Kashmir Floods: State’s response still confined to sounding alerts
Srinagar, Jun 30: On Friday evening, when the Jhelum crossed the danger level, the government issued a flood advisory asking people to be vigilant.
Many families from the flood-prone areas shifted to safer areas as the water level in the Jhelum kept rising.
The shopkeepers in several areas started moving out goods from their shops.
This has become a common phenomenon in Kashmir in the aftermath of 2014 floods. As soon as the water level rises in the Jhelum even with moderate rainfall, people fear a deluge.
At the same time, the government has not taken any preventive measures to avoid such situations, as the valley had been at the verge of floods several times in the last three areas.
Professor Shakil Romshoo, an earth scientist, who conducted a detailed study on the devastating deluge that hit Kashmir in September 2014, posted on Facebook, “As long as we don’t embark upon a mission to identify emerging and long-term critical issues facing the state, (all environmental, disasters, social, economic and political), analyze the challenges using evidence-based knowledge, involving a wide range of expertise and prescribe strategies for addressing them through perspective planning, we are bound to suffer for all eternity and pay heavily time and again for our callousness and adhocism.”
Romshoo, who has been critical of government for failing to increase the carrying capacity, said, “There is need for setting up a policy ‘Think Tank’ providing direction and guidance to informed policy making for short- and long-term development plans in the state. Is it really ever going to happen here given the misplaced priorities of the successive governments and the rampant societal numbness?”
In the backdrop of 2014 floods, the government announced that it would take several measures to prevent floods.
“Nothing has been done in these years, except dredging at few spots and refilling of patches of Jhelum’s embankments, which were washed by 2014 floods,” an official of Irrigation and Flood Control Department said, wishing not to be quoted by name. “The department did nothing in this regard. Government at the top level has to take some measures. The government also announced of removing constructions along the Jhelum, but a big shopping mall is being constructed in flood channel.”
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 has warned that intensity of rainfall and frequency of rainy days in the Himalayan region may increase in 2030s, leading to another flood in Kashmir if immediate steps are not taken to restore the drainage system of Jhelum.
According to a disaster management report, 13 districts in J&K out of 100 districts in India have been identified as ‘multi hazard districts’.
The I&FC official said that Wular Lake, which is the largest flood absorption basin has lost the water carrying capacity due to host of factors. “Several surveys have found that gross human interference, deforestation, encroachments, chocking of water ways and reduction in capacity of wet lands due to heavy siltation posing an imminent threat of floods even by average downpour,” the official said.
After 2014 deluge, the government had announced that dredging of river Jhelum would be completed by December 2016 to prevent floods in future. Although the dredging work has been started but was going at slow pace. It has been stalled for the last several months.
Government has also announced that an alternate flood channel would be constructed of Jhelum in Kashmir to prevent Valley from floods.
The Union Ministry of Water Resources in December 2014 asked the state government for framing of the DPR for the 80-km Dogripora channel to be constructed from Awantipora in south Kashmir to Wular lake in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district.
“But during the last over three years, the detailed project report could not be framed,” the official said.
Another project was reconstruction of river Jhelum embankments that had crumbled at various places by 2014 floods.
On Friday and Saturday, locals were seen tending to Jhelum embankments at several places by placing sand bags to stop water from entering into the residential areas as these bunds were weakened by the floods in the past.
A police official said that banks of river Jhelum got breached at various places due to rising water level.
“Empty sand bags already issued by district police to various subordinate units were put into use and repair works were taken up at almost all the points to prevent the water flow in civilian areas,” the police official said.
Chief Engineer I&FC, Muhammad Shahnawaz, said that measures were being taken to prevent Valley floods. “I can tell you as we are busy with the current situation. We will discuss it later,” Shahnawaz said.
In July 2015, the first-ever disaster management plan was approved by the cabinet headed by the then chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. However, official said there has been no implementation of the disaster management plan.
“The government has failed to equip the agencies that could deal with disasters to mitigate sufferings of people at a time when any natural calamity hit the state. No work has been started for its implementation and it has been confined to papers,” an official of Revenue and Rehabilitation department said.
In 2012, two battalions of auxiliary forces were converted into State Disaster Response Force (SDRF). However, the SDRF is still ill-equipped and its forces are not in a position to deal with any emergency at the time of any natural calamity. “Its men have also been assigned other duties like security,” an official of SDRF said.