Three weeks after the devastating floods, Srinagar is struggling to return to normal. Several parts of the city are still under water. “All we want,” the affected people say, “is dewatering without further delay. What will it take to move the authorities?”
SRINAGAR: Water is still knee-deep at the square near Raj Bagh police station here. Only a minor stretch of the road up to the nearby Radio Colony has dried up, limiting free movement of the people coming in or escaping from the locality through the dusty, deserted main road.
An eerie calm prevails upon this otherwise busy area. The shops are closed; the damaged cars lying in abundance close to the square aren’t honking either. In nearly all structures in sight, the signs of life are thin. Except the four men, apparently non-locals, resting on the terrace of Comrade Inn Hotel, and a boy waiting on the tin roof of a shop for the boat to arrive, human presence in all houses and commercial structures looks rare.
Several men and a few women are assembled at the spot; half of them have come with a hope of returning to their abandoned homes; the other half comprises evacuees waiting for their other family members to arrive in boats rowing in the submerged streets.
Staring at the stinky, murky water, they debate over the level of the water. Most think it to be at least five feet deep in the interiors of the area. Suddenly, a man with a smiling face cracks a joke: “Actually, Allah did ‘water leveling’ of the area. By submerging entire Srinagar, He showed us which areas in the city are low lying.” The man, in checkered shirt and jeans, looks around at the people for smiles. But no one laughs, expressing the distress people of Srinagar have been in even since the worst-in-century flood hit Kashmir. And no one bothers to ridicule him for thinking of a joke perhaps at the wrong time and at an inappropriate sight.
The man starts his bike and leaves. And the routine evacuation operations, handled by civilians mostly, in the locality go on with people coming out in boats carrying their few untidy suitcases.
Nearly three weeks after the flood, Srinagar is struggling to return to life. Far from normal, the businessmen in the flood-torn city are collecting the rubble while several residential areas seem haunted in presence of abandoned houses and collapsed structures.
Lal Chowk, the heart of this summer capital of the state, wears a deserted look. While most shops around the market are closed, some shopkeepers have returned to see the rubble left behind by the flood.
On Friday, the only shop doing ‘business’ around Lal Chowk was a shoe store near the Court Road. It was selling the water-soaked, damaged shoes for less than Rs 200 a pair, attracting a crowd of shoppers. But the rush, which would otherwise please the shopkeeper ahead of the Eid-ul-Zuha, irritated him. And he shouted: “Please leave the shop. These people (media) will shoot it, and then show on television that normalcy has returned to Kashmir.”
The markets of Polo View, Residency Road, Hari Singh High Street, Goni Khan, Maisuma, and the adjoining Karan Nagar, Exhibition Road, Saraibala present similar scenes; of shopkeepers with gloomy faces collecting the rubble.
For the people having their houses affected, returning to their homes is still an uncertainty. At Wazir Bagh here, the road is accessible only up to the Town Square shopping complex. Beyond the ankle-deep water doesn’t allow movement either on foot or in vehicles.
Almost all houses in the locality are without any residents, who are still living with their relatives at safer locations. And the few families, who are staying in the houses, have to move around on makeshift boats made up of Dunlop rolls and planks.
The localities of Jawahar Nagar, Gogji Bagh, and Raj Bagh are equally inaccessible, making it difficult for the people to return to their homes.
Given the extent of the water logging in the residential areas, the government’s efforts for dewatering appear insufficient. Besides dislodging a portion of the main road near Zero Bridge to drive out the water, the authorities are using 4-inch dewatering pumps of the Fire and Emergency Services to clear the areas.
“All we want is quick dewatering of the area. Without it, we can’t restart our lives, and our houses face a threat of collapse,” Nazir Ahmad, who had come to see if the waters had receded so that he returns to his Jawahar Nagar house, told Kashmir Reader.
“With these ‘miniscule’ pumps,” he said, looking at a dewatering pump, “it would take months for us to return to our homes.”
In areas like Bemina, Sonwar, and Indra Nagar, the residents are equally struggling with water logging, and equally dissatisfied with the government’s lethargic efforts.
“It has been around 20 days since the floods, but the government is yet to dewater the areas. This is outrageous,” Inam Ahmad, a young man from Iqbal Abad Bemina, said. “This way our houses will simply collapse. Who will be responsible for it?”
In fact, many old houses around the city have collapsed already. In the interiors of areas like Sonwar, Karan Nagar, and Kursu, Raj Bagh, flood waters have razed to ground scores of structures, prompting the affected people like Inam to ask “what will it take to move the authorities?”