Jhelum Floods and Cosmetic Dredging against Flood Mitigation

The study had warned that intensity of rainfall and frequency of rainy days in the Himalayan region may increase in 2030’s, leading to another flood in Kashmir, if immediate steps are not taken to restore the drainage system of Jhelum. The study also recommended an alternate flood spill channel for Jhelum .
Jhelum Floods and Cosmetic Dredging against  Flood Mitigation
File Photo

Kashmir Valley has all along witnessed a trail of floods in the past at regular intervals in 1893, 1903, 1905, 1928, 1948, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1969, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1986, 1992, 1995, 1996, 2006 and more recently in 2014. The floods of 1903 & 1959 were considered to be worst of all till 2014 flood , which  surpassed all the previous devastation records. 

Acknowledging the devastation caused by floods of 1903 , the then Maharaja of the State, immediately reacted to the problem and in consultation with British Engineers constructed the Flood Spill Channel (FSC) in 1904 , initially from Padshahi Bagh upto low lying Numbals of Batamaloo / Bemina, to divert excess flood water away from main City into these flood basins. This was followed by construction of City Channels of Kuta Khul, Sunri Khul and Chunti Khul , to distribute the flood waters safely through City and these Channels were also used as the main transportation & navigation routes within the City after  the heritage (fully collapsable wooden structure) Chattabal Weir was constructed  in 1905.

Similarly , immediately after the devastating floods of 1959, with massive breaches within City,  aggravated due to enormous back waters from Wullar, causing massive destruction in Sumbal / Hajin areas as well, the then Prime Minister of J&K , Mr Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad, launched extensive project for extension of Spill Channel upto Wullar , raising and strengthening of embankments of Jhelum with  construction of new ring bunds around Wullar in Sumbal / Hajin areas, to safeguard these areas against back water impacts of Wullar. This was followed by purchase of two Ellicort Dredgers from USA in early 1960's for launching of Mechanical Dredging of Jhelum Out Fall Channel (OFC) of Wullar from Ningli – Sopore to Khadanyar, as limited disharge carrying capacity of this OFC , coupled with deposition of huge silt loads by Pohru nallah into  Jhelum OFC , was the main cause of slow drainability of Wullar , thus resulting in swelling of Wullar with enormous back waters. This dredging activity , unfortunately could not be sustained beyond mid 1980's due to financial constraints and huge O & M costs of these old dredgers, which had by then outlived their useful life. 

With series of floods again occurring in 1960's and 1970's , a longterm flood mitigation plan was formulated by the State Government in consultation with National & International Experts, whereunder, a new Supplementary Flood Spill Channel (SFSC)  from Dogripora to Wullar,  for diverting excess flood discharges away from City, was finally proposed to be taken up on priority and accordingly a  full fledged Flood Control Directorate headed by a Chief Engineer with a  Flood Control Circle and a number  of Spill Channel Divisions & Subdivisions , were created in late 1970's to implement this vital project but unfortunately due to lack of political will and insensitiveness shown by successive Governments,  this critical project never saw the light of the day but was soon shelved with permanent winding up of Flood Control Directorate .Thereafter, no initiatives were taken to revive this Project of utmost public importance and the authorities concerned , unlike the then Maharaja of State in 1903 and then Prime Minister of State in 1959, went into deep slumber, remaining totally insensitive and unconcerned about this most critical problem,  when fully knowing that the Valley faces devastating flood at least once in every 50 years. After the massive flood control works executed during the tenure of Late Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad , no further permanent flood mitigation works were implemented by his successors till date.

Immediately after taking over  the charge of Superintending Engineer (Hyd.) – Sopore in 2007 , earnest steps were initiated by me for revival of dredging of OFC and  a DPR for "Flood Management of OFC of River Jhelum from Ningli to Gantmulla Baramulla" was submitted by me in 2009  at a cost of Rs 281.14 Crores, which was lateron made a part of main draft DPR for " Integrated Flood Management Plan of Jhelum Basin" and submitted to CWC – MoWR , GoI in 2009-10 at a cost of Rs 2083Cr. This DPR , however, till date is yet to be approved / implemented and instead token flood management plan for  Rs 97.46 Cr was approved by Central Government in 2010 , which included Rs 27 Cr for dredging of OFC from Ningli to Khadanyar, whereafter two small dredgers were purchased by the I&FC deptt. and dredging of OFC was formally started in 2011 after a gap of about 25 years, which has mainly helped in saving the areas of Sopore / Baramulla along OFC during 2014 floods. In the  proposals  for Flood Management of River Jhelum, submitted to Government in 2009-10,  a concluding caution note, reiterated as under , was added by me in the final concluding recommendations , just to attract the attention of those at the helm of affairs towards an imminent flood disaster : 

Conclusion:

The flood status reported hereinabove, sends an urgent and a very serious wake up warning for the State Govt, and we have to act fast being in a do or die situation. In case the proposal is again given a deaf ear, the damages to the life and properly are likely to be colossal and beyond our imagination, especially in Srinagar city, which is highly prone to flood devastation, being located about 2 to 3 Mtrs. below the HLF designed for a flood discharge of 33000 cusecs only. The Govt. has to wake up to this urgent call and pay immediate attention to this sleeping giant , which can catch us unawares at any time , to show its tentacles even during minor floods and give rise to a disaster worst than the nation experienced due to Kosi River recently".

Floods , being generated as a consequence of natural phenomenon can't be stopped but are required   to be tamed & managed to control their devastating impacts. Due to present problem of Global Climate Change triggering erratic precipitation in terms of time , concentration and spatial distribution,  the incidence of high floods is going to increase in future . especially in our Eco-fragile Himalayan States. The  concerned authorities were supposed  to initiate urgent steps for Flood Management  but despite several recommendations with warnings by various high level State & Central Expert Committees , since early 1970's , with clear indications of the impending monstrous  flood disaster, the successive State Governments surprisingly remained insensitive and  went into hibernation by  adopting  wait & watch ploicy  and failed to implement any long term flood mitigation proposals, till the actual extreme of extremes flood disaster, as already envisaged by Engineers / Experts ,  shook us unawares in September 2014, leaving behind a trail of complete unprecedented destruction in the whole valley.  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. As per records, more than 100 human lives were lost and cost of destruction caused to infrastructure only was roughly estimated to be around Rs 1 lac Cr. excluding losses in business and other indirect losses. The study had warned that intensity of rainfall and frequency of rainy days in the Himalayan region may increase in 2030's, leading to another flood in Kashmir, if immediate steps are not taken to restore the drainage system of Jhelum. The study also recommended an alternate flood spill channel for Jhelum .

Jhelum has a unique problem of having an  extremely silting flat bed grade  of 1:10,000 / 1:12,000 along it's main densely populated & developed stretch from Khannabal to  Wullar , while as it improves to 1:4500 to 1: 3500 from Ningli – Sopore (Out Fall Channel of Wullar) upto  Khadanyar  – Baramulla and thereafter the grade increases rapidly to even steeper than 1:500 while passing through gorge upto LOC and this is why all our major Hydel Projects on Jhelum (Lower Jhelum : 105 Mw, Uri-I: 480 Mw and Uri-II: 240 Mw)  are located downstream of Khadanyar  to harness the favorable steep slope for creating requisite  head for power generation. The flat bed grade of Jhelum upto Wullar accelerates   siltation in the Jhelum main & FSC along with it's all interconnected water bodies / wet lands and finally in Wullar ,  thereby considerably reducing their  carrying  capacities, more so during floods when water level in Wullar swells up with huge back water effects , thus further reducing effective discharge capacity of Jhelum & FSC.

As per the reports of Kashmir I&FC Department , the safe discharge carrying capacity of River Jhelum and existing Flood Spill Channel through Srinagar City from Padshahi  Bagh are presently just 31700 cusecs and 3000 – 5000 cusecs respectively , thus both can jointly cater to a maximum  discharge of 36700 cusecs only , which by all standards is just a slightly above  normal wet season discharge and can in no way be termed as a major  flood discharge as compared to discharge of 1,15,000 cusecs observed during 2014 floods  but even such a seasonal high discharge upto 37000 cusecs, generated with a slight down pour for 2 to 3 days , can cause flood like scenario and heavy flooding / inundation in the valley, as most of the settlements along Jhelum  including Srinagar City, especially the present uptown posh areas on it's left side, are lying more than 2m to 5m below it's embankment top /  HFL. Judging by the historical records, valley has regularly witnessed flood discharges  above 50,000 cusecs almost in each decade with huge damages.  

Dredging of Jhelum may temporarily increase it's carrying capacity additionally by about 3000 – 4000 cusecs to an ultimate  capacity of 35000 cusecs but it is susceptible to getting silted up again in next one or two wet seasons due to  inherent extremely  low flow  velocity of Jhelum having tremendous potential for siltation. Dredging in Jhelum  has to be a sustained annual activity and not cosmetic in nature but still it can not be taken as any long term flood mitigation measure , as wrongly being projected nowadays in press and media,  as any discharge above 35000 cusecs below Padshahi Bagh can still trigger flood alarms & cause flooding in City. Important Cities are generally designed for flood frequency of more than 1:100 years , when our City is not safe even with 1:25 year flood discharge, which clearly shows the extent of our exposure to recurrent colossal flood damages , even in minor floods.  We are like sitting ducks to get killed at any time and  are in a do or die situation , as such there is no alternative but to implement long term flood mitigation proposals , sooner the saner. 

Seeing the trail of disaster caused by 2014 floods , when a discharge of about 1,15,000 cusecs ( about 1:100 year flood frequency) was observed at Srinagar, long term flood mitigation proposals , most importantly development of storage sites in the major tributaries of Jhelum and Supplementary Spill Channel from Sangam  ,  as already suggested and conceived by various expert committees of State & GOI right from early 1970's , were required  to be implemented in a mission mode but we failed. 

For selecting any long term flood mitigation proposals , the level of Wullar is the critical governing factor. The bed levels of  Wullar are increasing rapidly due to heavy siltation , thus further flattening the bed grades of Jhelum  and FSC , triggering heavy siltation rate. Mega Dredging of Wullar also needs to be taken up immediately to restore it's retention capacity and lower down it's bed levels. The Wullar conservation proposals conceived and presently being implemented on the parameters  of it's preservation as  a wet land only , with  negligible marginal dredging proposed in peripheral boundaries,  need to be dove tailed with long term flood mitigation proposals. Suitable desilting areas / basins need to be delineated / developed around all the entry points of River / Nallahs in the Wullar, in order to restrict siltation within the boundaries of these basins . These basins can be desilted annually in lean season, generating revenue sufficient for self sustainability of this activity  and keeping the rest of water expanse  silt free. 

The existing FSC designed for a discharge of about 16000 cusecs , presently has a safe carrying capacity of just 3000 – 5000 cusecs only due to siltation because of it's flat bed grade and encroachments within its waterway, especially in Sharief Abad area D/S of Bemina , where this channel is almost blocked and unexcavated, thereby causing huge back water effects, which usually cause breaches in it's banks with inundation in Highly Developed Bemina  area, where prestigious SKIMS Hospital and  large number  of State Government Offices / Colonies  are located.  This channel needs to be restored to it's design capacity and desilting / dredging of FSC  and it's interconnected wet lands especially Narakara  Numbal,  Hokersar, Nowgam Jheel,  Hygam Jheel , Mirgund Jheel etc has also to be an annual  sustained activity including  dredging of OFC from Ningli to Khadanyar to improve it's bed grade and carrying capacity , critically required for lowering of water levels in Wullar during floods to reduce  it's huge back water effects which otherwise considerably reduce the carrying capacity of Jhelum & FSC in addition to accelerating their siltation problems.

The flood peaks at Sangam need to be staggered after arresting  water in the respective catchments of various tributaries in a cascade of storage sites , to ensure regulated  release of safe discharge down stream of Sangam . IWT regulations allow us to develop upto 0.75 M.ac.ft of storage in the tributaries of Jhelum , when our floods can almost be  mitigated even with development of just 0.30 M.ac.ft of storages u/s of Sangam. However, development of requisite storage capacity  can have some serious impediments due to R&R , Social and Environmental issues associated with them,  due to large scale encroachments & urbanization with huge  tourism infrastructure and land use changes already made within these probable feasible storage sites in the flood plains of these tributaries , being mostly located along tourist resorts of Valley,   as such, additional discharges may mandatorily  have to be partly diverted through a new Suppl. Flood Spill Channel , conceived as early as in 1970's. 

The Supplementary Flood Spill Channel, of requisite capacity   , if required, in addition to development of proposed storages at feasible  sites on the tributaries, may take off from Sangam but instead of joining Wullar, as proposed earlier since 1970's , it should join the Jhelum main directly  D/S of Khadanyar near around Gantamulla – Uri after  by passing the Wullar,  in order to improve it's bed  grade for generating non silting flow velocities,  thus causing  huge reduction in requirement of it's water way / width , reduce land requirements and   most importantly reduce siltation especially  saving Wullar from siltation. This Suppl. Channel can be combination of an open channel , cut & cover conduit and Tunnel as well, wherever feasible,  to reduce R&R costs , however, the length of this channel upto Gantamulla shall be about 90 Km instead of 82 Km upto Wullar.

In addition to the permanent measures , some immediate steps & policy decisions  need to be taken to increase the carrying capacity of Jhelum. Cluster of bridges are existing / coming up in series on Jhelum especially in Srinagar city , which cause huge cumulative cascading back water effects due to obstruction caused in the already existing limited & restricted River water way coupled with low bed grade. Most of the existing and ongoing bridges have  foundation wells and their caps protruding much above the river bed , in addition to serious restrictions caused in  waterways at side abutments ,  which cause huge obstruction to flow with enormous back water effects and need to be checked in future constructions. The foundation remnants of old dismantled bridges such as  Budshah Pul, Habba Kadal and Fateh Kadal, need to be removed immediately.  Due to highly restricted waterway within the City, new bridges to be designed preferably as cable stay bridges without intermediate piers to ensure minimal interference with waterway and proposals to be dovetailed with flood  control aspects and duly approved by concerned authorities of I&FC.  Reclaiming  and reactivating of our all the wet lands / swamps , which additionally act as our flood detention and water regulation basins . Encroachments & Plantation within the waterways of river / nallahs / FSC needs to be removed on priority. Massive catchment development works to be taken up in phases starting with most critical zones under priority – 1. Complete ban on illegal & uncontrolled extraction of River bed materials , for which rules are already in place but lack the will from authorities for implementation.

After floods of September 2014 , the Central High Level Committee,  again stressed for urgent implementation of long term flood mitigation proposals with  framing of requisite DPR on priority , for approval and funding through  MoWR – GoI. The I&FC Department accordingly in 2015-16 floated tenders for fixing of International Level Consultancy for framing of DPR for permanent flood management of Jhelum Basin but after receiving bids , the proposal was unfortunately again shelved and tossed for about 2 years by the then Bureaucrat , who due to his indecisiveness , wanted to negate the recommendations of various National & International Level Experts regarding requirement of  storage sites and supplementary spill channel, which now factually seem to be  deliberately planned , just to delay the implementation of this critical project of Valley , till similar projects are conceived for River Tawi & River Chenab for Jammu Province. The exposure to flood damages by Tawi & Chenab, mostly flowing through gorges & much below the habitations located on their highland banks ,   are extremely negligible and almost nil as compared to destructive potential of Jhelum flowing through low lying plain areas with dense settlements lying much below it's HFL. Archealogical records stand testimony to the fact that no valley like inundation or destruction  has ever been  caused by floods in Tawi & Chenab , except causing some minor  toe / bed erosions and damages to illegal shacks built within their waterways, but unfortunately because of political reasons and biased policies against Valley , unwarranted obstructions and delays are always created in implementation of all the Valley based developmental  programs , irrespective of their  urgency & criticality. The tenders issued by Chief Engineer I&FC Kashmir stand now cancelled after about 2 years without opening of bids and fresh bids have been called by State Relief & Rehabilitation Wing for framing of DPR's for Flood Management Program  of all the three Rivers Jhelum , Tawi & Chenab .

With every passing day, the memories  of 2014 floods are washing away and the authorities are again adopting bureaucratic approach and indecisiveness , leaving us vulnerable to future devastations. The urgent need of the hour is that our politicians and policy makers have to rise above petty political & regional interests and acknowledge the urgency for  implementing the long term flood management program for Jhelum on fast track , without dove tailing it with Tawi & Chenab . They will have to show their sense of responsibilities & sincere will to actually mitigate the sufferings of common masses due to recurring devastation caused by Jhelum, just the same way as was explicitly demonstrated by their earlier counterparts after floods of  1903 and 1959, failing which due to any indecisiveness, time will again be wasted only in the ongoing cosmetic dredging , just for public consumption,  till the imminent flood monster  strikes us  again , very soon and that too with a  big bang.      

Author is Retd. Executive Director JKSPDC 

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