Is another flood just 2 rain-days away?

  • Abid Bashir
  • Publish Date: Aug 19 2018 10:45PM
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  • Updated Date: Aug 19 2018 10:45PM
Is another flood just 2 rain-days away?

Abid Bashir writes how the government has miserably failed to learn lessons from the 2014 deluge, rendering Jhelum more vulnerable than it was four years ago

 

Just two-days of incessant rain in Kashmir is enough to trigger a flood-like situation; courtesy unplanned dredging of river Jehlum, weak river embankments and overall ill-preparation of the government to deal with the rising waters.

Though natural calamities can’t be always prevented but accurate forecast and better preparation of dealing with them can obviously help reduce the extent of damage nature’s fury results in. Ever since the deadly deluge of 2014 wreaked havoc across the State, especially in the Kashmir region, nothing concrete was done on ground to prevent damage of such a huge volume. The PDP-BJP government made tall claims about dredging of river and raising the height of river embankments, but just two days of incessant rains from June 30 this year punctured the balloon as Kashmir was once again on the brink of floods. Water level in river Jhelum at the crucial point Sangam in southern Kashmir went five feet above the normal and within few hours the position was threatening at Ram Munshibagh in Srinagar as well. A few hours of more rain could have resulted in the 2014 horror.

Since September 2014 deluge, the only official response people saw was meetings chaired by the former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, Divisional Commissioner Baseer Khan and the recent one by Governor N N Vohra. A senior official in the Public Health Engineering, Irrigation and Flood Control department said that it’s true that what is discussed in the meetings is not done on the ground. “We lag behind in preventive measures. We can’t prevent floods but can take measures to restrict the damage it causes. In today’s modern era, what we have as a contingency plan is sand bags to plug the breaches in river embankments,” he said.

In June this year, the two days of rains resulted in many major breaches in Vaishow Nallah in South Kashmir, that is the main tributary to river Jhelum.

According to the residents of Galander, Pampore, whenever there is a flood like situation, at least three to four major breaches take place at the same points that became the major reason for floods in 2014. “This reflects the callous approach of the government. Nothing concrete was done even after passage of four years,” said Abdul Gaffar Rather, a resident of Namblabal, Pampore.

Another resident, Abdul Jabbar Khan, of Pampore said all the former ministers, legislators, and officials have been lying to the people of Kashmir and keeping them in dark over preventive measures taken by the previous PDP-BJP regime. “The condition of river embankments right from Bijbehara to Pampore to Ram Munshibag is worst. Yes, some patchwork has been done but at majority of the places, river embankments are so fragile that they can give in any time,” he said.

A source in the PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control department said that over 200 meetings were held since September 2014 floods, but nothing concrete was done on ground. “There is a huge gap between planning and execution,” he said. The two-day rain spell in June this year has not only thrown the tall claims of the successive regimes about flood prevention plans to the wind, but made it clear that Kashmir has become more vulnerable to floods of late.

 

 

Government’s way of dealing with flood situation:

In July this year, Governor N N Vohra reviewed the preparedness of the administration for rescue and relief measures in case of any flood situation in the State. Chief Secretary BVR Subramanyam informed the Governor about the advanced measures taken by the Department of Disaster Management, Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction (DMRRR) in the past more than one month for saving the lives and properties of people in the event of a flood.

Governor was informed that during the recent flood like situation, during June 30 – July 7, 2018, the Central Flood Control Room was set up at Ram Munshibagh; Automatic Water Level Recorders and Automatic Rain Gauges were installed at five essential sites i.e. Sangam, Ram Munshibagh, Khudwani, Batkoot and Wachi; Global Navigation Satellite System is being used for correlating the manual and automatic Gauge sites with each other; Doppler Radar and Automatic Weather/Rain Gauge stations have been put in place to gain real time data in advance during any adverse situation; 12.60 lakhs empty cement bags are available with Irrigation & Flood Control Department (I&FC), besides geo-bags and mega bags; encroachments were removed from the Jhelum Spill Channel and tributaries; dredging of river Jhelum and flood spill channel has been initiated with World Bank support, River Morphology Study of Jhelum and Tawi has been initiated for better flood forecast.

Governor was further informed that the Department had established an State EOC Centre at Gogo Humhama and 260 tents have been pitched with other facilities; 40 Relief Camps established in district Srinagar and 7 Nodal Officers appointed; 7 teams of SDRF and two teams of NDRF, along with 14 motorized boats positioned; 100 personnel of Home Guards and Civil Defence, besides 2,500 Police personnel and 3,000 CRPF men kept ready for assisting evacuation operations; 260 family tents pitched; 30 toilets (male and female) erected; medical teams deployed, along with medicines and chlorine tablets.  One Central Flood Committee consisting of 22 members; 11 District Coordination Committees consisting of 20 members each headed by the Deputy Commissioners and 14 District Flood Zonal Committees headed by the Executive Engineers have been constituted to deal with any flood eventuality.

“This is all the government can do. Is there any other way, if yes, please suggest,” said a senior official in the Governor led administration. “We can’t reverse the direction of water in the river.”

 

Weak river banks: 

On June 30, river Jhelum started roaring from South Kashmir to Srinagar following incessant rainfall. Locals at many places closely monitored breaches in the river embankments caused during the September 2014 floods, especially in areas including Drangbal, Pampore Chowk, Frestbal, Sempora, Pantha Chowk, Lasjan, Syed Abad Soiteng, Sumberbugh, Athwajan, Shivpora and Ram Munshibagh.

“We continuously asked the government authorities and former PHE minister to raise the height of the river bund but nothing was done. The haunting memories of 2014 deluge are still fresh in our minds,” said Muhammad Asif Bhat, a resident of Pampore, pointing towards a spot where a major breach had occurred in 2014. He said the government didn’t raise the height of embankments despite repeated reminders.

At majority of places, locals said, the government only “shaped up raw clay” to give an impression that river embankments were repaired. “At Athwajan, they recently dug up the area for construction of a concrete river bank. It is after more than three years they thought to construct a concrete embankment,” said Umar Bebaak, a resident of Pantha Chowk. People of Shivpora started shifting to safer places fearing breach in river banks in the face of rising water levels as happened in 2014. Residents say the government continues with its “lone solution” in times of crisis: plugging possible breaches with sand-bags at the eleventh hour.

 

The ill conceived dredging:  

As per official figures, the Reach Dredging Limited, the company assigned the contract for Rs 46 Crore for dredging of river Jehlum, has only dredged out 13.88 lakh cubic meters in Kashmir against the target of 16.15 lakh cubic meters. “Operations of dredging were closed on 31 March 2018 in Kashmir,” an official said. In Srinagar,  the official said, the company has dredged out 6.48 lakh cubic meters silt from river Jhelum against target of 7 lakh cubic meters during past three years. In Baramulla, the firm has dredged out 7.4 lakh cubic meters against the target of 9.15 lac cubic meters. The authorities have not so far penalized the firm for failing to meet the targets. Rs 35 crore have been released in its favour against the total contract of Rs 46 crore.

 

Preventive plan for flood-prone areas:

A comprehensive report of Irrigation and Flood Control department prepared in March 2017 states that the government intends to prepare a ‘Preventive Master Plan’ for flood prone areas to mitigate 2014 floods-like damage. The draft report tilted as “State Water Policy” prepared by the Irrigation and Flood Control Department states that there is need of preparation of ‘Preventive’ Master Plan for the flood prone areas.

“Detailed guidelines shall be notified for preparation of a master plan for flood prone areas with a view to indicating the measures to control the floods and providing protection against the floods,” reads the draft. “Measures to establish the extensive networks for flood forecasting to give timely warnings to the people likely to be affected shall also be outlined. A roadmap for determination of the limits of the flood basins and the necessary exercises to be carried out shall be prepared.”  It states that the history of J&K is rife with frequent floods which have often led to inundation of villages; and large scale destruction of agricultural crops and consequent famines. “The floods in the state are mainly caused due to heavy rainfall in the higher catchments, rapid glacial-melt and snow-melt coupled with cloudbursts,” the report adds. However, an official said that very little work was done on implementing the measures suggested in the draft. “In our state, things move at snail’s pace,” the official said.

 

Closure of de-siltation unit at Sopore:

Experts maintain that there are numerous reasons for Jhelum becoming increasingly prone to floods. “Due to closure of a de-siltation unit at Sopore, all silt has got accumulated in river Jhelum. The muddy water is an indication of that,” said Aijaz Rasool, an environmentalist and expert on river water management. “In Jhelum, the water absorption has decreased tremendously as all the silt that would be cleaned at Sopore till 1986 continued to remain in the river.” He said it is because of “callous dredging”, huge accumulation of silt in the river from Verinag to Sopore and extraction of sand at river banks which has caused a mounting pressure on the river-embankments, making them prone to flash floods.

Before the recent floods of September 2014, the State has witnessed major floods in 1900, 1902, 1903, 1905, 1912, 1929, 1948, 1950, 1955, 1957 and 1959. Floods were also witnessed in 1976, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997 and in September 2006. The devastating floods of September 2014 resulted in huge loss of land, lives, houses and public infrastructure. Since 2014 deluge, Kashmir has faced major flood threats six times.