Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Flood Channel, invitation to disaster!

(The present condition of the flood spill over channel is such that even a small flood can turn into a disaster!)
Flood Channel, invitation to disaster!
For last three years various engineering departments have been inspecting, debating and discussing flood prevention measures to prevent any disastrous floods in future. The 2014 flood which was the most disastrous to have occurred in a century, has not taught any lessons both to the authorities and the common people. While the authorities are in a deep slumber, the people are busy in encroaching the flood basins and the spill over channels. No less a person than the Chief Minister herself is chairing a committee to oversee the completion of various essential measures for prevention of disastrous floods in the future. However, nothing substantial is happening on the ground.
A typical example of apathy and total neglect is the condition of the flood spill-over channel. It has been specifically made to by-pass the flood waters so as to save Srinagar from any disaster. It was constructed in 1904. Many times, this channel has saved the city from inundation.  At present the channel is fully silted up. In fact, in some places trees are growing inside it. At many spots its bottom is hardly ten feet lower than its banks. Because of encroachments and the silting, in 2014 the channel failed to save the city. But if excavated and deepened properly it could prevent inundation of the capital city during future floods!
Well, there were other reasons for the 2014 disaster. Kashmir used to have incessant rains earlier too. In fact, spring and autumn are rainy seasons in Kashmir. So why these floods that still cast a shadow of trauma over the entire Valley? There has been extensive cutting of forests by timber smugglers in collusion with the security forces and forest official. Even young trees have not been spared. Meadows have been over grazed. The result is a quick run off. The rainwater hardly stays in these areas and quickly comes down with earth and boulders down the slopes. Thus the river rises in a very short time causing floods.
The flood waters need a place to go somewhere if the city is to be saved. Almost the entire valley used to be a flood basin and the water would thinly spread without causing much harm. We have drastically deprived the River any room to thinly spread its excess waters. Most of the flood basins in the vicinity of Srinagar have been converted into housing colonies. Srinagar was known as the Venice of the East because of numerous canals and water bodies. The canals have almost all been filled up and converted into roads and the water bodies have been encroached inch by inch and converted into land. Only the names remain! Nalla Mar, Gill Sar, Anchar, Khushal Sar and so on.
Dal Lake is in the last throes of death. We have not only encroached the lake from all sides but also polluted it beyond redemption. Same is the fate of Wullar Lake which was reputed to be the second largest sweet water Lake in Asia after Lake Baikal in Russia! To tame the river somewhat our ancestors had constructed embankments especially to save the city of Srinagar. However, we have vandalised these everywhere by constructing houses, hotels, hospitals and in some places even mosques!
There were two things which needed to be done. First was to conduct an investigation for various failures at all levels. This was essential to prevent similar mismanagement of floods in future. However, more urgent task than this was for the government and the people to take an initiative for flood prevention measures. These included dredging of the river all along its length; desilting of the flood spill over channel; clearing of some of the flood basins and strengthening of the embankments. Nothing substantial has been done so far. Everything is going at a snail’s pace. On the contrary the government is quietly sitting on its three years long inaction. What an irony! Had this happened in any other country, apart from some people having been put in the dock, massive flood prevention measures would have been completed by now?
There is still time to save the situation. The winter is the best time to excavate silt and earth from the River and the flood spill over channel. It just needs a couple of dozen JCBs and about 100 or so tippers. The excavated soil can be used for filling wherever required by various departments. Interestingly, recently there was news about people being restrained from excavating earth from the Budgam karewas to fill up Rakh Arth area where Dal dwellers colony is supposed to be constructed. There was no need to destroy karewas if people had been directed to excavate the flood channel. The same soil could be used for filling wherever there was a need!
Such tasks cannot be done through usual tendering procedures because of the urgency and the disastrous consequences which may result due to administrative dithering. The Chief Minister being the Chairperson of the Committee could directly order some reputed company within the country or even from abroad or even a government organisation like Hindustan Construction Corporation or so to take up the job without going in for any tenders. She has all the residuary executive powers under the constitution and can order in public interest, anything in relaxation of all rules! But the question is will she do it? Let us hope, she does it and is not misguided by the motivated administrators and the engineers!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Kashmir’s Unending Power Famine!

(An area having one of the highest potentials of hydro-electric power has been facing a perennial power famine due to corruption and criminal negligence of its politicians and bureaucrats!)

Keeping the tradition of the erstwhile Maharaja’s tradition alive, the Durbar has moved to the salubrious climate of Jammu, leaving the valley people to face the worst ever power famine during the freezing winter! It is the worst tragedy of Kashmir that in spite of the capacity to generate thousands of megawatts of hydro-electric power, its inhabitants are always facing shortage of power especially during severe winters. Kashmir’s two neighbouring countries in connivance with the World Bank have virtually robbed it of its invaluable resource. It is a pity that an organisation like the World Bank did not keep any provision for the inhabitants of a territory whose water resources they were mutually dividing between its two neighbours! In a way, while dividing the waters of Kashmir without keeping a provision for the local inhabitants, India and Pakistan have committed a robbery! Pakistanis probably thought that one day Kashmir will fall in their lap and because of that accepted all Kashmir Rivers as their share. On the Indian side, the National Hydro-electric Power Corporation stole whatever was left as Kashmir’s share. From the profits of their Kashmir projects they are supposed to have earned 900 billion rupees so far!
However, if one delves deep into this whole mess which has created a power famine in Kashmir, it transpires that basically it is Kashmir’s politicians and bureaucrats who have actively connived in this loot! For last few decades, power woes are very much a part of the Kashmiri life in winter. It is not only our misfortune but is also a disgrace for the ruling elite which have been in political power all these years. There is hardly anyone who has not heard politicians of all hues and shades claim from the pulpits the hydro-power generation capacity of our rivers. The estimates vary from 20,000 to 25,000 megawatts or even more. Unfortunately, as already stated, all these rivers have been mortgaged to Pakistan by the Indian government. Kashmir’s so called political leaders have either signed on the dotted line or in some cases have not been taken on board at all! Well, the loss of our rights on these rivers through Indus Water Treaty is not the only basis for the mess even though it is one of the major factors. The entire process of power development in the state has been lopsided from the very start. Initially, before 1947 we had only the Mohura Power House which used to supply power. It continued for quite some time.
Those days one was not used to cooking or heating with the help of electric gadgets. A light bulb was the most precious possession. After 1947, the demand for power increased and the state went in for newer projects. We got P S Gill as our power commissioner who worked out a detailed plan for development of various projects. Two projects, one at Ganderbal and the other near Baramulla, the Lower Jhelum came up. Gill was totally attuned to run of the river projects and did not consider any storage based project. We also got bogged down by the Indus Water Treaty which had tied our hands behind the back. The result was a perennial race between the demand and supply. We have still not been able to bridge the gap between demand and supply especially during winter. This is because the freezing temperatures decrease the flow of water in our rivers and the power houses operate at a very low generation capacity.
It is not only the lack of generation within Kashmir or the import from outside which is the main culprit. Basically it is the system which is thoroughly corrupt. We want power but do not want pay for it. It is often given out that we have over 50% transmission or distribution losses. This is not true. These losses only amount to no more than 10% or so. 40% loss or even more is due to pilferage. Dishonesty at all levels. Corruption has seeped into our bloodstream. One would not have expected any pilferage in the metered areas but unfortunately it may be as much as in non-metered areas if not more! Strangely it is the linemen supposed to check pilferage who are showing consumers how to by-pass the meters. They are alleged to charge 100 rupees per month from these pilfers. Some consumers have a separate service line which they hook onto the mains bypassing the meter after dark. The linemen know this and keep their mouths shut against a monthly “fee”.
According to recent press reports, the present winter is going to be the worst in our memory as regards the power. The latest problem has been caused by the lack of facilities for transmission of power from the Northern Grid to the valley! Allegedly, there have been inordinate delays on the part of the administration in sanctioning and releasing funds for the two grid stations which could have increased the capacity for transmission. The peak requirement of the valley is supposed to be 1700 Megawatts while as the transmission capacity is only 1200 Megawatts. In fact, it is a funny situation, there is enough power available in the market and the government is ready to pay for it forgetting the realisation of revenues, yet we cannot bring it home as we have no carriage facilities. There could not be a worse misfortune than this! Will there ever be accountability for such lapses! Not till Kashmir remains an orphan! Everybody wants it but no body sincerely owns it! Well, the only choice is to forget all the modern gadgets and go back to Kangris and Bukharis and pray for our salvation!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

End repression before talks!

(For any dialogue to succeed the primary requirement is a conducive environment. One cannot ask somebody to talk by holding a gun to his temple!)
Image result for repression in kashmir

It is a very welcome initiative from Government of India to hold talks with all stake holders in Kashmir to resolve the basic problem and bring peace to the area. Kashmir problem has been hanging fire for a just and equitable solution for last 70 years. It has not only been a disaster for the local people but has caused immense damage to the whole sub-continent by diversion of valuable funds urgently needed for the welfare of the poor people, towards mutual war efforts. Apart from outright major wars, the two neighbouring countries have been fighting proxy wars with Kashmir being the main theatre of operations. Kashmiris have been virtually turned into guinea pigs for testing the two conflicting ideologies. Not only have Kashmiris suffered physically, economically but also mentally. According to “Doctors without Borders” almost every second Kashmiri is suffering from psychological problems including traumatic disorders.
The new generation of Kashmiris has become totally irreconcilable to the status quo and want a change.  They are not under the control of any leadership and now constitute 60% of the population. Thus when declaring that the Government representative is going to talk to all stakeholders, the biggest ones are the youth representing the majority of the population. Let us hope the interlocutor is able to find a way to talk to this generation.
For starting a dialogue one needs a conducive and a peaceful atmosphere. For quite some time Kashmir is not in an environment of peace and tranquillity. Firstly, most of the fundamental rights including even the right to life remain suspended! (Example is AFSPA) Every nook and corner has presence of armed troops whether regular or paramilitary. Even foreign journalists have remarked that Kashmir is at present the most militarised place in the world! Cordon and search operations are going on for suspected militants on a continuous basis throughout the valley. In fact, the Chief of the Army has declared that process of dialogue through the interlocutor is not going to affect the military operations and these are going to continue without any break. There appears to be strange dichotomy in the approach of New Delhi to the present volatile situation in Kashmir. Some of the opposition leaders have characterised the appointment of the interlocutor and starting of a dialogue as “diversionary tactics”! A.G. Noorani terms it “The Kashmir Ruse”! The basis for this observation could be the earlier such attempts for reconciliation and dialogue which have unfortunately all been unsuccessful due to lack of sincerity in approach.
There is no change in the response of the leaders presently heading the movement for “Azadi”! They have rejected the dialogue offer calling it time buying tactics. Earlier they used to demand admission of the existence of a dispute about Kashmir by Government of India before any dialogue. Additionally, it has been often given out by the leaders of the local movement that Pakistan has to be a party to the dialogue. Now, they seem to be totally unreconciled for any dialogue. This shows that they are under tremendous pressure and do not want to climb down from their extreme position due to the strong sentiments of the youth and the contradictory statements of BJP leaders. Normally, any offer of unconditional dialogue with all stakeholders needs to be given a try if a climate for the same is created by ending repression.
There have been observations by some people regarding the assigning the job of an interlocutor to a former intelligence officer. Many have opined that the task should have been assigned to an upright politician of some standing. Normally, political disputes are best sorted out by politicians rather than intelligence men. However, it is also true that an intelligence officer would be in a better position to know the actual ground situation and who is who of the whole movement especially in a place like Kashmir teeming with intelligence agencies! However as already said, the main catch is the conducive situation. People have to feel that the offer of talks is genuine and the Government of India is really interested in peace. This can be judged only if all the repression is ended. One cannot claim sincerity for peace when a gun is held to ones temple. All restrictions need to be withdrawn. There should be total freedom of expression. Detained people being slapped PSA after PSA need to be released. Cordon and search operations should be halted. Forces presence especially in civilian areas must be decreased. They should be sent back to barracks. Draconian legislations need to be withdrawn. An atmosphere of freedom rather than of fear needs to be established. This is a pre-requisite for any meaningful dialogue intended to bring in peace. Otherwise the whole exercise, as termed by many intellectuals and leaders, is a diversionary tactic for firefighting and not for removing the cause of the fire!
A journalist friend from Chennai has written an article about the dialogue offer stating, “As a flag-waving Hindu nationalist, Modi is in a better position than anyone around to push for a settlement of both the internal and external aspects of the Kashmir problem. But can he display the level of statesmanship it calls for?” Let us hope he does!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Promoting Gulmarg Ski Resort

(The excellent snow conditions on world class slopes with maximum sunny days make Gulmarg the most attractive ski resort urgently needing intensive marketing among ski enthusiasts world over!)
Promoting Gulmarg Ski Resort

Not many people may know that skiing in Gulmarg was started almost at the same time when it had become a popular sport in Europe. In fact, the Ski Club of India was established by Major Metcarp and Major Headow, two British Army Officers, in 1927 at Gulmarg. Mr.B.N.Pestonji was its first Secretary. Ski races had been introduced as a sport in Gulmarg area almost at the same time as these were introduced in the Alps. Those days all ski competitions were held at Khilanmarg and the pony track was kept open throughout the winter. There were two major events, the Christmas and Easter Competitions. The famous British Sports Equipment Firm, the “Lilywhites” had introduced some trophies for various ski competitions. In fact one of the ski slopes above Khilanmarg is still called the “Lilywhite Slope”. The attendance in the open competition held at Christmas in 1938 was over 500. Gulmarg had two 100 room hotels and hundreds of chalets. There was a Cinema and a Golf Club House with two eighteen hole courses. One could get everything aristocratic and fashionable in the “Bazaar” of Gulmarg directly imported from all parts of Europe. Families of some of the British Army Officers would come to Gulmarg simply to buy these goodies. Marion Doughty in her travelogue, “Afoot through Kashmir Valley” makes a special mention of the “Gulmarg Tea Dance” and the preparations she had to undergo at the British Residency in Srinagar for participating in the event. Gulmarg was discovered by Yusuf Shah Chak, the last Kashmiri ruler who used to camp here for days with his poetess Queen Habba Khatoon. The Mughal Emperor Jehangir and his Queen Noor Jehan too were very fond of Gulmarg.
The departure of British in 1947 threw the resort into total oblivion. Skiing completely vanished from Gulmarg. The establishment of the High Altitude Warfare School of Indian Army revived the activities of winter sports again. However, it was only after 1965 that the Government of India, Ministry of Tourism, made out a plan for converting Gulmarg into a Ski Resort of International Standards. A National Ski School was set up and “Gulmarg Winter Sports Project” was launched. Even UNDP had got interested and had donated ski lifts, equipment and assigned an Austrian Expert, Otto Santner, to render advice in the setting up of the resort. Dr.Jens Krause, an Austrian ski teacher was appointed the first Principal of the Ski School who trained the first batch of National Instructors in Gulmarg. The first batch of National Ski Instructors graduated from the School in early seventies. Some of these were absorbed in the Central winter Sports Project and School while the trainees from the State became part of the Adventure Tourism Wing of the State Department which was set up in 1973. Thus restarted the Skiing in Gulmarg and a large number of foreigners were attracted in addition to domestic ski lovers.
The main foreign clientele was of the British expatriates working in South East Asia. Both at Christmas and Easter, Gulmarg used to be full of British families enjoying ski holidays. Sometimes, the locals, especially in hotels and on the slopes would appear to be the “foreigners”! The State Tourism Department also invited the top French Ski Professors from their National Ski School at Chamonix for imparting training to local instructors. The level of skiing rose and the first National Ski Championship was held here in March, 1986. Same year some top skiers from Gulmarg participated in the Asian Ski Championship at Sapporo, Japan and won some top positions in Slalom. One of the instructors also participated in Winter Olympics in Canada.
Apart from foreign skiers, Gulmarg became an ideal outdoor location for Bollywood producers. Almost entire winter used to see team after team of Bollywood film producers coming to Gulmarg for shooting on snow. However, all these activities got a severe set back by the upheaval of 1990. In spite of turbulent conditions, skiing continued at Gulmarg. The famous French Skier Sylvain Saudan also known as the “Impossible Skier” for his most difficult descents, continued heli-skiing at Gulmarg. If skiing could continue in such turbulent times there should be no problem in continuing it during the current situation. However, it needs marketing in most well-known ski areas of Europe and Australia. These people had been coming to Gulmarg regularly. In fact, some Russian skiers too have been visiting Gulmarg in recent times. Last year the Chinese Ski Team had shown desire for training in Gulmarg. It could be an ideal place for many national teams to train their skiers for various championships. The State Tourism Department needs to market Gulmarg and also provide facilities on these lines. The Government should back all these efforts to keep Kashmir in circulation in the International Tourism Market.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Kishtwar, a forgotten adventure!

(The valleys of Kishtwar have been proclaimed in many travelogues as mysterious and adventurous but these days the adventure tourism potential of the area has gone totally into background!)
Image result for sicklemoon peak
In 1918, Otto Rothfeld, an Indian Civil Service Officer wrote a book titled, “With Pen and Rifle in Kishtwar”. In the preface, the author describes Kishtwar as, “…the province of Kishtwar, situated between Kashmir and Chamba on the way to Simla, and ruled by H. H. the Maharaja of Kashmir and Jammu, is not only very little known, but is in itself extremely interesting. Its scenery is almost unique; its inhabitants are peculiar; its remains are undeciphered; and its sport is exceptional”. Even though the area is now developed and modernised yet some of the valleys there retain the mystery and adventure. The book can be downloaded free at this link:
Before 1990 Kishtwar was the most sought after destination for adventure lovers especially mountaineers and trekkers from U.K. Almost a dozen expeditions would come for climbing various mountain peaks in the area. The attraction of these mountains apart from being high and difficult was the trek involved in reaching the base camp. In Ladakh especially in Suru and Zanskar Valleys where there are dozens of mountain peaks, there is hardly any trekking involved in reaching the base camps. These are almost all approachable by road with hardly a day’s trekking. This does not give sufficient time for acclimatisation.
The most frequented valleys in Kishtwar area include the Wadhwan and Paddar Valleys. Most of the mountain peaks are in the range of 6000 to 7000 meters and are very challenging. These include Brahma, Brahma’s Wife, Ekfeiler, Dreikent, Sickle Moon, Barnaj-I, II and III and so on. These have been climbed many times. Even Chris Bonnington, the famous British climber has been on Brahma! There is a very famous trek through Paddar Valley to Zanskar Valley over the Umasi La pass. This trek too has been very popular with foreign trekkers. On the way is the famous Cedar forest of Machail. In fact, this trek has historical significance. The Dogra General who conquered Ladakh and annexed it to Dogra Kingdom, General Zorawar Singh went into Zanskar valley through this pass and then conquered entire Ladakh. Another interesting episode relating to the pass is the carriage of huge cedar logs across from Machail to Zanskar by the lamas of Karsha monastery! The monastery has huge wooden columns made from these Cedar trees.
The Wadhwan valley itself is a fascinating trek. It is the most beautiful valley in the entire state. At an average altitude of 8,500 feet above sea level, there are many villages on the two sides of Wadhwan River which flows through the middle of the valley. On two sides are long forested slopes. The River itself has many islands on which there are Pine trees giving a fascinating view. From Kashmir side the valley can be approached through Margan pass across into Inshan village. There are many villages like Tsodraman, Wurwan, Sokhniz on the two sides of Wadhwan River. The valley also lies on the trek to Suru valley of Kargil through Botkol pass. Some treks lead to Lidder valley and one track comes straight over Shesh Nag through Golule Gali. The area has equally good potential during winter for skiing, cross-country skiing and ski mountaineering. It can be an excellent area for different winter sports. Wadhwan valley in winter would be a paradise for cross-country skiing.
The Department of Tourism in eighties of last century after the popularity of Kishtwar as a take off point for multiple adventure trails had set up an equipment store here. Imported trekking and climbing equipment was kept available for trekkers and climbers. However, after the outbreak of militancy in 1990, the store was taken over by the Border Security Force.
Kishtwar also has a landing strip where small aircraft have landed sometimes. Apart from developing adventure tourism, there is urgent requirement of providing an air connection to this area which sometimes remains cut off for days on end due to landslides. Even a regular helicopter service can be of good use both for the tourists and the local population. Earlier Pawan Hans had started a helicopter service which was subsequently discontinued. In view of the set back to leisure tourism due to unusual conditions in Kashmir valley, it is advisable to promote adventure tourism and Kishtwar approachable by road through Simthan pass or by helicopter from Srinagar could be a good alternative in addition to Ladakh. The adventure tourist who goes for all types of hazardous activities is not easily put off by unusual local conditions. Additionally, most of the adventure areas are away from population centres in wild valleys and on high mountains and remain undisturbed by local problems. Let us hope, Kishtwar gets re-activated as an Adventure Tourism destination and the spirit of adventure in Otto Rothfeld’s book gets rejuvenated

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Integration or assimilation?

(Mohan Bhagwat’s declaration of integrating Kashmir fully into India may, on the contrary, begin the process of disintegration of India itself!)
Get your word right
The Oxford dictionary defines “Integration” as an action to bring together different countries, blocks, units and so on for political or economic integration. The best example of the process is the European Union. The integrated countries or states retain their individual characteristics but become part of a whole. On the other hand, the “Assimilation” is the absorption and integration of people, ideas, or culture into a wider society or culture. The best example is the absorption of various races, nationalities into what we now call the American Nation which basically is an artificial creation.
RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat has declared that Kashmir will be fully integrated into India after amending the Constitution. He seems to have confused the words “Integration” and “Assimilation”! In fact, he appears to be saying that Kashmiris would be fully assimilated into the Hindu Nation of the Indian mainland which he intends to turn into Golwalkar’s dream of a Hindu Rashtra. Incidentally, he does not mention Kashmiris who have inhabited the territory for thousands of years but talks about Kashmir, the land. He probably considers Kashmir only as a territorial unit of Hindu origin. Unfortunately, right from the start, both India and Pakistan have been laying claim to the territory of Kashmir and none is really interested or bothered about its inhabitants, the Kashmiris!
In ancient times, Kashmir was known as a separate independent kingdom at the same time when India was known to be a country inhabited by Hindus. No doubt at that time the religion professed by Kashmiris was Shaivism, a school of philosophy of Hinduism practiced only in Kashmir and most of South India. However, even at that time, Kashmir was not associated with the Indian mainland in any way but remained as an independent sovereign kingdom. No doubt, that was a glorious Hindu past of Kashmir but that past has gone by and we are now living in a totally new and a different present. Kashmir is now a Muslim majority state with the most tolerant and accommodative religious practices. History always moves forward and pinning about the past glory is not going to serve any purpose or change the ground situation. That can be done by physically changing the demography with outside settlers and displacing the original inhabitants. That seems easier to say than to do practically on ground. This is especially so because of the restive youth fighting bullets with stones! They have been alienated beyond redemption. Even BJP leader Yashwant Sinha says that India has lost Kashmir emotionally!
Regarding integration, well, Kashmir is already integrated with India. This had happened right after the signing of the accession document and the Delhi Agreement in forties and fifties of the last century. Had the Indian authorities honoured these documents and implemented the same in letter and spirit, there would have been no problem. In fact, Kashmir would have been another Bhutan! Had India honoured its commitment of full autonomy, the other side would have been in trouble. There one central minister of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad controls everything in supposedly “Azad” Kashmir! The other part earlier known as Northern Areas and now called Giligit-Baltistan is now totally merged into Pakistan for all practical purposes. The setting up of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through Gilgit-Baltistan forming part of the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir, has made this part unnegotiable both for Pakistan and China! They cannot afford to change its status at any cost for their own survival!
Thus, if Mohan Bhagwat really wants to integrate honestly and genuinely Kashmir and the Kashmiris living there into the Indian Republic, he has to restore the integrity of the agreements which India had signed with Kashmiris rather than amend the constitution to assimilate the state and its people into his utopian Hindu Rashtra! Kashmir can become part of Hindu Rashtra only if all Kashmiris are either converted back into Shaivite Hinduism or they are forcibly displaced from there by new Hindu settlers. This, as already stated, is an impossible task! On the contrary Mohan Bhagwat should advise Prime Minister Modi to start a dialogue in Kashmir if he really wants “Emotional Integration” of Kashmiris!
Incidentally, in view of the above realities, one needs to go deeper into this tirade of Hindu Rashtra and full integration of Kashmir into it generated by BJP and RSS. There is only one plausible explanation. All the BJP and RSS statements and declarations are intended to create a wave of religious euphoria for the next Parliament election which may even be preponed from 2019 to 2018. The declaration of the Election Commission that they are fully geared for holding both the State Assembly Elections and Parliament Election simultaneously in 2018 itself seems an uneasy indication of the real cause for such emotionally charged religious waves. However, such drastic declarations, instead of fully integrating Kashmir into India, may, on the contrary, disintegrate India itself!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Criminal Negligence in Flood Prevention!

(The disastrous flood of 2014 seems to have been forgotten both by the people and the rulers and a worse disaster may be looming around!)
Criminal Negligence in Flood Prevention!
One had sincerely expected that the people and the rulers would learn a lesson from the worst flood of the century which occurred in September, 2014. Even though it did not result in a major loss of life yet it caused extensive economic losses in terms of property and goods. The material loss was in thousands of crores and the poshest areas of the capital city of Srinagar were savagely ravaged. No doubt the flood was a backlash from the River Jhelum and all its associated water bodies which had been vandalised by the people and the rulers. Encroachments on the River’s banks and usurpation of the flood basin by the government in terms of new colonies and establishments had annoyed the River so much that it stuck with a vengeance.
Most of the experts who analysed the disaster had observed that the flood was due to extreme vandalisation of the environment in the catchment areas and usurpation of the flood basin.  The River which gave life to Kashmir has been vandalised and desecrated by us. The muck and filth of almost entire Kashmir is made to flow into the River. Its banks have been encroached in most places especially in the city of Srinagar. For last half a century or so no one has bothered to dredge it and take away the silt. Over and above everything else its flood basin has been snatched and converted into colonies. Where else will it go except overflow its banks and sometimes may even change course. Most of the wetlands and water bodies have either been filled up or encroached upon. The historical channel Nala-i-Mar has been filled up and converted into a road. We have hardly left any space for the extra water to flow in anywhere. In the catchment areas, most of the rain water would get absorbed but now it runs down straight as we have totally denuded the catchment area of the River. One cannot rule out sudden disastrous floods in future especially because of the universal climate change. Reclaiming all the earlier back-ups to prevent floods may take time. We needed to go for immediate preventive and protective measures.
After the devastation and displacement caused by the flood, one would have expected people to remain under shock for a long time. Not only did they restart massive constructions in the flood affected areas of the city but violated all building bye laws and norms with the connivance of the authorities. There has been no chastisement as one would have expected from such a natural disaster attributed by many to be the “Divine Retribution” for our misdeeds! The government has been brooding over many schemes for prevention of floods and protection for the city areas. However, the progress on ground has been abnormally slow. The most important aspect is the dredging of the River and its flood spill over channel and strengthening of its embankments especially in the city of Srinagar a major portion of which was submerged in the last flood. During the short spell of Governor’s rule, the dredging operation had been started through some Kolkata based firm. However, there were some mechanical problems and the progress has been extremely slow as admitted by the Chief Engineer in charge of Flood Control.  If one travels along the Bund in the city or along the embankments of the flood spill-over channel, nothing substantial seems to have been done. Instead, the dug up soil is in huge mounds all along the channel. Just 10 feet of water will spill over the embankments. The worst is the fate of the flood spill over channel. With the deposition of huge amounts of silt and wild growth, it is almost on level with the banks especially in Mehjoor Nagar-Ram Bagh areas. In addition, there has been a spate of bridge construction creating massive hurdles for free flow of water.
Sometime back, the State Chief Minister had constituted a committee for initiating immediate flood prevention measures. She is herself the chairperson of the committee. It is not known whether the concerned engineers are briefing her regularly of any progress on ground? It will be worthwhile for her to just take a round of the flood spill over channel just from Mehjoor Nagar to Ram Bagh Bridge to know the actual ground situation. Given the will and determination, it is not difficult to execute most of the flood prevention measures like dredging, strengthening of embankments and clearing of filled up water bodies on a continuous basis. Usually, in such important projects there is a special monitoring team of consultants or experts who monitor the work on a day to day basis. God Almighty has given us again a grace period till next season. The sooner the government moves at the top, the better. In the alternative, one has to keep fingers crossed for another calamity which will, unfortunately be, of our own making! However, it needs to be emphasised that any dereliction in undertaking these most urgent measures without wasting any further time amounts to criminal negligence!