Lest we repent
The political uncertainty that nastily dogged this state for most part of the period following floods had a direct impact on the post-flood restoration works.
Some 18 months after the great floods hit Kashmir, we are still struggling for the dredging of our rivers. The political uncertainty that nastily dogged this state for most part of the period following floods had a direct impact on the post-flood restoration works.
Where the September 2014 floods that aptly deserved to be declared as national calamity but were not, wreaked havoc with our physical infrastructure— both public and private, it did not spare various other sectors of economy including tourism, trade and industry. The worst trade slump that followed closed the doors of recovery.
As if this was not enough, the freaky weather situations in the post-September 2014 period ensured to keep us in a state of perpetual panic. In early 2015, for example, a single day rain was enough to put us in shock in the face of rising water levels in the rivers.
Unfortunately, the political dispensation then at place religiously curtailed its role to announcing flood warnings for people. In absence of any effective measures by it aimed to mitigate the post-flood situations, the then PDP-BJP government least realized that its announcements were only adding to the panic of the people. Such announcements were nothing but an official formality or at the worst something that betrayed anxiety of a government which wanted to show how quick it was to inform the people of their impending doom!
In short, our dealing with the post-flood situation was tell-tale of an inadequate system that over the years had either neglected its deficiencies, or deliberately failed to grow up with the demands of the time. Yes, we could not have averted the natural calamity that struck us in the first place. But certainly we could have dealt with the aftermath in a far better way.
Ideally, in the post-flood situation, the first thing that the government should have taken into hand was the restoration of the flood-hit infrastructure and dredging of the rivers and the flood spill channel. Newspaper articles, civil society seminars and public protests continued to remind the official arrangement at the place then its most important job— the dredging of the rivers— but to no avail.
But for the Governor who showed some interest in the dredging of Jehlum, the situation would have been no better in 2016. Now that the elected government is in place, it is time that a comprehensive flood-restoration program encompassing all-inclusive disaster management systems including a full-fledged dredging plan, is devised, and worked upon.
To begin with, the state government needs to focus on a government of India panel report which had gone deep into the reasons making Kashmir susceptible to floods. The panel in its report unveiled last year said that topography of Kashmir made it vulnerable to deluges.
By highlighting certain factors that exacerbated the flood situation in Kashmir, the report by and large endorsed the concerns expressed time and again by the local experts and ecologists vis-a-vis the fall in the carrying capacity of river Jhelum and its outfall channel.
It is unfortunate that the successive governments have done least to address this issue. From 1986, for example, no dredging has been carried out in the outflow channel (barring the one conducted very recently under the directions of Governor) resulting into the drastic reduction in its carrying capacity from 17000 cusec to 3531 cusec.
Similarly, no effective steps have been taken to increase the flow velocity in the 96 kilometre Sangum-Wular mild slope stretch of river Jehlum. The committee made a number of suggestions dividing them into three categories depending upon their implementation time.
It suggested short-term, long-term and measures of immediate nature. In the immediate measures it suggested to the government to plug all breaches of river Jhelum. The government without losing any further time should immediately act on such suggestions and take effective steps to close all breaches and restore the sections of embankments. Some of the works have been done by the government in post-flood situation on this front. But still a lot needs to be done.
In the short term, the report suggested that the government needed to arrange finances so as to revisit the design of existing embankments and provide for their appropriate raising/strengthening.
The government notwithstanding the engineering hazards should immediately go for increasing the carrying capacity of the outfall channel as well as dredging of river Jhelum which has accumulated a lot of silt in the wake of September floods.
In the long term as has been suggested by the report the state government should plan for additional supplementary flood spill channel, creation of storage facilities on tributaries of Jhelum, flood plain zoning and enhancing capacity of Wular lake.
And last but not the least, construction of an alternate flood channel would really prove useful to prevent floods in Kashmir and the government after taking into account all environment and ecological factors should seriously think over it.
Delay in projects of public interest — both in pre and post-execution stage— is a big problem with us. Our system over the years has got rusted so far that moving things normally at times seems impossible. However, we need to realize that our lacklustre approach in some cases may make us to pay a big price in terms of human toll. It is time to act lest we should repent at a later stage.