Srinagar, Jun 30: The roaring Jhelum with its increasing water levels began to retreat Saturday evening but not before unsettling almost the entire Kashmir with apprehension of a 2014-like deluge knocking back on the residents’ doors.
A few days rainfall was enough to bring the people living in low-lying areas in Kashmir to their knees as flood threat loomed large in the region exposing the authorities’ flood-mitigation plans, whose impact was nowhere visible.
On Friday evening, the authorities had set up a round-the-clock monitoring system in various parts of the state to check the rising water level at Sangam in South Kashmir as well as Ram Munshi Bagh in Srinagar.
Jhelum crossed the critical 21-feet mark at Sangam in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district owing to the heavy rainfall that began on Thursday.
“Due to continuous rains over the past two days, the gauge at Sangam has crossed the flood declaration of 21 feet and was flowing above it on Saturday,” an official at the irrigation and flood control department said.
The threat remained until the afternoon when the weather improved. Soon after reports of water level receding allayed the fears of the people.
Residents of many areas in valley especially in south Kashmir, however, said that they have been regularly complaining to the authorities to take measures that could safeguard the valley from the destruction that is brought by floods, but they never pay any heed.
“In Just two days of rain, see our condition. What if it rains harder in the days to come”? Abid a resident of Anantnag questioned.
After the devastation of the 2014 floods, the government belatedly woke to the need to dredge the river and the flood channel. These had filled with silt over many years.
Dredging contracts were negotiated through the summer of 2015, and finally awarded to a private company in autumn that year. For some reason, only some stretches were designated for dredging. Even on those, work has been painfully slow.
Governor NN Vohra had realized the urgency of the matter when the state was under Governor’s Rule two year ago. After inspecting the dredging operations, he ordered officials to keep regular tabs on the progress of the work. However, Governor’s Rule soon ended, the previous coalition government lost thought and did nothing in this regard.
Sources said that merely few inches of dredging has been done after 2014, when the floods had brought huge additional silt.
Officials said that the least the present government can do now is make arrangements for efficient evacuation and rescue, just in case a flood does recur.
The Jhelum River on September 5, in full wrath burst through embankments submerging everything that came in its way roads, streets, buildings. The Tawi River in Jammu region showed no mercy either. The floods spared no one and resulted in massive casualties in the state besides a colossal loss to property.
People said that more than four year has passed since the floods that claimed loss of huge lives but no lessons seem to have been learnt. “What emerges is a familiar story of agencies failing to communicate, a lack of planning and awareness and the incompetence to tackle such disasters,” said Mohammad Aslam a resident of Padshabagh.
He said now it is high time for the government, both state and central, to work on proper counter mechanisms for such disasters.
“One work the government needs to undertake and that would greatly reduce the flood threat, especially to the capital, is massive systematic dredging of the Jhelum downstream from Srinagar,” he suggested.
Scientific dredging of the Jhelum downstream from Srinagar as well as the Wular and river basin wetlands will significantly reduce Kashmir’s vulnerability to moderate floods discharging up to 60,000 cusecs.
Experts believe that the much-talked about “alternate option” of a flood channel from Dogripora in South Kashmir to the Wular in the north needs to be evaluated as well, keeping in view the flat topography of the terrain, holding capacity of the Wular and feasibility of draining some 50,000 cusecs into an alternate channel.
The floodwater in 2014 submerged over 600 square km of land, rising up to 25 feet at some places. In Srinagar, vast areas remained, on an average, under eight feet of water for over a week. The Jhelum overflowed by 3-5 feet, breaching its embankments. As a result, great loss was caused to life and property.
People said that ideally, in the aftermath of the disaster, introspection should have been done at every level government, public, individual about what went wrong in 2014 so as to develop a mitigation plan for future, but nothing of the sort happened.
“Such a process has not even been initiated at the level of the state in the past three and a half years. And save for a few measures aimed at increasing the drainage capacity of the Jhelum, no concerted effort has been made to devise a strategy for minimizing flood risk to people and infrastructure, especially in the Jhelum basin,” Shabir Ahmad a resident of Bemina said.
Soon after the 2014 flood, a distinguished group of 40 experts and professionals drawn from various state and central agencies, academia and civil society met and deliberated the “flood problem” in Kashmir over two days. The fruit of the group’s labour was a comprehensive strategy for flood risk reduction.
One of the key recommendations was dredging of the Jhelum and its flood spill channel. Indeed, various major flood alerts have been sounded since 2014. Fortunately, none turned into a deluge.
However one of the senior leaders of the PDP said that since 2014, the government had taken some engineering measures including patch dredging of the Jhelum and its flood channel, restoration of the breached embankments, repair of damaged irrigation infrastructure in the basin.
JK’s liability swells
Srinagar, Jan 17: Similar to previous years, Jammu and Kashmir has accrued a liability of over Rs 7,000 crore in the ongoing fiscal even as experts blame state’s political leadership for not finding a solution to the issue.
Official documents of the finance department reveal that the state is running a liability of Rs 7,531 crore so far this fiscal, a figure close to the annual build-up J&K witnesses every year.
The total liabilities for the state have now swelled up to over Rs 68,000 crore.“The three fiscal parameters–revenue deficit, fiscal deficit and outstanding liability–indicate the extent of overall fiscal balance in the finances of the state government during the specified period. The nature of deficit is an indicator of the prudence of budgetary policy of the state government. Another useful measure of the deficit-base in a state’s fiscal policy is the State’s Own Deficit (SOD),” the documents reveal.
Noted economist, Professor Nisar Ali said the state’s expenditure and revenue system has been “mismanaged”.“The power purchase has been an important factor for swelling liabilities. The GST has further increased the mismanagement between expenditure and tax revenue,” he said.
Prof Ali also blamed J&K’s political leadership for increasing liabilities.“The annual liabilities increase due to power purchases despite the state having huge hydro resources. The state’s leadership has failed to fight for the return of power projects.
“It also depends upon the government of India how it wants to find a solution to this problem,” he added.
Endorsing Prof Ali’s views, a senior official of the finance department said that little or no use of revenue generation avenues, increasing power purchases and bulging expenditure on salaries are the main contributors to the escalating liabilities of the state.“There is a steep rise in salary and pension bills, power deficit, rising interest liabilities, loan repayments, and deficit on account of non-tax revenue,” the official said.
Conducive atmosphere inevitable for dialogue: Farooq
Srinagar, Jan 17: Former Chief Minister and National Conference (NC) president, Dr Farooq Abdullah on Thursday said that the favourable atmosphere is inevitable for dialogue, which is the only way out to settle the issues.
Addressing party workers in Jammu, Dr Farooq said that the dialogue is the only way out to resolve the issues but there is a need of conducive atmosphere which is inevitable. He added that “under the shades of gun, no dialogue process is possible. We have to stop bullet culture for lasting peace in the region.”
“NC has also given priority to the people. When I became Chief Minister in 1996, I fought with many things as the school were shut, no bridge was there, no office was functioning as the people were frightened by the turmoil then, but I stood up to fight against the forces who were inimical to peace.”
About 35 percent reservation in other states, Dr Farooq said that the incumbent Chief Minister of Odissa, Naveen Patnayak has written to him, suggesting there should be reservation of 35 percentfor women in Jammu and Kashmir also. “We will implement the law, which will ensure 35 percent reservation to women in the State once getting into the power,” he said.
However, he said that it is not easy to take such decisions as when his government took a decision to make 50 percent reservation for girls in Medical College then some people knocked the door of Supreme Court to put halt over the decision.
Dr Farooq also appealed the party workers to work hard and ensure the win of NC leaders who will be contesting the elections.
Abundant snowfall in January makes Gulmarg the perfect winter-destination for tourists
Srinagar, Jan 17: Unlike last January, the abundant snowfall so far this month has attracted a lot of tourists to Gulmarg as the destination is brimming with over 90 per cent occupancy these days.
The valley has received at least four moderate to heavy snowfalls this year with an even stronger wet spell predicted from January 19 to 23.
Tourists from across the world are cherishing this and making their way to Gulmarg, whose slopes offer a perfect destination for skiing.
Speaking to The Kashmir Monitor, CEO Gulmarg Development Authority, Syed Hanief Balkhi said that most of the hotels are fully occupied as people are heading to Gulmarg to enjoy the charismatic scenery offered by the snow-covered hills.“Gulmarg is under 4-5 feet snow and is looking like a playground these days. Tourists from India and abroad enjoy skiing, snow cycling, ice skating, snow-sculptor activity, sledge-racing and other games here,” he said.
Apart from the hoteliers, the rush of the tourists, Balkhi said, has provided good workdays for sledge keepers, skating guides, local cab drivers and many others associated with tourism.
In 2018, as per the official figures, Gulmarg received 5.76 lakh tourists as compared to 5.69 lakh in the preceding year.
The tourism players also expressed satisfaction over the rush of tourists heading to the valley.
President Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation, Wahid Malik said that snowfalls have pushed up the number of tourists visiting the valley.
“Gulmarg saw lesser arrival when winters begun, however, now the snow has ensured all the hotels and resorts are booked,” he said adding that Gulmarg hotels are running on 90 per cent occupancy so far this season.
Gulmarg is declared the ‘heartland of winter sports in India’ by the Winter Games Federation. This year too, Gulmarg Tourism Authority is going to organise winter sports carnival starting from the first week of February.
Additional Director Tourism Department, Nasir Khan said that Gulmarg is “rocking these days as it has received 34,712 and 35,022 tourists in the month of November and December”.
“We are going to organize the winter carnival from the next month to make the place more attractive,” he said.
He added that night market and cultural shows will also be arranged by the department.