engineer R&B Satish Kumar Razdan deputed 60 engineers for the task.
Engineers were asked to be party to the teams, which were already having members from the Revenue and other departments. The work was undertaken by 29 teams each equipped with two engineers. Within two months, officials said, survey of 70,000 houses was completed.
Officials said the classification of houses was done by engineers in accordance with State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) norms. “Fully Damaged / Destroyed Houses: All those houses which have either collapsed or likely to collapse; Severely Damaged Houses: All those houses which have been damaged to the extent that it requires extensive repairs for making it safe for living; And Partially Damaged Houses: All those houses which have been damaged but are structurally safe and can be made habitable after minor repairs,” reads a copy of the letter shot to Commissioner Secretary Public Works Department vide No: CE/SDRF/19411-13.
In October 2014, Chief Engineer R&B during a presser said that it would be difficult to comment about safety of flood affected structures for around six months. Explaining his viewpoint he said the soil was in “supersaturated level” and would take around six months to settle down.
Since then, as per the flood victims, damage to flood hit houses has furthered. “When first assessment was done my house looked OK but gradually walls cracked and I had to go for massive repairs worth lakhs of rupees,” said a Karan Nagar man.
THE HIDDEN LOSS
Officials associated with the survey candidly admitted that the loss in Srinagar houses could be hidden and may appear with time. “For a house in areas like Raj Bagh and Jawahar Nagar which remained inundated in 20 feet waters for around a month, it could be difficult to decide about its stability. It may be looking OK from outside but walls have rotten from inside due to freezing and thawing process,” said an official well-versed with the assessment, asking not be identified.
Though admitting that such houses could collapse anytime, he said administration was helpless to be “open-hearted to reassessment aspirations”. “We are governed by prescribed norms which don’t go by such theories that all partially Damaged Houses be declared Severely damaged,” he pleaded.
DIV COM GOES ON AIR
With the news of alleged underestimation of loss having gone viral on social network and other media, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir RohitKansal this afternoon went on air on 92.7 Big FM. He said the administration was open to any reassessment applications. “This process is underway and we are open to reassessment,” he told the City Lounge hosted by RJ Haya.
But Kansal quickly added that re-assessment was subject to SDRF standards, which have to be upheld.
A caller Muhammad Yaqoob from Ram Bagh said for the past five months he has been struggling for reassessment but that “Patwari has been playing hide and seek!” (To be concluded)