Jammu & Kashmir Government seems to be still waiting for someone like Hakeem Suyya of Avanti Varman’s time to expedite measures for prevention of future floods!
The most important task after rehabilitation of the people affected by the worst flood in a century was to take measures for prevention of such floods in future. In spite of a lapse of almost 20 months the process is awfully slow especially regarding dredging and strengthening of the embankments. The massive flood had resulted from a unique combination of the monsoons and a very strong western disturbance which poured tons of water on our mountains and the plains. There was also a quick melt of the glaciers. The amount of water running down our mountains was beyond the capacity of the river and it came down virtually as a sheet of water. However, one other important factor for spilling over the embankments and for dozens of breaches was the silting of the river bed and its spill over channel. These had not been dredged for decades. In addition no efforts had been made to strengthen the embankments along the route of the river through the city. In fact, the negligence on this part resulting in the disaster amounts to criminal negligence. There are no two opinions that the most urgent need for future action to prevent the repetition of the disaster is to expedite dredging and strengthening of embankments.
While the politicians were grappling with the formation of the government, the Governor had initiated the process under his personal supervision. A Kolkata based firm had been given contract. They were supposed to employ three dredgers. There were repeated reports that the dredger had broken down and the company was unable to repair it. There were suggestions from some experts that instead of floating dredgers need was for using few dozen JCBs and a couple of hundred dumpers as these could do a better job of taking out silt quickly. In the meantime, news about various amounts of dredged material taken out from different places was given out by the concerned department from time to time. There were also reports alleging that the figures given out regarding the amount of material dredged out were not correct. As regards the stretches of the river and the spill over channel within Srinagar area, there is no visible change! If one moves across the bunds of these, one would see that the water is flowing hardly ten feet below the embankment in case of the river. In case of the flood channel, it is silted up all along. Even a minor flood can spill over the embankments.
There has been all round appreciation in regard to management of traffic which had virtually become a terror. Government has taken a number of measures to remove encroachments and ensure free flow by putting road dividers and employing additional manpower to stop violations. However, there is still need for stricter enforcement by cancelling licenses of the violators especially the minibus drivers need to be reined in strictly. Also, the road dividers may have to be put in permanently and that too of Iron instead of the plastic which the violators break easily. In case of the Iron ones, their own vehicles will get damaged! At present Chandigarh is supposed to have the best traffic management as the violators are required to pay fines in cash on spot otherwise their vehicles are confiscated.
A similar approach is needed to take flood prevention measures. There is still time as the dangerous floods come usually at the end of the summer when due to the ripening of the crops, the excess water has the only one channel of the river to flow. The process needs not only to be accelerated but monitored on day to day basis. Apart from dredging, the strengthening of the embankments is essential especially at the weak points where the breaches had occurred during the last flood. One is reminded of the legendary person Hakeem Suyya who during the time of King Avanti Varman saved the valley from extreme floods by intensive dredging and creation of a network of irrigation channels. His story used to be in our school books.
Kashmir is now searching for someone like Hakeem Suyya. There is no guarantee that the tragedy may not recur! One can only implore the concerned not to wait for Hakeem Suyya to be reborn but take immediate steps to initiate and complete the flood prevention measures on an accelerated pace. The Chief Minister has shown that she can exercise her prerogative if she wants to. This is the most important sector in which exercise of such a prerogative is needed. Let us hope she does it?