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Post-2014 floods: J&K clueless about plugging loopholes

When the devastating floods struck Kashmir in September 2014, past mistakes were recalled.

Arun Joshi

When the devastating floods struck Kashmir in September 2014, past mistakes were recalled. Vows were made to do a course correction. The alarm over the destruction was raised as if that was the end of the world. The Jhelum river that runs through the Valley was declared the main culprit —- it had overflown its banks and its waters had gushed into the fields, homes and left more than half of the capital city of Srinagar submerged.

The river had overthrown all encroachments on its banks and catchment areas overcrowded by the corrupt and the greedy political system over decades. The burden was becoming unbearable and it took revenge when nature helped it to do so in the first week of September 2014.

Today, more than three years after the floods, the government is still looking for ways to start the process of the flood management. It is floating expressions of interest — a technical term- to engage firms to do the job. It is floating EoI for consulting services for “conducting surveys, studies, and formulation of comprehensive flood management plan and preparation of a detailed project report for flood management works on the Jhelum and its tributaries.”

Fine, but what was the government doing all these three years. It engaged a dredging firm to do the dredging of the river – that is to do deepen its base so that the water levels do not cross beyond a particular level and threaten the population and properties.

To the common man, it would seem quite a sound strategy to manage the floods.

Dredging was not the answer to the problem, but in the political lexicon where dredging was lifted to the level of nectar, suggesting that it was not required was like committing a blasphemy. Political blasphemy in Kashmir can bring unspoken brutalities.

The Jhelum from its origin in Verinag in south Kashmir to Baramullah in north Kashmir via Srinagar in central Kashmir flows calmly and slowly. It is only after it crosses Baramullah and rushes towards Uri before falling into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, its waters pick up speed. The dredging could have worked beyond Baramullah and the silt would have got flushed out with the rapids. Before Baramullah, wherever the excavation or digging has been done, the silt with the passage of time would refill the portions dug out.

Nature was kind. It was a rain deficient period all these three years (2015-17) and the Valley was saved from floods. There is absolutely no component of planning, leave alone execution, and that is all because of the politicisation of natural disasters and an endless appetite for making money out of contracts.

The dredging was undertaken in Srinagar. There was no logic in it. Srinagar lies almost in the middle of the route of the river, so any dredging there would be refilled any time. The river cannot flush out the silt from the middle. It had to be done at the tail end. But there were no political dividends available, so Baramullah onwards the stretch was left untouched. The media is also not available on 24x7 basis outside the capital city.

Anything that is invisible to media in Kashmir’s political system is considered worthless.

Two points are clear that the political system in Kashmir raises alarms all the time and the level of alarm is made more alarming to tell the world that Delhi is being indifferent and is not giving funds for urgent works. But when the plans are asked for, it has none. The work or lack of it after the 2014 floods has shown that. In fact encroachments and illegal constructions are back on the riverbanks and its catchment areas. Blame Delhi for it.

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