Once welcome as a blessing, the rains these days give nightmares to the people!
Recently Yasir Ashraf did a front page story in the paper titled, “Rains no more welcome in Kashmir”! According to him, people living in the areas where the Jhelum had breached its embankments were living in fear. The breaches had been plugged only with sand bags and no action had been taken for strengthening these with concrete embankments. In fact some people were frantically trying to get inflatable boats as a safety measure. The Government had wasted 18 months and still there was no sight of permanent measures being taken. The dredging of the Jhelum and the flood spill over channel had been recently taken up under the orders of the Governor. However, the pace is abnormally slow and it will take years. What is needed is an accelerated job on a fully mechanised basis round the clock. Reportedly a Kolkata based firm has been engaged for mechanised dredging and they are supposedly employing three machines. The extent of the River would require more than a dozen machines, with an equal number of JCBs and fleets of trucks (dumpers) to remove the mud and silt and deposit it away from the River at safe places.
Equally important are the embankments especially along the banks of the River all along the city of Srinagar. These need to be strengthened with embedded concrete piles or with concrete walls. Apart from dredging the stretches near the source and near the other end in Baramulla, the River embankments have to be made impregnable and its depth increased by at least ten feet or so along its course through the City of Srinagar to contain and channel flood waters safely. The same treatment has to be given to the flood spill over channel. Except for big projects such as the flyover construction, most of these works are allegedly assigned by the concerned engineers to small contractors on political considerations. A road stretch of few kilometres gets divided among four to five contractors. This results in delay as one contractor completes the job earlier while as the other one dithers. Then there is the problem of quality control.
The entire project of flood prevention which includes dredging, strengthening of embankments needs to be allotted to a major resourceful organisation on a turnkey basis with a stipulation of a time frame with huge penalties for default. In fact, the organisation constructing the fly over could be asked to take up the work of concrete embankments as they already have enough equipment and manpower. The flyover completion may get slightly delayed but that is a better choice than getting it totally washed away! This could be done by the Governor directly by exercising the residuary powers vested in him under the constitution. An instant of this nature occurred during late seventies in Gulmarg. The skiing was dependant on a ramshackle rope tow. A French Ski lift company owner Mr. Montaz visited Gulmarg and met Sheikh Sahab. He asked him if he could put some ski lifts on priority in Gulmarg. Mr. Montaz said he could do it within a month. Sheikh Sahab directly assigned him the work and three ski lifts were imported and installed in Gulmarg. Had this not been done, Skiing in Gulmarg would have never attained national and international status which it has at present!
Regarding the flood panic, it is mistimed. Severe floods do not occur in winter as it usually snows in higher reaches. The worst period of floods is late summer and early autumn. At that time it rains all over and the water has only one channel to go and that is the River. All other outlets are closed due to the ripening of the rice crop. Also last time there were other factors such as the combination of the western disturbances with the monsoon spill over from the South. The recent climate change has made the occurrence of such freak events a strong possibility. So there is still time to complete the job of protecting the habitations from the flood fury. In fact, to guarantee right to life is the first constitutional duty of a government. Other niceties come later.
This job should have been the priority number one in the so called developmental agenda of the last Government which is now in limbo! They did absolutely nothing and dithered for months on end. They are still bargaining for their existence without bothering about the fate of the people. If the Governor accelerates the pace of development and takes up the flood prevention measures on a war footing within a stipulated time frame people may prefer the Governor’s or even President’s Rule to an elected government of self-serving greedy politicians!