(The most important flood prevention measure of dredging the river Jhelum and the Spill over Channel seems illusive as ever as one does not see any physical progress on the ground!)
After the disastrous flood of 2014, the most important task of the government was to initiate immediate flood prevention measures. The top most measure was the dredging of the River Jhelum and the flood spill over channel so as to increase the water holding capacity of the both. Along with this first step, the other important measure was to strengthen the River and Flood Channel embankments which had been breached in many places during the last flood. During the Governor rule some measures were initiated. A Kolkata based firm was awarded the contract and they offered to use various types of dredgers to complete the task. However, the progress of the firm was abnormally slow and in fact some of their dredgers broke down. According to some experts the dredgers used by them were not suitable for the river dredging. The firm was put on notice by the Irrigation and Flood Control Department but nothing positive seems to have happened. The worst is the total absence of dredging in the flood spill over channel.
A government of India panel in the wake of 2014 floods had thoroughly investigated the causes of the disastrous flood. According to the panel report the topography of the Kashmir valley made it prone to disastrous floods. They had pointed out some important factors which caused the floods. One of these was 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, for example, 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 JhelumIt is very unfortunate that the successive governments have done little to address this issue.
Recently, the issue of the sloppy de-silting of the River Jhelum and the Flood Channel came in for sharp criticism in the state legislature even from the ruling party legislators. There was a demand for setting up of a house committee to oversee the project. In fact there was also a demand for informing the house of a concrete and a detailed plan on the subject. Sometime back the Chief Minister had set up a committee under her own chairpersonship to monitor and oversee the measures for the dredging of the River and the Flood Channel. It is not known whether the committee ever held any meeting or it ever went on the various sites on the ground to see the actual position? The Chief Minister has been busy with the budget session of the legislature and had to participate in umpteen events. However, she needs to find time to see the progress of the most important measures to prevent a repeat of the 2014 disaster! She should at least take a flying visit of the entire River and the Flood spill over channelin a helicopter to see that nothing much has been done on the ground. Just a look over the channel from its start till the Rambagh Bridge where the flyover is under construction will reveal the numerous obstructions deliberately created to stop the free flow of excess flood water! In the event of a flood the water will easily spill over the banks of the channel which in some places is not even 15 feet deep!
There was another disaster in this regard very recently. A large portion of Jhelum embankment caved in Wednesday evening in Pantha Chowk-Lasjan area of Srinagar, triggering scare among the local population. The local people alleged that the concerned department had used very unscientific means in strengthening the weak embankments. They alleged that had the river been flowing even at the normal level, the entire city would have been deluged. Imagine what would have happened if it had caved in during a flood! The story is same with all embankments which were breached during the last flood. Such an attitude of abnormally slow pace in implementing various urgent flood prevention measures amounts to criminal negligence.
Incidentally, Kashmir has experienced comparatively very dry winters for last three years. The level of water in Jhelum is at the lowest and the Flood Channel is absolutely dry. There could not be a better opportunity than this to dredge the River and the Channel. There is still time if the government wakes up and ensures taking up of the assignment on an accelerated pace. Let us hope this is done and we do not have to repeat the Roman History, “When Rome was burning, Nero was fiddling with his guitar!”
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir