Centre wakes up to imminent eco-disaster in Kargil

Greater Kashmir

Constitutes committee of experts to assess Phutkal river blockade

Srinagar, Jan 24: In the wake of imminent eco-disaster in Zanskar Valley of Kargil due to blockade of Phutkal river, the Government of India has constituted a committee of experts to assess the situation and formulate strategy to prevent damage to life and property in the mountainous region.
Phutkal river got completely blocked on January 15 due to landslides, forming an artificial lake at a stretch of about five kms towards Chumik Gyatsa. The Member Parliament from Ladakh, Thupstan Chhewang, had instantly alerted the Union Minister of Home Affairs, Rajnath Singh, to take necessary action to prevent loss of life and property. Greater Kashmir also published several stories highlighting inaction of the Government of India on the ‘imminent catastrophic flashfloods’ in Zanskar and its low-lying areas in case of bursting of accumulated waters in the artificial lake. 
After delay of two weeks, the Government of India has finally constituted a committee of experts to assess the situation. The committee has been constituted by Cabinet Secretary Ajit Kumar Seth after getting first hand information about the issue from senior officials in Jammu and Kashmir. The Committee comprising of experts from the Central Water Commission, National Hydel Power Corporation, Army, National Disaster Management Authority and the Indian Institute of
Hydrology, Roorkee, has been tasked to make on spot assessment and submit a comprehensive report recommending measures to prevent any ecological catastrophe in Zanskar.
Officials said the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, NN Vohra, who has been closely following the situation in Zanskar, has also asked the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to constitute a Multi-Disciplinary Expert Group with representatives drawn from National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Central Water Commission, Geological Survey of India, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology and other concerned to evolve an Action Plan for dealing with the issue.
Officials said the NRSC has submitted a brief report on the river blockade to the NDMA, based on the analysis of Cartosat-2 and other satellite data. The Union Cabinet Secretary Ajit Kumar Seth and Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami had few days reviewed the situation in Zanskar via tele-conferencing with the Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir, Muhammad Iqbal Khandey, Principal Secretary Ladakh Affairs, B R Sharma, Commissioner Secretary, PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control, Dr Pawan Kotwal, Commissioner Secretary Revenue, Vinod Koul and Deputy Commissioner of Kargil, Muhammad Sadiq Sheikh. Officials said the meeting discussed all aspects of the issue including evacuation of people living in the river catchment areas in case of breach in the artificial lake.
The Chief Secretary has informed the Cabinet Secretary that state government was closely watching the ecological developments in Kargil and maintained that the district administration has chalked out a rehabilitation plan as well for the inhabitants of seven catchment villages of Phutkal river.
The Member Parliament from Ladakh, Thupstan Chhewang welcomed the Centre’s intervention into the matter. “For past two weeks, I have been apprising the Ministry of Home Affairs about the imminent ecological catastrophe. Constituting committee of experts is a welcome step and I hope it will recommend measures to save the life and property in Zanskar and its adjoining areas,” Chhewang told Greater Kashmir.
Chhewang  said he has also requested the Defence Ministry to send its experts and a team of the Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment to conduct survey of the Phutkal river. “Coordinated efforts by Government of India and State government can help to prevent the situation from escalation,” he said.
Due to the blockage of Phutkal river, authorities have stopped the world famous Chadar trek between Chilling and Padum. Government of India has directed the state government to restrict tourists from undertaking the Chadar trek till blockade in the river is removed.
As earlier reported by Greater Kashmir, environmentalists have warned that delay in addressing the issue can cause “catastrophic flashfloods” in downstream areas of the Zanskar Valley. “Damming of Phutkal water course can result in destructive flashfloods in downstream habitations,” Prof. Shakil A Romshoo, Head of the Earth Sciences department at Kashmir University has warned.
In 2010, the flashfloods triggered by a cloudburst in Leh caused massive damage to life and property. In 2014, Jammu and Kashmir also witnessed large scale destruction due to floods triggered by incessant rains.