Govt sleeps over immediate measures on dredging, embankments, encroachments
Despite passing of over nine months since the devastating floods ravaged the Srinagar city, the state government and its agencies which are responsible for flood management, are yet to complete the dredging of river Jhelum and the spill channel so as to increase its carrying capacity.
Srinagar city bore the brunt of last year’s floods as habitations on both sides of Jhelum were submerged for several weeks. On September 7 last year, the water level in Jhelum broke all records— crossing 33-feet at Sangam in Anantnag and 23-feet at Ram Munshi Bagh here. Due to the deluge, tons of silt from mountainous catchments settled in the river, drastically affecting its carrying capacity and hydrological system. As a result, the water level in Jhelum increases after few days of rainfall.
The slow pace of dredging and flood mitigation measures has raised question marks over the seriousness of the Government to prevent flooding of the summer capital. Presently, the water level in Jhelum is considerable low and even the flood spill channel is dry and experts maintain this is the best time for dredging.
“The slow pace of flood mitigation measures signify that government is waiting for another floods. Jhelum and flood spill channel has been overwhelmed by tons of silt. Due to siltation, the normal flow of the river has been hampered. This is the reason for abrupt rise of water level in Jhelum after few days of incessant rains. Sustained dredging on war-footing is need of the hour to save Srinagar from floods,” said noted geoscientist Abdul Majeed Butt.
Head, Department of Earth Sciences, Kashmir University, Prof Shakil Romshoo who has been conducting extensive studies on Jhelum said after the floods in 1959, government had promptly dredged the river to sustain its carrying capacity. “Kashmir faces high risk of floods this year also as Jhelum and its flood spill channels have lost drainage capacity and velocity due to floods last year.
A study titled ‘A satellite-based rapid assessment on floods in Jammu & Kashmir–September, 2014’ conducted jointly by the Department of Environment& Remote Sensing (DERS) and ISRO revealed that recent floods inundated 557 sq km of Kashmir Valley and affected 22 lakh people. The study had recommended immediate de-siltation of lakes, revival of flood basin of Khushalsar, Gilsar, Anchar, Hokharsar, Shalabugh, Haigam, preparing a flood zonation map, construction of an alternate flood channel from Sangam, Kandizal to Wular and regular dredging of rivers to meet the possible future scenarios.
Last week, the Minister for Irrigation and Flood Control Sukhnandan Kumar Choudhary had announced to start desilting of flood spill channels in a phased manner. However, the dredging is going on at a snail’s pace. “We have to understand that due to floods Jhelum has lost about 50 percent of its carrying capacity. The ground water table in several areas which remained under floods waters continues to be high. It has been observed that Jhelum flows sluggishly in the upper left over cross sectional area creating a positive hydraulic gradient for increased seepage towards low lying areas alongside its course,” said Aijaz Rasool, an environmental
Aijaz who is also a hydraulic engineer underscored the need for formulating a comprehensive Flood Management Action Plan to restore the hydraulic parameters. “The Action Plan must be aimed at restoring gradients of flow of Jhelum to bring them back to such limits as may safely contain any future floods. This would essentially require a long term programme of dredging of Jhelum as well as strengthening of dykes and bunds of the river and waterways in vulnerable reaches,” Aijaz said.
Originating from Verinag, Jhelum spans over 175 sq kms from south to north Kashmir. Jhelum is joined by four streams, Sundran, Brang, Arapath and Lidder in Islamabad (Anantnag) district. Besides, small streams like Veshara and Rambiara also feed the river with fresh waters. The river settles in Wular lake before flowing to Pakistan administered Kashmir through Baramulla district.
Jhelum which passes through Srinagar has a capacity of 35,000 cusecs and the flood spill channel of the river has a capacity of between 12,000 and 15,000 cusecs.
Pertinently, the residents of worst hit areas like Shivpora, Batwara, Indra Nagar, Sonwar, Panderethan, City centre, Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, Gogjibagh, Mehjoor Nagar, Basantbagh, Bemina to Qamarwari and beyond rue that after assuming power, the chief minister never visited them so as to gauge the condition after deluge.
“We had lot of hopes after there was change of government but Mufti Muhammad Sayeed also ignored us the way Omar Abdullah did by not visiting us,” said residents of Bemina.
Similar views were expressed by the residents of areas which remained inundated for days after September 7, 2014.
Reacting to the issues of dredging, Chief Engineer, Irrigation and Flood Control, Javid Jaffar said in last nine months, the department has been working to strengthen the flood defence mechanism. “We have been undertaking dredging at problematic spots. However, we can start dredging on largescale when Government of India will release funds for it. The Rs 400 crore project for Jhelum conservation has been recently approved and sent to Finance Ministry for sanction. We hope that the funds will be released at the earliest. We have also floated tenders for procuring two dredgers,” the CE added.
However, the locals at Shivpora and Batwara from where the River Jhelum breached the embankments and entered city early September 7, 2014 term it rhetoric only by government official.
“Without sufficient funding, the Irrigation and Flood Control Department could have diverted resources in strengthening embankments and dredging of Jhelum,” said a retired official of IF&C department, a Shivpora resident.
Add to these issues is massive encroachment along river Jhelum in city.
According to Khalid Fazili, a retired civil engineer who was associated with flood control department-Kashmir wing, the encroachment on the Doodganga Nallah right from Rambagh up to Tatoo Ground is massive.
“The flood waters of Nallah Doodganga was diverted through an existing gate which meets river Jhelum downstream Chatta Bal Weir. This is to be activated along with improvements to Kite Kul and Sonri Kul to save Srinagar city from the ravages of floods.”