The long wait

Nine months af­ter the Septem­ber 2014 floods, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion still eludes the peo­ple of Kash­mir

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - KUN­DAN PANDEY |

PEO­PLE IN the Kash­mir val­ley are anx­ious about the ap­proach­ing mon­soon. Sev­eral thou­sands of them are liv­ing in tem­po­rary shel­ters, with lit­tle money or means to get back to nor­mal life af­ter last year’s floods de­stroyed lives, houses, live­stock and crops on a large scale.

Naseem Be­gum in Pal­ha­lan Ghat Pattan vil­lage of Bara­mulla dis­trict was blessed with a baby on March 20 this year. More than cel­e­bra­tions the oc­ca­sion trig­gered worry. Her fam­ily of five has been liv­ing in a 10x10 m tin shed since the flood in Septem­ber 2014 washed away their two-storey house. Dur­ing preg­nancy her baby was safe from cold in the womb, while she con­fined her­self to a rel­a­tively warmer cor­ner of the shed. Now she des­per­ately wants a proper shel­ter be­fore the mon­soon, which will be fol­lowed by win­ter.

Another res­i­dent of the vil­lage,30-yearold Nisar Ahmed Dar re­mem­bers spend­ing two months in a school with his wife and three chil­dren af­ter his house was sub­merged. He still has no house. There was no food for a few days, nor medicine. When he re­turned to his house af­ter wa­ter had re­ceded, he found it had col­lapsed.His four cat­tle heads had drowned and his boat was bro­ken.

Then, the Jammu and Kash­mir gov­ern­ment reached out to him with a re­lief of

6,300. “This is sheer mock­ery of the pain I have gone through,” says Nisar. “This is not enough for even fod­der for the re­main­ing cat­tle. ”Floods had de­stroyed the ripe paddy crop in the re­gion. Peo­ple in the vil­lage now pur­chase paddy as fod­der for 25 a kg from Va­nipura, 50 km away.

Barely 75 of the 250 cat­tle heads have sur­vived the flood in the vil­lage. Nearly 200 of its 500 houses have col­lapsed. All the home­less are liv­ing in tin sheds that were put up with the help of civil so­ci­ety groups and a small amount the gov­ern­ment gave.

Like Pal­ha­lan Ghat Pattan, more than 700 vil­lages in Kash­mir were sub­merged in Septem­ber last year and over 92,000 cat­tle heads per­ished, as per gov­ern­ment data.

The flood was the most se­vere in the val­ley in 109 years and claimed about 300 lives (see ‘In a tragic state’, Down To Earth, Oc­to­ber 1-15, 2014).The most af­fected dis­tricts in­cluded the sum­mer cap­i­tal of the state, Sri­na­gar, Anant­nag, Bara­mulla, Pul­wama, Gan­der­bal, Kul­gam, Budgam, Ra­jouri, Poonch and Reasi.

At least 13,000 fam­i­lies are still liv­ing on rent in the val­ley as they have lost their houses. Nearly 200,000 houses were fully or par­tially dam­aged in the flood, ac­cord­ing to the state Eco­nomic Sur­vey 2014-15.

“The flood af­fected ev­ery­body and all sec­tors from agri­cul­ture and trade to live­stock and tourism, ”says Mo­ham­mad Yusuf Chavni, chair­per­son of the House­boat Own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Chavni, 16,000 house­boats col­lapsed com­pletely and Sri­na­gar is left with only 1,950 house­boats.

Up­hill task and a sloth­ful beast

Pulling the state back from such a set­back is a big chal­lenge. But the state and Cen­tral gov­ern­ments’ re­sponse has been far short of it. Af­ter re­leas­ing an im­me­di­ate re­lief of

1,100 crore, the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment did not re­lease any big amount for a long time, say­ing the method of es­ti­mate was un­sci­en­tific. Nine months later on June 16, it an­nounced that it would re­lease 1,667 crore.

It is a pit­tance con­sid­er­ing the cur­rent Jammu and Kash­mir gov­ern­ment has sought

28,000 crore for re­con­struc­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. This amount is still less than

44,000 crore de­manded by the pre­vi­ous Omar Ab­dul­lah gov­ern­ment. Mo­ham­mad Yaseen, chair­per­son of the Kash­mir Eco­nomic Al­liance,goes a step fur­ther and says the loss could be to the tune of 1,00,000 crore.

“The money to be re­leased is a hu­mil­i­a­tion to Kash­miris and un­for­tu­nately the suf­fer­ing will pro­long,”says Sheikh Ashiq,pres­i­dent of Kash­mir Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try. Most peo­ple Down To Earth spoke to agreed with him.

The de­lay in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is partly po­lit­i­cal, says Hi­lal Mir, as­so­ciate editor of Kash­mir Reader, a lead­ing news­pa­per in the val­ley.For­mer chief min­is­ter Omar Ab­dul­lah kept de­lay­ing the process be­cause of state elec­tions, he al­leges. Harsh win­ters, Assem­bly elec­tions and then the ab­sence of gov­ern­ment in the state for two months also slowed down the ad­min­is­tra­tive process.

In Fe­bru­ary,a team of World Bank vis­ited the val­ley to es­ti­mate the loss. In the be­gin­ning of June the World Bank ap­proved

$250 mil­lion (`1,600 crore) for the re­con­struc­tion of public in­fra­struc­ture in Kash­mir. How­ever, the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment is yet to fi­nalise the amount to sup­port the state’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion work.Of­fi­cials from the fi­nance min­istry and niti Aayog are ex­pected to visit the state to dis­cuss the pro­posal. “If the Cen­tre be­gins es­ti­mat­ing the dam­age again it will only add to the de­lay while the sit­u­a­tion on the ground wors­ens,” says Shujaat Bukhari, editor of Ris­ing Kash­mir, another lead­ing daily in the val­ley.

Nine months have passed and lit­tle has been done on the ground ex­cept dis­burse­ment of to­ken money as im­me­di­ate re­lief.

The state gov­ern­ment’s own es­ti­mate shows 1.25 mil­lion fam­i­lies have been af­fected. No re­lief has yet been pro­vided to those who lost crops. It has given 75,000 to each fam­ily whose houses were fully dam­aged and

3,800 each to those whose houses were par­tially dam­aged and 1,500 each for dam­aged cat­tlesheds (see ‘Loss and peanuts’).The state gov­ern­ment ad­mits it is peanuts and has urged the Cen­tre to fix 9 lakh as com­pen­sa­tion for fully dam­aged houses and 5 lakh for par­tially dam­aged houses.

Threat is alive

Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion,though ur­gently needed,will not be enough.To avoid floods the val­ley will have to put its drainage sys­tem back in place.

In March, a flood alert caused panic among the peo­ple. Mo­ham­mad Shub­han Lab­han,a res­i­dent of posh Ra­j­na­gar lo­cal­ity in Sri­na­gar, rushed to a nearby bridge with his fam­ily and spent two nights there. Af­ter in­ces­sant rains peo­ple be­gan shift­ing their be­long­ings to higher sto­ries.

“This time also the chief min­is­ter came and told us to shift our stock from shops to some se­cure place. Is it a joke?” asks Din Mo­ham­mad Matto,pres­i­dent of the traders’ as­so­ci­a­tion in Lal Chowk, the com­mer­cial cen­tre of Sri­na­gar.He says al­most 90 per cent of the city’s drainage sys­tem has failed be­cause the gov­ern­ment does not take care of it. Ear­lier,the Jhelum river pass­ing through the city was dredged from time to time but this does not hap­pen now.

Altaf Bukhari,flood and ir­ri­ga­tion min­is­ter of Jammu and Kash­mir,agrees that en­croach­ment of flood­plains and silt­ing of the river made the flood dev­as­tat­ing.He says that while build­ing flood chan­nels will take years, the ad­min­is­tra­tion will soon be­gin re­mov­ing en­croach­ment and dredg­ing (see ‘We did not act smartly’ p15).

Chances of a small flood are high in the val­ley, warns Shakil Romshoo, head of the earth sciences depart­ment of Kash­mir Univer­sity. Hun­dred years of Jhelum flood data shows that a small flood fol­lows a large flood within a year or two. “There­fore, the prob­a­bil­ity of flood­ing this year and the next is high due to high lev­els of ground­wa­ter and the wa­ter in lakes, other wa­ter bod­ies and wet­lands in the Jhelum basin. How­ever, this will be a small flood in all prob­a­bil­ity,” Romshoo says.“In the ab­sence of worth­while post-flood re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion,vul­ner­a­ble sec­tions will have to face dif­fi­cult time once again.”

Naseem Be­gum wor­ries how her three-month

old baby will sur­vive mon­soon and win­ter in a

tin shed

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