On April 3, Kashmir’s Meteorological department issued an advisory of bad weather including 3-day forecast of heavy rainfall and intermittent rains for around a week to the J&K government. For them to be the government of a region which has already suffered devastation in September 2014 floods, the advisory should have served a timely alert to brace up for any eventuality.
Though the next day, the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Baseer Ahmed Khan chaired a high-level meeting of civil administration and police, it ended up with review of progress of work on a mini flyover in Srinagar.
Official documents reveal that the sensitive issue of weather advisory was handed over to Additional Commissioner Kashmir, who in turn issued another advisory. But his advisory missed to discuss the potential threat of floods and ended with release of a customary public notice, which read:
“While the farmers have been advised to postpone their farm management practices, like spraying of orchards and application of fertilizers, the intending passengers have been told to contact their respective traffic control rooms before embarking on their journeys. The concerned Deputy Commissioners have been asked to take all the precautionary measures in their respective areas of jurisdiction.”
As of now, with Jhelum flowing at over 20 feet mark at Ram Munshi Bagh gauge in Srinagar, (two feet above the danger mark), the government has already declared floods in Kashmir. Though weather is likely to improve, intermittent rains are expected. So, tension will persist till water recedes.
Preparation-wise, the government seemingly has nothing beyond claims of 70,000 sandbags in store to face any eventuality. But then how could the government be so insensitive towards the potential threat of floods?
Well a possible reason seems to be that the official machinery is seemingly guilty of having made Srinagar more flood-prone than before. This is because apart from sluggish work on much-need dredging of Jhelum, the official machinery, in a bid to please some ruling politicians, has supported the construction of an illegal bridge inside Srinagar’s main flood spill channel, thereby reducing its flood bearing capacity. This strategically important canal otherwise supplements the flood bearing capacity of Jhelum.
Official documents reveal that on February 3, Divisional Commissioner flanked by DC Srinagar Farooq Ahmed Lone visited flood channel and asked the concerned department to gear up the bridge work. Though the Chief Engineer, Irrigation and Flood Control Department reportedly cautioned the official machinery that the illegal construction will make Srinagar more flood prone the divisional administration stressed on immediate construction of bridge.
But then this is not the only reason why administration wants to downplay flood threat. The State Disaster Response Force or SDRF is equally in shambles, understaffed. Officials said told InUth that as against the requirement of over 10,000 personnel in Kashmir, the SDRF has mere 300 cops deployed across the Valley. This first-line of force for tackling eventualities also craves for boats.
Though on May 26, 2016, Governor NN Vohra had shot an SOS to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti asking her to boost up the infrastructure to meet any natural calamities, her response is awaited.
Apart from falling in seismic Zone-5, Kashmir has been witness to worst floods like that of 2014 when Srinagar bore the brunt, with over one lakh houses devastated and losses pegged at a whopping Rs One lakh crore, something which New Delhi declined to duly compensate. Three years on, flood victims continue to wait for even Rs 25,000 flood relief cheques as promised by the Modi sarkar.
As of now, ahead of any floods, the main roads in the Central Business District of Lal Chowk, and residential areas like Hamdaniya Colony in Srinagar are already inundated in navel, to knee-deep waters. With this being the scene in the summer capital, the plight elsewhere can only be imagined.
Ironically the person handling the civic body affairs in Srinagar, Dr Shafqat Khan, is a middle-rung doctor from Health Department, who has been recently elevated as SMC Commissioner, a post many steps higher to his cadre, for the reasons best known to the government.
But then when flood has been declared, government is busy with other jobs. When InUth team visited tourist hub of Dalgate, near the banks roaring Jhelum, the official machinery was busy erecting polling booths for upcoming by-polls while inundated inhabitants from nearby areas cried for help.
This is Kashmir, where poll arrangements take preference over flood rescue. Call it fate or coincidence, soon after the devastating floods of 2014, when clearance of debris was underway, Assembly elections were held. As of now it’s time for Parliamentary by-polls. May be the flood threat can wait!