Raising question marks over state government's flood mitigation measures, a large stretch of embankment of river Jhelum crumbed near Lasjan here on Wednesday. Coincidentally, the house of Disaster Management minister Javid Mustafa Mir is near the spot.
Panic gripped the area on Wednesday afternoon after more than 200-meter portion of embankment at Lasjan crumbed alongwith boundary walls of several houses.
Witnesses said several people had narrow escape as the embankment suddenly crumbled into Jhelum.
"We were shocked to see vast portion of embankment crumbling into the river. There was panic and we ran towards safer places," said Dr Niyaz, a local.
Locals alleged that the embankment was damaged in 2014 floods. "Authorities didn't repair the embankment properly as they simply put mud and rolled it over by engine. It had developed cracks at various spots," they said.
Executive engineer Irrigation and Flood Control department who oversees the bund works, Sartaj Singh alleged that the embankment caved in due to leakage in water supply pipeline. "A team has been sent the spot to prevent further crumbling of the embankment," he said.
Later in the evening, Government ordered a probe into the matter. "I have asked divisional commissioner Kashmir to order an inquiry to ascertain the reasons that led to caving in of the embankment," minister for Disaster Management, Javid Mustafa Mir told Greater Kashmir.
"The Irrigation and Flood Control department has been undertaking dredging haphazardly and creating problems for people. An enquiry committee will be constituted soon into this matter," Mir said.
Taking a strong note of the incident, the minister said that the "guilty will not be spared." "I have taken up the matter with commissioner secretary to Government PHE, Irrigation & Flood Control Department and asked him to ensure that restoration work is started at the earliest," he said.
The minister directed director Disaster Management Aamir Ali to visit the spot and assess the situation.
Divisional Commissioner Kashmir ordered an enquiry into the incident, to be conducted by district magistrate Srinagar. He ordered that the report be submitted within a fortnight. He also directed chief engineer Irrigation and Flood Control Department Kashmir start the restoration work on a war footing basis.
Earlier in the day, hardly two kilometers away from the Lasjan, worried Shivpora residents were up in arms against the dredging company for using machines on the bund from where flood waters had entered the city through the same spot in 2014.
"The Irrigation and Flood Control department through Kolkatta-based Reach dredgers excavated a portion of Jhelum embankment at Shahambagh Shivpora," said alert residents of Shivpora, who called Greater Kashmir office.
Locals said the embankment was dug up to pave way for construction of dikes for sand extraction.
"The dredging company used heavy machines to dig up and flatten the embankment constructed during Maharaja's rule. This has weakened the embankment and made our area vulnerable to floods," said Basharat Ahmad, a local.
"The dredging company is vandalising the bund for dumping sand which they sell. Over last two and half years, the company has extracted tons of sand and sold it without repairing the bund," the aggrieved locals said.
"Police is supposed to intervene in saving the bund. The Irrigation and Flood control department, whose mandate is not to allow spade being carried on the bund, openly allows its vandalisation. Ironically, sand filled tippers have extensively damaged the Jhelum embankments as is evident today at Lasjan area," they said.
Executive engineer Irrigation and Flood Control department Sartaj Singh said "the embankment will be filled up soon. We have to create a dike for dumping extracted material in the area. However, we will ensure that there is no damage to embankment there," he said.
The embankments of Jhelum in the summer capital were severely damaged due to devastating floods in 2014. Though the Irrigation and Flood Control department plugged breaches on the embankments, however the people of flood prone areas have been accusing it of failing to take tangible flood mitigation measures.
On September 7, 2014, Jhelum had crossed record 23-feet at Ram Munshi Bagh gauge here submerging localities on both sides of the river including city's commercial hub Lal Chowk and its adjoining areas.
For past nearly three year, government has been facing severe criticism over haphazard dredging of Jhelum.
Few days ago, the government came under sharp criticism in the Legislative Assembly (LA) over sloppy dredging of river Jhelum, with legislators seeking constitution of a House Committee to look into the matter. Government claims that around 10.90 lakh cusec meter de-silting has been done in Jhelum between Srinagar- Baramulla till December 2017.