(The present condition of the flood spill over channel is such that even a small flood can turn into a disaster!)
For last three years various engineering departments have been inspecting, debating and discussing flood prevention measures to prevent any disastrous floods in future. The 2014 flood which was the most disastrous to have occurred in a century, has not taught any lessons both to the authorities and the common people. While the authorities are in a deep slumber, the people are busy in encroaching the flood basins and the spill over channels. No less a person than the Chief Minister herself is chairing a committee to oversee the completion of various essential measures for prevention of disastrous floods in the future. However, nothing substantial is happening on the ground.
A typical example of apathy and total neglect is the condition of the flood spill-over channel. It has been specifically made to by-pass the flood waters so as to save Srinagar from any disaster. It was constructed in 1904. Many times, this channel has saved the city from inundation. At present the channel is fully silted up. In fact, in some places trees are growing inside it. At many spots its bottom is hardly ten feet lower than its banks. Because of encroachments and the silting, in 2014 the channel failed to save the city. But if excavated and deepened properly it could prevent inundation of the capital city during future floods!
Well, there were other reasons for the 2014 disaster.Kashmir used to have incessant rains earlier too. In fact, spring and autumn are rainy seasons in Kashmir. So why these floods that still cast a shadow of trauma over the entire Valley? There has been extensive cutting of forests by timber smugglers in collusion with the security forces and forest official. Even young trees have not been spared. Meadows have been over grazed. The result is a quick run off. The rainwater hardly stays in these areas and quickly comes down with earth and boulders down the slopes. Thus the river rises in a very short time causing floods.
The flood waters need a place to go somewhere if the city is to be saved. Almost the entire valley used to be a flood basin and the water would thinly spread without causing much harm. We have drastically deprived the River any room to thinly spread its excess waters. Most of the flood basins in the vicinity of Srinagar have been converted into housing colonies. Srinagar was known as the Venice of the East because of numerous canals and water bodies. The canals have almost all been filled up and converted into roads and the water bodies have been encroached inch by inch and converted into land. Only the names remain! Nalla Mar, Gill Sar, Anchar, Khushal Sar and so on.
Dal Lake is in the last throes of death. We have not only encroached the lake from all sides but also polluted it beyond redemption. Same is the fate of Wullar Lake which was reputed to be the second largest sweet water Lake in Asia after Lake Baikal in Russia! To tame the river somewhat our ancestors had constructed embankments especially to save the city of Srinagar. However, we have vandalised these everywhere by constructing houses, hotels, hospitals and in some places even mosques!
There were two things which needed to be done. First was to conduct an investigation for various failures at all levels. This was essential to prevent similar mismanagement offloods in future. However, more urgent task than this was for the government and the people to take an initiativefor flood prevention measures. These included dredging of the river all along its length; desilting of the flood spill over channel; clearing of some of the flood basins and strengthening of the embankments. Nothing substantial has been done so far. Everything is going at a snail’s pace.On the contrary the government is quietly sitting on its three years long inaction. What an irony! Had this happened in any other country, apart from some people having been put in the dock, massive flood prevention measures would have been completed by now?
There is still time to save the situation. The winter is the best time to excavate silt and earth from the River and the flood spill over channel. It just needs a couple of dozen JCBs and about 100 or so tippers. The excavated soil can be used for filling wherever required by various departments. Interestingly, recently there was news about people being restrained from excavating earth from the Budgam karewas to fill up Rakh Arth area where Dal dwellers colony is supposed to be constructed. There was no need to destroy karewas if people had been directed to excavate the flood channel. The same soil could be used for filling wherever there was a need!
Such tasks cannot be done through usual tendering procedures because of the urgency and the disastrous consequences which may result due to administrative dithering. The Chief Minister being the Chairperson of the Committee could directly order some reputed company within the country or even from abroad or even a government organisation like Hindustan Construction Corporation or so to take up the job without going in for any tenders. She has all the residuary executive powers under the constitution and can order in public interest, anything in relaxation of all rules! But the question is will she do it? Let us hope, she does it and is not misguided by the motivated administrators and the engineers!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir