Srinagar: Elections and an inordinately long time spent on government formation brought Kashmir to the brink of another flood after a devastating one hit it six months ago, experts say and officials tend to agree.
The month-long Assembly elections were held from November 25 to December 23, nearly two months after the worst-ever flood hit Kashmir in September last year.
The rehabilitation process, and measures to be taken to prevent a repeat of the disaster, was almost abandoned in the run up to elections even though the Supreme Court had relaxed the Model Code of Conduct so that relief and rehabilitation measures remained untouched by the electoral process.
A hung Assembly then set into motion a two-month long search for a coalition government. This period, under governor’s rule, also did not witness any concrete flood-prevention or rehabilitation measures, with then media reports suggesting that a reconstruction package will be unveiled only by the next dispensation for political considerations.
Just before Assembly polls, government officials, disaster management experts and academics from various universities and IIT (Roorkee) brainstormed on the causes and consequences of the flood, suggested short and long-term measures to prevent repeat of such disasters. The central government had approved these recommendations, but these were not implemented in the state.
As a short-term measure, the brainstorming session had suggested preparing a report for the construction of an alternate flood channel from Dogripora to Wullar and increasing the carrying capacity of the Jhelum by dredging the existing flood channel and wetlands such as Hokersar, Narkara, Nowgam Jheel, and Wullar Lake.
The session titled ‘Retrospective and Prospective of 2014 Kashmir Floods for Building Flood Resilient Kashmir’, organised jointly by the Earth Sciences department of Kashmir University and Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, also suggested strengthening of breached and weak embankments.
Setting up of a single regulatory authority for management of water bodies, lakes and wetlands for better management and sustainable development was also recommended.
Reputed Tata Institute of Social Sciences had also submitted a disaster management plan to the state government, asking it to delineate vulnerable areas besides fortifying weak embankments.
None of these recommendations has been taken to the next step.
Srinagar-based Centre for Research and Development Policy had organised a seminar, which was attended by several government officials. The seminar, ‘Kashmir floods: Genesis, Responses and Way Forward’ had suggested measures for disaster preparedness.
Its organizer, Peer Ghulam Nabi Suhail, a development policy expert, said the state became complacent and got engaged with election and government formation “so much so that relief and rehabilitation was forgotten as well”.
Divisional commissioner Kashmir Gazanfar Hussain said the restoration work was delayed not only by elections, but also “winter, swine flu and financial crunch”.
“Due to incessant rains, which increased water level the temporary restoration work got more or less done damaged. Multi-crore projects for restoration of flood infrastructure will be taken up,” Gazanfar told Kashmir Reader.
Prof Shakeel Ramshoo, head of department Earth Sciences at Kashmir Unviersity said “floods are not a priority for any government”, although in case of Kashmir six months are a brief period to set up big projects that will insulate the Valley from future dangers.
“While the long-term recommendations during the brainstorming session, of which government was part, weren’t initiated, immediate recommendations couldn’t be completed because the elections and government formation consumed time,” Ramshoo told Kashmir Reader.
“Unless and until, there’s a political will we will see ongoing ad hoc system to deal with floods. The previous government (NC-Congress) made no effort to deal with floods…let us hope disaster management turns a priority for the incumbent government now,” he added.
Chief engineer irrigation and flood control Javid Jaffar said many suggestions made to the government are being implemented.
While irrigation and flood control minister Abdul Majid Padder and divisional commissioner Kashmir said restoration works post September 2014 floods were “temporary” that would be strengthened, Jaffar said “80 percent of these works are permanent”.