Recently there was a high level meeting to discuss the flood preparedness and it was decided that mock drills would be conducted to test the flood preparedness. In fact a tented colony to house the displaced persons was also set up! It is a pity that all of us have learnt no lessons from the disastrous flood of the century. The latest example of neglecting nature especially during the present period of a global climate change is the Kerala flood. They faced a disastrous situation even worse than Kashmir. There were hundreds of casualties and large scale destruction of property. They will take a long time to become normal again. Fortunately, in case of Kashmir, the nature was rather lenient. In fact, for last few years it has been giving us enough time to set our act straight by taking preventive measures. However, both the government and the people seem to be totally unmindful!
The last government wasted four precious years! The most important aspect was increasing the carrying capacity of the River and the flood spill over channel. Nothing substantial was done. In fact, a Kolkatta based firm which had been allotted the contract for the job during the Governor’s rule has been discontinued due to very slow progress and break down of machinery. A government of India panel in the wake of 2014 floods had thoroughly investigated the causes of the disastrous flood. They had pointed out the decrease in the carrying capacity of the River and its flood spill over channel over last few decades because of the absence of any dredging being carried out there. From 1986 till very recently no dredging was carried out in the outflow channel resulting into the drastic reduction in its carrying capacity from 17000 cusec to 3531 cusec. Similarly, no effective steps were taken to increase the flow velocity in the 96 kilometre Sangam-Wular mild slope stretch of river Jhelum. Last year the Chief Engineer Irrigation and Flood Control publicly admitted that nothing substantial had been done regarding dredging of the River and the Flood Channel.
Recently the newly appointed Secretary Irrigation and Flood Control gave a detailed interview to a reporter of the newspaper. Incidentally, he was the Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar during the century’s disastrous flood. As such he knows that prevention would be better than the cure! He admitted that the dredging had not been completed and would take some more time. According to him departmental dredgers are being used for the purpose. Apart from various environmental causes, the two main factors resulting in flooding and inundation of vast areas are the decreased capacity of the River and the Flood Channel and the weakness of the embankments. He confirmed that both these aspects are being given priority. The embankments have been surveyed to ascertain the weak points. A large number of encroachments on the River and Flood Channel banks have been removed. The Secretary invited advice from experts in the field. Hopefully, it should be coming. However, it would have been better if an open discussion on the subject was held where various experts and others could give their opinion.
Kashmir has always been prone to floods. In fact, most of the migrations from Kashmir in earlier times have taken place after the famines which used to result from disastrous floods. The story of King Avanti Varman’s illustrious minister Hakeem Soya is quite well known as it was taught in Schools through Kashmir’s History Books which seem to have disappeared now. He did secure the valley from the disastrous floods and improved irrigation throughout the valley.
Recently there has been lot of reporting about declaring Srinagar a “Smart City”. There is no point in declaring Srinagar as a “Smart City” or improving its roads by flyovers and so on. The first thing is to secure it against the disastrous floods which may be visiting us off and on. There cannot be more pathetic and tragic fact than a couple of day’s rain being unwelcome in Kashmir which has always survived on rain! The rain used to be considered as a blessing but now it is a nightmare! There is no time left to apportion blame but the most immediate need is to undertake the urgent measures to secure the “City of the Sun” from floods. Not a difficult or impossible task. Only requirement is to get the job done honestly. It is a known fact that all engineering works are money minting proposals! For a change both the authorities and the people need to be honest and sincere. The task requires sincerity both from the government and the people. The lead has to be given by the popular leaders and prominent citizens supported by the government. Leaving the job totally to the government is virtually making preparations for the next disaster!
During the interview, the reporter praised the role of the new Secretary Flood in Tourism as its Secretary and Director General which he had dramatically uplifted in spite of the worst conditions. He hoped that similar dynamism and action would be shown by him in mitigating the impending threats of disastrous floods in future! Let us hope and pray that he does so and succeeds to earn the name of a modern “Hakeem Soya”!
The author is an I.A.S. (Retired) & Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.