(In spite of a lapse of more than two years, one is still waiting for the execution of the urgent and credible flood protection measures leaving an option open for the next disaster!)
The most destructive flood in a century occurred in Kashmir in September, 2014. It was an unprecedented disaster in our living memory. Even though the loss of human lives was very low, not more than 50 or so but the destruction of property was immense. There used to be floods earlier but not such a massive one in recent times. No doubt, the valley is prone to floods which have been occurring from time to time but the scale of this flood got heightened by our own material greed. It was Nature’s backlash which we had been vandalizing mercilessly for a long time. The River Jhelum has been meandering through the valley from the earliest times. Also known as the Vitasta or Yveth, it has been the lifeline of Kashmir Valley from the earliest times. The entire Kashmir civilisation has been growing along the banks of the River and its tributaries. After the mythological Kashyapa drained the Sati Sar by killing the demon Jalodhbhava at Baramulla, the River has been written in the very first line of the thousands of years old history of Kashmir. Like the Sholokhov’s “Quiet Flows the Don”. Jhelum too has been quietly flowing and observing the happenings on its banks. However, it often turns furious when too many sins get washed into it!
The River which gave life to Kashmir has been vandalised and desecrated by us. The muck and filth of almost entire Kashmir is made to flow into the River. Its banks have been encroached in most places especially in the city of Srinagar. For last half a century or so no one has bothered to dredge it and take away the silt. Over and above everything else its flood basin has been snatched and converted into colonies. Where else will it go except overflow its banks and sometimes may even change course. Most of the wetlands and water bodies have either been filled up or encroached upon. The historical channel Nala-i-Mar has been filled up and converted into a road. We have hardly left any space for the extra water to flow in anywhere. In the catchment areas, most of the rain water would get absorbed but now it runs down straight as we have totally denuded the catchment area of the River.One cannot rule out sudden disastrous floods in future especially because of the universal climate change. Reclaiming all the earlier back-ups to prevent floods may take time. We need to go for immediate protective measures.
The government has been brooding over many schemes for prevention of floods and protection for the city areas. However, the progress on ground is abnormally slow. The most important aspect is the dredging of the River and its flood spill over channel and strengthening of its embankments especially in the city of Srinagar a major portion of which was submerged in the last flood. During the short spell of Governor’s rule, the dredging operation had been started through some Kolkata based firm. However, there were some mechanical problems and the fate of the project is not known. If one travels along the Bund in the city or along the embankments of the flood spill-over channel, nothing substantial seems to have been done. Instead, the dug up soil is in huge mounds all along the channel. Just 10 feet of water will spill over the embankments.
Instead of waiting for mechanised dredging, in the lean water season of winter one could go ahead with even manual dredging giving some employment to the idle youth. During the recent uprising, most of the outside labour had run away and it was heartening to see Kashmiri youth fully engaged in most of the manual tasks. Our greatest misfortune has been the loss of the dignity of manual labour. The youth seem to have been brainwashed to get government jobs at the lowest level in spite of very high educational qualifications. The new generation in Kashmir has lot of entrepreneurship and is fully involved in varied number of projects. They could be involved in taking up the assignment of dredging the River and the flood spill-over channel and strengthening the embankments in a semi-mechanised way. Same holds good for all water bodies and wetlands.
However, to undertake such an enterprise one needs someone like Hakeem Suyya of the historical times! Kashmir is now really searching for someone like Hakeem Suyya. There is no guarantee that the tragedy may not recur! One can only implore the concerned not to wait for Hakeem Suyya to be reborn but take immediate steps to initiate and complete the flood prevention measures on an accelerated pace. The Chief Minister has shown that she can exercise her prerogative if she wants to. This is the most important sector in which exercise of such a prerogative is needed. Let us hope she does it? Waiting for the next flood would be the ultimate disaster!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir)