COVER STORY

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

Gad­hia and Khan were lucky to have been saved, un­like the 215 peo­ple who lost their lives in the del­uge. The toll is likely to rise as the wa­ter re­cedes. Hectares of ripe crop and or­chards have been lost, and the in­fras­truc­tural dam­age is likely to cross 6,000 crore.

` Kash­miris have com­plained about the lack of co­or­di­na­tion among the Army, ndrf and the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion in res­cu­ing peo­ple. Chief Min­is­ter Omar Ab­dul­lah pleaded help­less­ness. “I had no gov­ern­ment for the first 36 hours as the seat of es­tab­lish­ment was wiped out.My own res­i­dence has no power sup­ply, and my cell­phones had no con­nec­tiv­ity.My cap­i­tal city [Srinagar] was taken out. I re­sumed ad­min­is­tra­tive op­er­a­tions with six of­fi­cers in a makeshift mini sec­re­tariat, ”he told jour­nal­ists at a press meet on Septem­ber 9. Ac­cord­ing to news re­ports, the six-storey sec­re­tariat was sub­merged up to the sec­ond floor.

Ab­dul­lah added that his of­fi­cers could not be lo­cated for at least three days after the floods be­gan. “Peo­ple’s anger is jus­ti­fied, but we were caught off guard. ”His min­is­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion and flood con­trol, Shyam Lal Sharma, told Down To Earth that his depart­ment had given a warn­ing which was not taken se­ri­ously. “We is­sued a warn­ing on Septem­ber 5.Peo­ple were alerted in var­i­ous parts of the state, ”Sharma said.

FLOODS NOT UN­PRECE­DENTED

Jammu and Kashmir has a long his­tory of floods. From 1905 to 1959, the state was hit by flood 14 times.The mem­ory of the 2010 floods in Leh was still fresh when dis­as­ter struck again last month.

In 2010, the Jammu and Kashmir Flood Con­trol Min­istry had pre­pared a re­port and is­sued a warn­ing that the state is likely to face a ma­jor flood catas­tro­phe in the next five years and that the gov­ern­ment is ill-equipped to save lives and prop­erty. The Ir­ri­ga­tion and Flood Con­trol Depart­ment had pro­posed a 2,200 crore project to put the re­quired

` in­fra­struc­ture in place.The re­port was sub­mit­ted to the Union Wa­ter Re­sources Min­istry, but noth­ing hap­pened. The Jhelum is one of the most im­por­tant nat­u­ral drainage chan­nels of Srinagar, which is oth­er­wise like a bowl hav­ing no out­let for wa­ter. Silt has ac­cu­mu­lated in all of its ma­jor trib­u­taries and the flood chan­nels are blocked. The wet­lands of Nadru, Nam­bal, Narkara Nam­bal and Hokarsar that ab­sorb rain­wa­ter have been re­placed by res­i­den­tial colonies (see ‘Srinagar’s lost saviours’ on p27). When it rains for two to three days, the city gets flooded with wa­ter from the Jhelum. “Srinagar faces flood ev­ery 50 years. It has a cy­cle. But encroachment has killed its flood chan­nels. Bem­ina used to be a flood basin, but many res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial build­ings have come up in its place in the past 10 years, ”Sharma says.

In 2010, the Jammu and Kashmir Flood Con­trol Min­istry warned that the state is likely to face a ma­jor flood in the next five years. No ac­tion was taken by the gov­ern­ment

UR­BAN FLOODS IN­CREAS­ING

Srinagar was once fa­mous for its tra­di­tional ponds and tanks, which have been erased to house com­mer­cial com­plexes and parks. This has be­come a wide­spread prac­tice across In­dia. Ev­ery year floods are re­ported from ci­ties like Ahmed­abad, Bhopal, Ben­galuru, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chen­nai, Hy­der­abad, Su­rat, Ro­htak, Go­rakh­pur and Guwahati. Fac­tors are many—in­ad­e­quate drainage sys­tems, con­struc­tions on flood plains and river beds and loss of nat­u­ral wa­ter stor­age ar­eas. It only shows how rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion in and around a city makes floods in­evitable. In the past decade alone, In­dia wit­nessed nu­mer­ous in­ci­dents of floods in Mumbai (nine times), Ahmed­abad (seven times), Chen­nai (six times), Hy­der­abad (five times), Kolkata (five times), Ben­galuru (four times) and Su­rat (thrice).

Ab­dul­lah de­fended him­self by say­ing that state cap­i­tals had never been hit by a dis­as­ter in re­cent mem­ory. But the dev­as­tat­ing flood could have been averted had his ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Union gov­ern­ment taken nec­es­sary steps to save the drainage chan­nels of Srinagar when an alert was sounded in 2010.

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