For an earthquake of the magnitude that hit the whole region on Monday afternoon, we should be thankful there was no significant damage to life and property (though some reports said two women had died due to cardiac arrest) in Kashmir. Despite the rising death toll in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with some international agencies putting the number of fatalities at close to 200 by late evening, the saving grace – given that the US Geological Survey finally gave the quake’s intensity as 7.5, a notch below the 7.6 tremor almost exactly a decade ago, which killed around 75,000 people in Pakistan and PaK – seems to have been the relative depth of the quake, at around 213 km below the earth’s surface. Yet, it is deeply worrying how unprepared we are for such calamities and how lackadaisical successive governments are on that front in Kashmir. Of course, no one can predict quakes; there are, scientifically, miniscule chances of doing so, significantly less than even predicting floods. But as a few showers showed this year, the state remains incapable or disinterested even on that front despite the devastation of 2014. Look at the state ‘response’ on Monday: hours after the quake, the CM issued directions for setting up a control room to collect information on deaths or damage across the state. Shouldn’t we already have had a mechanism, given our frequent run-ins with quakes and flood threats, which could at least quickly collate and disseminate information? But no, forget even that basic step, here we are left at the mercy of fate, and largely to fend for ourselves.
Contrast that with what seemed to be happening in Pakistan. Almost immediately the armed forces there were issued instructions to not wait for approvals but start helping with aid wherever needed. And ministers quickly arranged press conferences to share what information they had, and to spell out what measures on relief and aid were being taken. Pakistan is not an ‘advanced’ country, yet it seems to have learnt something from repeated natural calamities and set up mechanisms that seem to respond quickly.
But, here, should we expect anything from a state where many people are still waiting for ‘flood relief’ more than a year later? No reason, none whatsoever, can excuse the uncaring attitude of successive state governments. And they can neither escape culpability nor must people forget or forgive the criminal negligence of the most basic function of governance any regime, leave alone a supposed democracy, is supposed to fulfil.