Govt sat over weatherman’s warning, asked him to downplay flood threat

Moazum Mohammad

Srinagar: On March 26, the meteorological department warned the government that the weeklong rains it has predicted can trigger flashfloods and landslides in Kashmir. The government paid no heed. Instead, it conducted the first serious meeting only on Sunday, hours before it issued a flood alert.
Met office director Sonam Lotus had met divisional commissioner Kashmir and chief engineer Flood and Irrigation, warning them about potential floods. Kashmir Reader has learnt that Lotus was asked “not to create panic among people through forecast”.
“Rather, he was advised to allay people’s fear by saying the Valley faces no flood threat. He does not hold a brief to say whether the state faces flood threat or not. His job is to predict weather,” an official, who is privy to the meeting, said.
Sonam had told a few media organizations that Kashmir faces no flood threat.
“Officially, I warned the government that we are expecting continuous rainfall for a week. We expected 300mm of rainfall but it exceeded that amount,” he said.
Minister for irrigation and flood control Abdul Majid Padder admitted that the weatherman had warned about the wet spell. He said the government did initiate steps such as “sending a ministerial delegation to the Valley and supplying 2 lakh sandbags to flood-prone areas”.
“Sonam Lotus has his mandate to issue advisory about weather but you know it created scare because of last year’s flood horror. Sometimes you have to understand,” Padder said.
Had they taken note of Lotus’s warning, the authorities could have let Dal waters to flow into the Jhelum so that it could later take in some of the flood waters. However, it has been learnt that “for aesthetic reasons”, a euphemism for making it attractive for tourists, water level in the lake was raised to 11 feet. Normally, it should have been between 8 and 9 feet. In view of the weather forecast, it should have been below 8 feet.
“We cannot divert its waters now,” the official said.
LAWDA vice-chairman Sarmad Hafeez, however, said the gates of the lake were opened on Saturday. He said the water level remained 11.5 feet but could have been higher if rains had continued.
“We didn’t raise the water level for any aesthetic purpose in the Lake. The level increased because water entered the lake through peripheries. We can’t open the gates as the water level in Jehlum is above the Lake,” Sarmad said.