(Srinagar has once again passed through a nightmarish situation due to a sudden flood in River Jhelum. It is nature’s warning for a big one which may hit us soon unless preventive measures are taken on a war footing!)
Just two days of incessant heavy rain swelled River Jhelum to dangerous flood level. There was panic all over and many of the residents in the low lying areas such as Raj Bagh, Jawahar Nagar, Mehjoor Nagar and so on were panicky and alarmed. The panic increased when announcements were made declaring Red Alert in these areas. Some people shifted to safer places and others went upstairs taking their valuables along. No one seemed to be prepared to undergo a repeat of the 2014 horrible experience. The episode was unpredictable as there is no history of a flood during winter. One normally expects some flooding in July to September when monsoons spill over to Kashmir and the rain waters have the only limited channel of the RiverJhelum because of the ripening rice crop closing all other water channels. Apart from the sudden rise in the water level, the drop in it after the stoppage of rains was very slow. There is only one possible reason for this behaviour of the River Jhelum, its extreme silting and the worse scenario in its flood spill over channel.
In a recent interview to local English daily, Sonam Lotus, the now famous meteorologist declared that there would be more floods! He said that the River has been left very little space to accommodate the flood waters. Most of the water bodies have been encroached by dumping of waste and construction of colonies. Just 100 millimetres of rain for two days resulted in a flood. He advised people to end encroachments and restore the flood basin of the River. After the worst flood of the century in 2014 one had expected that the first priority of the government would be to initiate flood prevention and protection measures on top priority. Hardly anything substantial has been done. According to the Chief Engineer, the Kolkata firm engaged for desilting has excavated less than one lakh cubic meters out of a target of seven lakh cubic meters. Hardly any substantial excavation has been done in the flood spill over channel. Reportedly, the firm has been put on notice. On the contrary obstructions in the form of low bridges have been created which act as dams during a flood and the waters spill over the banks. In fact, in the recent flood, the engineers had to cut one side of a bridge on the channel to allow waters to move ahead. The worst parts are the weak embankments. The last flood inundated vast areas including the posh colonies of Srinagar due to dozens of breaches in the embankments which have been weakened by numerous encroachments.
The only way to preventthe repeat of the destruction caused by the last flood is to take preventive and protective measures on a war footing. The dredging of the River to remove the silt and the deepening of the flood channel are the utmost priority. At the same time the embankments have to be strengthened. During the recent flood the engineers were not worried about the water level as it was much lower than the last destructive flood level. The main concern was the possibility of breaches in the embankments. Strengthening of embankments is not a great engineering marvel but a very simple job. One can either strengthen these at vulnerable places with concrete walls, boulder crates of steel wireand even the earth embankments can be strengthened by concrete piling. On the famous Karakoram highway, the Chinese have used pre-stressed reinforced concrete rods which have made the otherwise loose and unstable mountain walls fully stable. Similar technology could be used to strengthen the embankments here.
As regards dredging in the flood channel it could be done through mechanized excavators as the major portion of the channel remains dry. The flood channel could be easily deepened by 10 feet or so to increase its carrying capacity. This had been started in places but left halfway. A few dozen excavators (jcb’s) with a couple of hundred dumpers could finish the job in a few months. This is subject to someone at the top having the inclination and the will to do so. Tulip Gardens, Cable Cars, Golf Courses and so on are not as important as the flood prevention and protection measures. What is the use of providing all these recreational facilities if there is no protection against the devastating floods!
In fact, if the authorities genuinely and honestly undertake these works, the other side may also call a truce and exempt these activities from any shutdown! Here, one would like to point out an interesting dichotomy. People in general and especially the leaders of the popular movement have no faith in the present ruling set up. However, at the same time they expect them to undertake all the essential people friendly works! One often hears the comments that the government has failed to do this and that. But if one has no faith in the government and claims it to be a non-representative set up then how do we expect them to take various measures to save environment and protect people from calamities like floods? The ideal situation would be people on their own led by popular leaders taking all necessary measures to not only safeguard the fragile environment but also initiate protective measures including dredging etc. Well, that is a long debate. Our immediate requirement is safety through genuine and dedicated flood protection measures. Let us pray and hope the present rulers listen and undertake these on a war footing!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir