Srinagar: The last year’s flood was too big and fast a calamity that no human far-sight or skill could have reasonably done anything to prevent it, state government told the high court on Monday.
Given the global warming and fragile eco-system, chief secretary Iqbal Khanday, however, admitted the strengthening, widening and re-enforcing of the embankments including the de-silting of the river should have been a continuous process.
“No embankment, dam made or constructed using all proper and reasonable care in making or maintaining them could have withstood its onslaught,” Khanday said in the “consolidated report” that had been sought by the court.
“A fortiori, the situation so catastrophic that no industry could avoid and no policy could prevent it,” said the highest civil officer.
Last week, the court had asked the chief secretary to file a response to a Public Interest Litigation alleging criminal negligence ranging from direct acts of interference with flood protection measures including structural and non-structural, engineering and biological, in most parts of Srinagar.
Khanday rejected the allegations regarding “acts of gross omission and commission” even as he admitted that the strengthening, widening and re-enforcing of the embankments and de-silting of the river should have been carried out.
“Since this type of developmental activity requires huge capital investment, therefore it does not fall within the domain of the divisional or district administration.”
In District Srinagar, he said, the District Development Commissioner has the responsibility of implementing minor irrigation works—focusing on cleansing of the irrigation canals, especially in the rural areas during kharief season.
“The type of development activities which the petitioner is referring to being covered under state sector schemes and the department concerned has the responsibility of implementation of such programmes.”
He, however, said that despite having a limited role, need in such activities was strongly felt and that the adequate investment in the areas was expedient in avoiding the calamities.
In view of this, the department of irrigation and flood control was accordingly advised for preparing a project report with emphasis on preservation of Jehlum. The project was formulated by the department with the total cost of Rs 79.37 crore under the Urban Infrastructure Governance (JNNURM) and submitted to the secretary, housing and urban development department on 18 January last.
“While discussing necessity of the proposed project, it was mentioned that the flood carrying capacity of the river needs to be improved,” Khanday said.
He also said that a comprehensive flood management project of Rs 2083 crore was submitted to government of India in 2010.
“The observations raised by Central Water Commission thereof were replied by the state government, which included formulation of pre-feasibility report of Dogripora Channel, supported by flood data of 60 years,” he said without elaborating further about it.
Referring to a report by Chief Engineer I&FC, the chief secretary said that proposal for dredging of the river Jehlum at the required places was also part of the comprehensive project.
However, he said, about Rs. 30 crores (out of Rs. 97.46 Crore released by the Government of India against the project as interim) have been incurred on dredging of the outfall of river Jehlum at Baramulla.
The Chief secretary also denied allegations of breaches along the Jhelum embankments due to water pipe line from Zero Bridge to Amira Kadal in 2011.
“Floods generated erosion of embankment on outer slopes and resulted in formation of breaches, thus exposing and damaging infrastructure embedded in bunds—pipe lines, PVC conduits of different cellular companies, electric poles and transformers, etc.”
Nearly 300 people were killed and 261,361 structures damaged by the devastating floods last year.
He also denied any laxity or default on the part of the divisional or district administration regarding flood forecasting and warning measures.
“We all know there were rains, water building up, but nobody could forecast the extent and intensity of rains and their effect for such duration. Nobody expected that Kashmir would be inundated in such a devastating way.”
Besides, claimed said that state’s disaster relief forces, which are very limited, were fully deployed.
“Although print media was not available, not only through available electronic media, announcements regarding impending flood threat and warning public for taking preventive measures were consistently made through loudspeakers,” he said.
Alert was sounded in a number of city areas were the flood threat was perceived to occur in all possible manner, he added.
“However, the fact of the matter is that the warning given to people was taken by them very lightly, believing that flood waters had not touched their areas in the past. What made the people more complacent about the perceived threat is that the state had not faced any major flood in the past hundred years.”
He also claimed that that it was due to administration’s adequate measures of cautioning the people, particularly in traditional flood prone areas of Lasjan, Soiteng, Vethpora, Nowgam, Gundi Chadal, KP Bagh, Natipora and Mehjoor Nagar, that there was minimum loss of life.
“About 300 boats were put into service in these areas. Indeed, the flood 2014 in Kashmir was not due to failure of flood warning system but because of heavy rains and cloud bursts,” he added.
Meanwhile, a division bench of Justices Muzaffar Hussain Attar and Ali Mohammad Magrey directed Azhar-ul-Ainin, the advocate who has filed the PIL, to file response within two weeks’ to Chief Secretary’s report.
It also directed state authorities to upload within one week the information on the websites, monitored by the authorities in the Central Government, so as to enable them provide additional financial assistance to flood affected people.
In another direction, the court asked the Deputy Commissioner Srinagar to take immediate steps for payment of compensation in accordance with rules to flood affected people.