The Valley’s recent snowfall, rarely so heavy in March, claimed 17 lives and caused damage estimated to run into crores. Two senior cabinet ministers turned the government into a laughing stock – one by invoking the election code of conduct as an excuse for inaction, and the other by crowing that Kashmir had outstripped the US in advancement because electricity had been restored within two days. And the head of the divisional administration as good as expressed lack of faith in the regional meteorological office, which had forecast accurately and well in advance, by saying that he had not expected the snowfall to be so severe. It is quite another matter that of all public figures and institutions – political, bureaucratic, social and religious – the local weather bureau is among the rare few with any credibility left.
Amid demands by the business community, particularly shopkeepers, that the snowfall be declared a natural disaster because of the losses they claim to have suffered, farmers and fruit-growers are battling it out with the government over the impact of this unseasonal snow. The agriculture and the horticulture sectors, the mainstay of the state’s economy, have suffered extensively according to farmers and fruit-growers, but experts and administrative officials maintain that the March snowfall would prove beneficial in the long term. But still, even after a week, the government departments concerned have failed to come up with any official and formal confirmation of their contention. Both the agriculture and horticulture departments field staff in sufficient strength to map the damage and provide an actual assessment.
Though the snowfall is likely to have a positive impact in terms of water discharge in rivers and streams, therefore on irrigation, and help moisture content and duration for sprouting and blooming, its fallout in physical damage to fruit trees – like uprooting or snapping – cannot be discounted. Besides, there are confirmed reports of some damage to almond trees which about to enter the flowing stage.
Even when weather can now be forecast with remarkable accuracy, its onset cannot be averted. But still, farmers and the administration can devise measures to limit damage. Sadly, despite repeated vagaries, like last year’s hailstorms that hit the apple crop, neither seems to have learned any lessons, and despite repeated promises, the government has failed to bring in crop insurance.
Further, advances in weather forecasting need to be attuned to the needs of the farming community as well, and forecasts communicated to it promptly and clearly.