Forewarned, they say, is forearmed, but this does not seem to apply to Kashmir. One would have thought that after the devastation caused by the September floods, authorities would have been shaken out of their slumber, but the situation belies this presumption. Of course, human helplessness before nature could once again be used as an excuse to cover up government inefficiency, but this is unlikely to have many takers.
Last year’s floods had caught the previous coalition at the fag-end of its tenure, and it was a dispensation already beset with despair and despondency due to its poor performance in the parliamentary elections and the fall from grace of the Congress party. Though the coalition was, in any case, destined for an ignominious defeat in the assembly elections, the floods delivered the coup de grace. The present coalition, the PDP in particular, had not spared its predecessor for the way it handled the floods and the aftermath. Now, the boot is on the other foot.
If the NC-led set-up had proved to be a complete failure, the central government has also been insensitive. No relief has been forthcoming, even though seven months have passed since the last flood. The decision to hold elections when people were still reeling under the impact was unwise and insensitive. And if they participated overwhelmingly in the polls, it was with the hope that the new government would be efficient in relief and rehabilitation. The saffron threat, which the PDP played up, had also brought people to the booths, but the party’s post poll tie-up with the BJP has caused a sense betrayal. The only consolation that remained was that the new coalition, in spite of its undesirable composition, would perhaps work better for the benefit of the common people because of a powerful ally at the centre.
In fact, this was the line the PDP took as being the only reason for it to embrace a political party with an ideology incompatible to its own. Though there have already been a few real as well as fabricated episodes which have put a question mark on the present incumbents, the renewed crisis due to the floods and the threat posed by unpredictable weather could be its greatest test.
There is little to show for the crores of rupees pumped into the repair of flood control mechanisms, the pace of work is tardy, and there is an evident lack of coordination between various departments. It seems that even priorities have not been worked out. And authorities are clueless about what needs to be done. Like, for instance, it has taken another impending flood to convince them to remove the causeway in the flood channel even though the former CM is on record as having said that constructing it was a great blunder. The causeway was there even six months after the floods. According to news reports, officials had visited the site, but merely to dismantle pipes running under it. The structure itself was demolished only under intense public pressure.
If Srinagar city has not been flooded again, it is not because of anything the present government has done. It is just that nature has relented, and the worst of fears have not turned into reality. There is an immediate need for a comprehensive plan to deal with the long-neglected problem of flooding in Kashmir. The government must not ignore the reminder that spring rains have brought.