July, 2018 – Ziraat Times Special Report

It doesn’t sound good, but it is a bitter fact that Kashmir valley, mainly the Srinagar city, is very likely to experience another 2014-type flood. But are we doing enough to avert another catastrophe? Ziraat Times brings to its readers views and analyses from a cross section of experts

Reason No. 1: We haven’t learnt lessons from the 2014 flood: accountability hasn’t been fixed.

Soon after coming to power, the PDP-BJP coalition government assured of fixing responsibility for the administrative acts of omissions and commissions during the 2014 floods.

During a meeting at SKICC, Srinagar, the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Rehabilitation of Flood Victims, constituted by former Chief Minister Late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, had promised the civil society members accountability will be ensured.

IMG-20180629-WA0005“Despite two separate committees set up by the Supreme Court and the Union Parliament pointing out glaring official laxity, the state government has not even constituted any committee to look into the matter, leave aside fixing responsibility,” a senior government official told Ziraat Times.

He said the same officials and engineers who “miserably failed to act and perform their duties” at the time of crisis are still holding the same positions despite change in the government.

In its report, the Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs had slammed the State government for insufficient pre-emptive measures despite receiving a warning about the heavy rainfall.

“The Committee is concerned to observe that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir received forewarning that State would receive heavier than normal rain but the kind of pre-emptive measures taken by State government were not sufficient to withstand the fury of the nature and the result was heavy casualties in terms of human loss and properties including public infrastructure in the State,” the committee said in its report.

Besides, the panel constituted by the Supreme Court had also come up with similar findings.

In its report, the panel remarked that “no effective steps were taken to warn people residing in vulnerable areas of the (Srinagar) city about the fast approaching floods and to evacuate them.”

The committee headed by Senior Registrar of Jammu and Kashmir High Court comprised of Director Disaster Management, Ministry of Home Affairs, Secretary Revenue Department (JK), Presidents of Kashmir and Jammu High Court Bar Associations.

Former Chief Minister Late Mufti Muhammad Syed had said on September 29, 2014, “It needs to be conclusively established whether every effort was made to save Srinagar and other areas from the deluge.”

In a nutshell, a poor culture of administrative accountability does not help in ensuring effective and efficient flood prevention system in Jammu & Kashmir.

Reason No. 2: No efficient early flood warning system exists 

It sounds incredible but it is a fact that even today Kashmir division has not credible early flood warning system.

The Irrigation and Flood Control Department’s gauge reading and information dissemination system is largely based on “Flood alert level” and “Flood declaration level”. The global best practice is about a system that specifically talks about the breach levels and has standing operating procedures for state agencies and civilian populations for preparedness, evacuation and already-identified refuge locations. There is no such comprehensive early flood warning system in Kashmir.

Head of Kashmir University’s Earth Sciences Department, Shakeel Romsho believes that “if the Flood Early Warning System (FEWS) would have been in place for Jhelum, people would have exactly known when and which areas in the valley are getting flooded/inunudated up to what depth.”

“That is why I emphasize the need for putting in place a FEWS for Jhelum all the time. This is the least one would expect from the flood managers”

“As long as we don’t embark upon a mission to identify emerging and long-term critical issues facing the state (all environmental, disasters, social, economic and political), analyze the challenges using evidence-based knowledge, involving a wide range of expertise and prescribe strategies for addressing them through perspective planning, we are bound to suffer for all eternity and pay heavily time and again for our callousness and adhocism.”

Reason No. 3: Lack of transparency in public spending

Lack of transparency in public spending in comprehensive flood management is another reason why Kashmir remains badly vulnerable.

Out of Rs 2083 crore earmarked in Prime’s Minister Development Plan, J&K has spent just Rs 194 crore, which is meagre 9 percent of the sanctioned amount.

Only 22 per cent of the Prime Minister’s Rs 80,000 crore development package for Jammu and Kashmir has been released to the state government so far, a parliamentary committee has said in a scathing report underlining the “little outcome achieved” under it.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, headed by senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, in a report tabled in the Rajya Sabha recently, said the progress on implementing the Prime Minister’s development package had been slow and a “poor outcome” had been achieved in the past 12 months.

The committee found that out of the Rs 80,068-crore Prime Minister’s Development Package for Jammu and Kashmir, projects of Rs 67,046 crore have been sanctioned and Rs 17,913 crore have been released to the state government, according to the report.

Reason No. 4: Climate change, which includes erratic rainfall pattern

It is a fact that global warming-induced climate change is making rainfall patterns erratic. J&K state is no exception.

An official report has blamed rise in average temperature in J&K and excessive precipitation for frequent cloudbursts in the state.

The State Action Plan Report on ‘Climate Change of Jammu and Kashmir’— prepared by state’s Climate Change Cell—states that increasing temperature leads to excessive precipitation that causes cloudbursts in Jammu and Kashmir areas.

“According to the Indian Meteorological Department, Kashmir has shown rise of 1.45 degree Celsius (in average temperature) whereas Jammu region has shown a rise of 2.32 degree Celsius in the past two decades,” the report reads.

It says the maximum temperature has increased by 0.5 degree-per-year in Kashmir Valley and by 0.8 degree-per-year in Jammu.

“Also, the amount of snowfall has reduced over the years. As per UNEP and ICIMOD, the temperature in Himalayan region has risen by 1 degree Celsius since 1970s. This has caused meltdown of snow and glaciers at rate of 15 m/yr even in winter,” the report read

Jhelum’s water carrying capacity “to its maximum capacity of 60,000 cusecs [cubic feet per second] in South Kashmir”. In Srinagar, this capacity is to be increased to 35,000 cusecs. The remaining 25,000 cusecs is to be diverted through the flood spill channel, whose discharge capacity is also proposed to be increased.

BL Bhardwaj, superintending engineer of the Irrigation and Flood Control Department in Srinagar, carrying capacity of River Jhelum has increased since 2014 floods. “ It was because of which there was no spill over to the surrounding areas.”

Reason No. 5: Carrying capacity of flood basins has reduced due to indiscriminate construction in flood basins   

According to an official report, Srinagar’s wetlands, spread over 13,425.90 ha in 1911, had shrunk to 6,407.14 ha in 2004, registering a loss of 7,018 ha in 95 years. Interestingly, the first Master Plan for Srinagar (1971-91) had acknowledged the existence of flood basins around Srinagar.

These wetlands used to act as buffer during floods. But with urbanization and earth-filling, flood water has nowhere to go.

Reason No. 6: Dredging of the Jhelum is going nowhere 

One of the most ambitious plans to minimise flood risk to Srinagar was the dredging of the Jhelum river. However, the dredging plan is going nowhere.

Kolkata-based private firm Reach Dredging Ltd — contracted for the project in March 2016 — halted the dredging work in April 2017, demanding more money for the job, but the state government had rejected the demand. The firm was supposed to dredge the 25-kilometre stretch of the river from Pantha Chowk to Wular Lake in Srinagar by 31 March this year.

“ We have done major portion of dredging. But working in Kashmir has been a herculean task as there is lot of pressure and pulls due to political pressure,” an executive of Reach Dredging LTD told Ziraat Times on condition of anonymity.

Chief Engineer, Irrigation and Flood Control, Mir Shahnawaz said the dredging work has been outsourced to Kolkatta based company. “ So far Rs 196 crore have been spent on the restoration of river Jhelum.”

“Its restoration was divided into two phases. In phase 1 Rs 399 crore have been sanctioned of which Rs 196 crore were spent. DPR for second phase is yet to be finalized. “Mathematical model study of the river was done by the Pune-based central water and power research station, it has now being sent for review following which DPR will be submitted to centre government.”

Convenor, Environment Policy Group, Faiz Bakshi said government is pushing Kashmir on brink of disaster. “ Dredging of Jhelum is big scam. Officials of PHE in collaboration with dredging company instead of carrying dredging on scientific lines are busy selling sand extracted from the river.We have written to governor to order probe  in this regard.”

Reason No. 7: Mining of stones from rivers and nallahs 

Over the years, extraction of stones from the upper-elevation nallahs has been going on unabated in Kashmir, resulting in denuding of stream beds, siltation in the Jhelum downstream and higher velocity of flood water, including flash floods in these streams. 

Ironically, government’s own agencies, including the R&B Department, extracts what it calls “black cutting” from these very streams, devastating their natural flash flood control ability and siltation in upper reaches.

In case this practice is not banned forthwith, there is no guarantee against flash floods and high siltation in the Jhelum down stream.

Reason No. 8: Siltation in Wullar

Phenomenal siltation downstream in the Jhelum, including in the Wullar lake, is known to have enhanced flood and breach risks of the Jhelum. Hydraulic experts like Ajaz Rasool believe that in the absence of comprehensive de-siltation plan that includes the Wullar lake, cosmetic de-siltation in the Jhelum in and around Srinagar is of no consequence.

Reason No. 9. Lack of social responsibility

There is a perception in the government as well as many circles of the civil society that unless the general public do not exhibit greater social responsibility, flood risk mitigation efforts only at the governmental level would not yield the desired results.

Illegal encroachment of wetlands is a major issue. So is the tendency among certain civil society segments to put pressure on the government for allocating them land in these wetlands.

“In case people do not themselves realise the perils of occupying the wetlands, how would the governmental measures alone work?”, says Sameena Qurashi, an environmental activist.

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