Mohammad Ashraf – Disaster in the making!

kashmir floods

(The failure of various government agencies in executing flood prevention measures in spite of a lapse of almost 5 years is a recipe for new disaster!)

According to a news report, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry has expressed concern over abrupt rise in Jhelum water level. According to them just a few millimeters of rain have caused such an abnormal rise in the water level of the River and its flood spill over channel.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.

According to KCCI, post 2014 flood, a number of flood prevention measures were announced. The government had been brooding over many schemes for prevention of floods and protection for the city areas. However, the progress on ground has been 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 project appears to have been abandoned.  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, some portion of the channel has been dug up and some left as such.  Just 10 feet of water will definitely spill over the embankments! The same is the story of embankments. According to another news report, a portion of the River embankment in Shivpora has given away.

It is not enough to take away some sand and earth from the River and its flood channel in Srinagar or some other areas. The most important part of dredging involves giving the River a gradient upstream and downstream from the Wullar Lake and dredging the Lake to increase its water holding capacity. 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 Jhelum. It is very unfortunate that the successive governments have done little to address this issue.

Fortunately, Kashmir had a virtual dry spell during winters till last year. There were no dangerous floods for these years. However, during the current winter there has been exceptionally high snowfall in the mountains. Combined with the global climate change because of which even Saudi Arabia and Gulf States are having floods, the chances of another disastrous flood are very much there. The only mitigation is to go for flood prevention measures on what the Kashmir Chamber calls “War Footing”. Incidentally, we are having many “Wars” at the moment but the most important would be a “War” against Flood! Normally, government should have awarded a contract to some international consortium of companies specialising in flood prevention measures. There are many companies which have undertaken turnkey jobs in different countries including in South East Asia. In our state the prestigious Uri Power Project was completed and commissioned by Swedish Consortium of companies called SKANSKA. They did the job during nineties when militancy was at peak! Similar step needs to be taken in reclaiming and saving our water bodies. Keeping in view the lackadaisical attitude of the government, it may be better for the Civil Society to take up the job on its own. There are many retired engineers and technicians who can be entrusted the job. By a private initiative a team of trained engineers and technicians who have been associated with similar projects during their service could be set up. Kashmir has many billionaires and millionaires who could easily fund such a project. However, the million dollar question is will anybody come forward to take up the job? Can the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry come forward to do it? In the meantime, there is a Public Interest Litigation probably under the consideration of the State High Court. If they could goad the government to move forward before it is too late may be something materialises. In the meantime, one has to keep the fingers crossed and wait for the disaster!

Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir


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