A year after deluge| Pir Panjal region struggles for revival

Torrential rains and resultant floods in September last year had left a trail of devastation in Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu region.
A year after deluge| Pir Panjal region struggles for revival
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Torrential rains and resultant floods in September last year had left a trail of devastation in Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu region. Paltry compensation, infeasible access to remote villages and disqualification of more than six thousand families for relief & compensation means the region continues to grapple with the flood aftermath.

DESPITE lapse of one year since the floods triggered by the heaviest rainfall in last 80 years left a trail of devastation across Jammu and Kashmir, the life for those affected in the border districts of Poonch and Rajouri has not improved much.

The flash floods and landslides affected majority of residents of these districts. Over a hundred persons lost their lives while  scores of houses, businesses establishments, livestock, roads and public utilities were engulfed by swollen rivers and washed away.

Owing to insufficient or no compensation, many families are still living in make-shift camps, government buildings or rented rooms, while roads remain infeasible and access to remote villages challenging.

RAJOURI DISTRICT

NOWSHERA BUS TRAGEDY

Families of victims of Nowshera Bus capsize which witnessed the largest number of flood triggered causalities in the state are still grieving for the fifteen persons whose bodies remained untraced.

On September 4 at about 11:35 a.m., out of the 72 persons travelling in the bus carrying a marriage party, 67 were drowned when it capsized amid flash floods while crossing a culvert over Ganbhir Nallah in Riapur Patta village of Nowshera Tehsil. Five persons had swum to safety, while others including the bridegroom, Sukhwinder Singh, were washed by the strong current of flood water.

To date, bodies of 52 have been retrieved and 15 remain missing, although presumed dead. The wreck of the bus is still at the site much to the distress of those who lost their dear ones to the tragedy.

"They (authorities) have left it there which deeply hurts the people. The scene continues to remind the families of the fateful day when they saw their dear ones drowning in the floods one by one", laments Sarpanch Raipur, Rajinder Singh.

LOW-LYING CULVERT OVER GHAMBHIR NALLAH AWAITS ANOTHER MISHAP

The small low-lying culvert over the Ghambir nallah which was the main cause of the bus capsize has also not been repaired over this period.

Locals of the area said the authorities have not learnt the lesson from the last year's tragedy as even after passage of one year it has not been upgraded to avert similar mishaps in future. Sarpanch, Rajinder Singh says many families of the deceased are yet to receive additional ex-gratia of Rs 1.5 lakh provided by the central government.

6004 AFFECTED FAMILIES DISQUALIFIED FOR COMPENSATION

Government has not provided compensation for 6004 cases of different kinds of damages citing that these do not meet the criteria. "Owners of 13 completely damaged, 318 severely damaged and 29 partially damaged pacca houses; 894 completely damaged, 4333 severely damaged and 415 partially damaged kacha houses have not been given compensation as all these structures were raised on government / state land and do not fall in the criteria of compensation payment" an official said.

RESTORATION WORK OF ROADS MOVES ON SNAIL'S PACE

The access to the rural areas remains a big challenge particularly when it comes to supplies of essentials and transportation of heavy duty machinery for development purpose.

The Rajouri-Budhal-Kotranka road, which connects Budhal belt, comprising several dozen panchayats with rest of the Rajouri district is yet to be fully restored . Following the collapse of a major bridge over Arnas river during the floods, the traffic movement on the road has remained erratic.

At present only partial movement of vehicles is possible on the road link through a temporary steel bridge constructed by army. The bridge on Aans river is located at a distance of half a kilometer from Kotranka town and all the traffic towards Budhal passes over it.

The locals informed that recently seven new hand pumps were sanctioned for different areas of Budhal and vehicles for installing these pumps reached Rajouri from Jammu but were not allowed to move over the bridge as it cannot bear the weight of heavy vehicles.

There are many other roads like Rajouri to Kotranka, Kotranka to Khkawas road and Mubarkpura to Palullian road which have not been resorted. Thanamandi to Surankote road linked to the Mughal Road also falls in the same category.

Likewise most of the irrigational canals are yet to be restored fully. These include Sadhyal to Mankote irrigational canal, Dalogra canal etc.

SEVERAL UPROOTED FAMILIES LIVING IN GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS, RENTED ACCOMMODATION

Several flood affected families are still living in rented accommodations or in government buildings after their houses were damaged in the floods. "The compensation paid by government is not enough to re-build our houses", said Munshi Khan whose family is one among the six families living in a community hall in Taran village of Budhal. Khan said his house was damaged in floods and for the last one year he has been putting up with his family at the community hall.

"The compensation which the government paid to me is not sufficient for constructing even a single wall. Having no other option I am living along with my family here", he said.

ANGER IN PUBLIC OVER MEAGER COMPENSATION

Most of the flood affected people from Rajouri district are annoyed over meager amount being paid as compensation for the flood losses.

Mohammad Rayaz, a flood affected from Rajouri tehsil says that he has been paid fifteen hundred rupees as compensation for the collapse of his cattle shed. "With this money I cannot buy even a door not to say of reconstruction of the cattle shed", he laments.

Ashok Kumar from Budhal said that he received Rs 2300 for partial damage of his kacha house. This is a cruel joke with the poor people who have lost everything to the devastating floods. Mohammad Bashir, a flood victim from Kotranka said that for the completely damaged pacca house worth over 15 lakh his brother was given Rs 75000 as compensation.

"What does this amount mean for a person who had built his dream house by investing all his life's earning" he asks.

ALLEGATIONS OF FRAUDULENT BENEFICIARIES

Beside anger among the flood affected people over payment of paltry compensation, the people are also alleging largescale fraudulent entries in the list of beneficiaries. Sources within administration said that from Thanamandi, Kotranka, Manjakote and Budhal areas, largescale complaints are still being received that some middle rung officials followed wrong practice and entered the names of those people in the list of flood affected who suffered no loss.

POONCH DISTRICT

Like other parts of the region, the flash floods and incessant rains in the first week of September 2014 left a devastating mark on the face of Poonch as well.

There was not only loss of life but public and private property also suffered colossal damage. A total of 27 persons died in the floods in different parts of the district with Mandi, Saujiyan, Surankote, Potha and a locality near SK bridge being the worst affected. Out of 27 dead, 21 bodies have been recovered while 6 are still missing whereas 65 persons sustained injuries.

RECONSTRUCTION OF BRIDGES LINGERS ON

The lifeline for the district, Sher-e-Kashmir bridge, that connects Poonch town and district headquarter with Jammu-Poonch highway, was damaged after a major portion of the bridge was washed away by flash floods in Suran river which flows close to the town.

The reconstruction of the damaged bridge has got delayed, initially due to official apathy and later due to litigations. After about two months when government authorities were planning for reconstruction of the damaged portion, some locals got the work stayed in court.

The litigation proceedings continued for several months and recently the government managed to vacate the stay paving way for taking up the reconstruction of the bridge. However, despite lapse of about a month since the court lifted stay, the reconstruction of the damaged portion is yet to start.

In absence of the direct connectivity, the people have either to follow Kalai-Chandak-Khanetar-Poonch road or wade through a temporary diversion alongside SK bridge.

Besides this the main bridge over Drungli nallah in Nangali Sahib area, which also suffered damage in floods, is yet to be repaired. At present the traffic moves over temporary steel bridge erected by the army.

The motorable bridge passing over a rivulet in Chakan da Bagh area is also yet to be fully restored despite the fact that trade trucks and cross LoC bus service passes over this bridge.

FLOOD AFFECTED FAMILIES

Almost all the flood affected families of Poonch, especially from the town, are still running from pillar to post to get some help for their rehabilitation. The residents of the locality near SK bridge of the town, where dozens of houses were washed away in the floods, are living in rented accommodations though rent is being reimbursed by the government.

However, allotment of plots for the permanent rehabilitation of the affected families announced by the government has not materialized as yet. 

Similarly the residents of Potha area of Surankote, where a large number of families were uprooted have returned to their place after getting no help from government. These people were also promised plots at safer places for their rehabilitation.

Demanding permanent rehabilitation these uprooted families of Poonch and Surankote held several protests but the assurance of providing the plots at safer places have not been met. 

"We were promised permanent rehabilitation by providing plots at safer places but the assurance was never met", a flood victim Mohammad Abbas of Poonch said. 

RESTORATION OF PUBLIC UTILITIES 

Around 40 water pumping stations and 21 electricity feeder stations were damaged in the floods, of which only a few have been restored fully. 

The government is moving slowly to restore the worst hit irrigation canals and flood protection works exposing the farmers and general public to lot of inconvenience due spilling of water after every rain. 

Of 82 irrigational canals damaged only a few have been restored fully, even as the officials claim that work on the remaining is going on.

However, 121 PWD roads, 56 PMGSY roads and 32 BRO roads damaged in the floods have been restored.  Of the 198 damaged schools, fifty percent have been restored in original buildings while rest function from alternate buildings. A few of these have been clubbed with nearby schools and remaining function from rented buildings.

The apathy on the part of government can well be gauged from the fact that the damaged 132 KV power line of Poonch is yet to be restored and the area is getting power from 33 KV line on temporary basis. 

On the other hand, 18 power receiving stations of 33 KV line got affected in the floods and have been restored.

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RAJOURI

Deaths: 93, Injured: 10

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Total villages affected: 340

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PACCA HOUSES 

Fully Damaged: 48

Partially Damaged: 828

Severely Damaged: 244

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KACHA HOUSES 

Fully Damaged: 3128

Partially Damaged: 11432

Severely Damaged: 2601

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Loss of Live stock: 4566

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Total Agriculture-Horticulture area affected: 28521 Ha

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Total Agr area where crop loss is 50%: 28373 Ha

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Total area eroded: 1275 Ha

POONCH 

Deaths: 27, Injured: 65 

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PACCA HOUSES 

Fully Damaged: 318

Partially Damaged: 516

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KACHA HOUSES 

Fully Damaged: 1916

Partially Damaged: 6177

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SHOPS FULLY 

damaged: 102

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CATTLE SHEDS 

washed away: 1976

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LAND WASHED 

away: 46367 kanals

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FLOUR MILLS 

washed away: 176

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Families affected: 38275

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