SRINAGAR: Eight years after Jhelum and Tawi Flood Recovery Project was conceived in 2009, is yet to take baby steps because the department of Irrigation and Flood Control has not a single expert in Water Resources Management (WRM).
With objective to increase disaster resilience in targeted areas of the Jammu & Kashmir and the capacity to respond promptly to crisis or emergency, the project is being funded by World Bank with a total outlay of US $250 million. The officials, however, succeeded to release the loan from WB in 2015 a year after deadly floods struck Kashmir Valley and parts of Jammu region.
Officials within the department told Kashmir Reader that “too much” delay has occurred due to lack of WRM experts and that, it takes officials more than twice the time to complete even an ordinary task, which otherwise, wouldn’t have been the problem if experts are available at the department.
“All the engineers in water resources management are simple graduates. Not a single member here has even masters’ degree or expertise in the relevant field. Though the framing of flood management plan is not a difficult job, it needs expertise of highest level, which is non-existent in the department,” say insiders.
They said that neither the higher officials are interested in hiring experts nor are they approving applications of in-house employees of I&FC department to go for higher studies. During the last ten years, they say, around 40 applications have been rejected by the administrative department at the secretariat.
Even outsourcing the work to private consultants or the officials outside the state, the department faces several problems as whenever, any consultant proposes any change to the project, officials in the department can’t readily approve or accept the same due to lack of expertise.
“We are not experts in the relevant field but we are actually the persons responsible for any and every step taken. Though, we verify any change or any proposal for project but it takes much more time to complete the process,” they said, adding, “There is complete absence of monitoring by the experts. Even smaller steps were pending at several places due to which the entire project is stagnant. Besides, there is no coordination between departments needed either for logistic support or concerns needed to be included in the project.”
For instance, they say, the planners needed design of structures that are to be built in future like establishment of hospital and educational institutions but the designs and objections raised by the planners are not approved.
“Another problem encountered by the department is that if WB has set a particular limit of a certain project and says the expenditure should not exceed the limit, our men in the department exceed the expenditure limit to much extent that clashes with WB norms, hence become another obstacle in the headway of project. It has also wasted a good number of years,” says the insider.
Launched by the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti in the aftermath of September fury of 2014, the primary beneficiaries of the project would be the communities that were affected by loss of public service infrastructure.
Commissioner, I&FC, Saurabh Bhaghat, while admitting that expert monitoring was missing in the department, told Kashmir Reader that the project was stuck because it needed clearance from the few sections before his department could go ahead with the project.
He says that because Detailed Project Report (DPR) of projects funded by the World Bank needs high-end documents where each and every aspect is monitored very closely, WB doesn’t accept DPRs prepared by engineers here.
He said that they are planning to create an integrated consultancy where there will be experts from every department who will provide assistance of every kind to the project. “These experts could also be hired from the open market if the government department lacks these experts.”
Under the project, he says, around seven government departments like health department, fire & emergency department besides education department and others, would be working jointly where they have to built around 300 rooms for educational infrastructure, few buildings for higher education department, around 100 roads across the Valley and more than 10 bridges in Kashmir region.
“Moreover, there are few projects to strengthen the Fire Services department and few procurements are to be made in the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), and Silk factory and government Woollen Mills to strengthen them for future,” he said.
He says that there was not any expert who could have understood the work of project management because the working of project management is different than that of government and the organizations like WB actually follow the procedures similar to project management. “As I have a good experience of working with WB projects, we expect to finish the ground work soon,” he said.
Regarding the rejection of application of those employees who seek to go for higher studies, Bhaghat said that nobody came to him with such complaints and that he will look into the issue.