During the recent rainfall last week there was a massive flash flood in Romshi and Shali Ganga streams in Pulwama and Budgam districts respectively. This caused havoc within a few hours leading to severe water-logging in apple orchards, paddy fields plus causing massive landslides as well. In the Panzan area of Budgam, the embankment of Shali Gana was washed away at some spots and the same thing happened in Rohmoo village in Pulwama as well. This happened mainly due to weak embankments of these streams which have got damaged due to continuous movement of trucks, JCBs, dumpers and other heavy vehicles used to carry riverbed material (RBM).
Instances of cloudbursts increasing
As rising temperature in the Himalayan region and its impact on the atmosphere leads to cloudbursts, experts say that the warming Indian ocean is certainly carrying more moisture-laden winds towards the mountains of Himalayas which is causing cloudbursts in the Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand. Cloudburst is a sudden and very heavy rainfall which is often local in nature and very brief in duration. This usually occurs in association with thunderstorms. In these storms, there are violent rushes of air which at times prevent the condensing raindrops from falling to the ground. A large amount of water may thus accumulate at high levels and if the upward currents are weakened, all of this water falls at one time. This is also called Aaab Thrath in Kashmiri dialect, while lightning is called Naar Thrath (Fire Burst) in our local dialect.
As explained above, cloudbursts are common in mountainous areas. This is probably because the warm air currents of a thunderstorm tend to follow the upward slope of a mountain. The effects of heavy rain are especially striking on mountain slopes because the falling water is concentrated in valleys and gorges. Cloudbursts are very difficult to predict as they are very localized events. It means that the instruments to record cloud formation and precipitation have also to be distributed across a wide area for receiving the localized information. Even though the cloudbursts warning cannot be given in advance, the weather stations and experts do send alerts for a heavy rainfall.
Mountain cloudbursts cause sudden and destructive floods and these we are witnessing off and on in Kashmir valley, Poonch, Rajouri, Ramban, Doda and Kishtwar areas of Jammu.The sudden rise of water level in our streams like Romshi, Shali Ganga and Doodh Ganga is mainly due to cloud bursting in Pir Panjal mountains, but the water level would not cause harm to locals 10 to 15 years back. Due to excessive riverbed mining , the embankments have been weakened and now the water during flash floods causes havoc within hours.
Frequent flooding, water-logging on roads / fields is an annual phenomenon in Kashmir. But this would not be dangerous even if it would rain for 24 hours, but now things have changed completely. In the last 4 to 5 years there isn’t a single year when Kashmir valley did not experience water-logging and flooding. Maybe the intensity of these floods is small as compared to September 2014 floods but we cannot say that there were no floods at all. Kashmir valley especially has witnessed many floods in the last 200 years which caused unprecedented damage and loss of lives.For instance, Kashmir valley witnessed major floods in 1841, 1893, 1903, 1929, 1948, 1959, 1957 , 1992 and 2014. In fact, Govt created many embankments around Jhelum and other small streams like Romshi, Doodh Ganga, Shali Ganga, Vaishav but due to illegal Riverbed Mining and constant movement of trucks, cranes and JCBs around these nallahs, streams and rivers, the embankments have been weakened and this is also leading to floods and water logging in the areas.
An embankment (levee) is an artificial bank built along banks of a river or stream to protect adjacent land from inundation by a flood. Many embankments are made of compacted soil especially in Indian plains but in Himalayan states especially J&K the embankments in upper reaches are made from boulders, stones and sand as well.
After the September 2014 floods in Srinagar and other areas of J&K, the Government of India sought assistance from the World Bank. A project namely Jhelum Tawi Flood Recovery Project was started in J&K with main focus on restoring critical infrastructure. As J&K is prone to natural disasters like floods and earthquakes, the infrastructure under this project was supposed to be designed with upgraded resilient features, and included contingency planning for future disaster events. After 8 years of the devastating floods and funding having been allocated by the World Bank, it seems things have not been moving in the right direction.
Inquiry into Tawi Barrage
Under flood mitigation programme Jhelum and Tawi Flood Recovery Project, the Government took up construction of Tawi Barrage artificial lake project around 2016 in Jammu. This project, according to the Govt, will boost the tourism of Jammu city as modern and advanced means of recreational activities will be established in the city with the completion of this project.
However, this project was marred by corruption and mismanagement. A special audit ordered by Govt in the past had not only found glaring irregularities in the execution of the Tawi Barrage project but fiscal violations and financial impropriety of grave order which needed immediate attention of authorities concerned. Last year, the Government ordered that Mr Shaleen Kabra, Financial Commissioner, Revenue, J&K be the Inquiry Officer to conduct an enquiry in the matter of balance work (Civil, Hydro Mechanical, Electrical) of Tawi Barrage project. The Inquiry Officer was supposed to conduct detailed enquiry into the cost and time overrun of the project and he was supposed to submit a detailed report within a period of one month according to the General Administration Department’s order No: 838-JK (GAD) of 2022 Dated 15.07.2022, but even after a year the inquiry report hasn’t been made public and nobody was taken to task.
The Govt of India released Rs 140 Crores for Jhelum flood augmentation a few years back but it is still not known whether any tenders have been issued.
In the case of Doodh Ganga, the Govt assured the National Green Tribunal -NGT last year that Rs 149 crores would be spent for setting up Sewerage Treatment Plants (STPs). Yet, even after a year, the tenders haven’t been issued. On May 30th this year, the Principal Secretary Housing and Urban Development Department Mr Prashant Goyal was given 2 months by NGT to start the work execution. The matter is again listed for August 16th 2023.
The Jhelum and Tawi flood recovery projects were aimed at restoring essential services disrupted by the floods and improving the design standard and practices to increase resilience but when we see flooding happening off and on it seems things this project has not done any justice on the ground.
By allowing JCB and L&T cranes to excavate riverbed material from our streams and constant movement of huge trucks,tractor trolley, dumpers and tippers,the embankments of streams like Romshi, Rambiara, Doodh Ganga, Shali Ganga, Vaishav have been considerably weakened. The respective District Mineral Officers- DMOs are responsible for it. This illegal practice in Doodh Ganga and Shali Ganga in Budgam has been stopped for more than a month now after National Green Tribunal -NGT’s orders but why aren’t District Magistrates and District Mineral Officers (DMOs) of other districts enforcing the orders of NGT in their respective districts? I request newly posted Secretary Mining Dr Rashmi Singh to look into it and try to visit Doodh Ganga , Romshi Nallah, Rambiara, Shali Ganga and Vaishav river. The inquiry report regarding alleged corruption in Tawi Barrage must also be made public and culprits be booked under law.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman of J&K RTI Movement.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.