(Last year’s flood, the worst of the century not only inundated the city of sun in murky waters but brought out the muck which has been enveloping Kashmiris for last 68 years now!)
Witnessing the Associated Media film “Into the Murky Waters” on the last September flood was not only reliving of a personal experience but a first-hand account of all the happenings including everything that was going on behind the scenes. The film is an indictment of all the concerned people because of whose failure the disaster occurred. In fact, they should be indicted for criminal negligence and prosecuted. Unfortunately, the murky waters have been flowing all over Kashmir for almost 68 years now! These are in the form of a perennial uncertain situation with total lack of accountability. No one is accountable to no one! There is an absolute free for all!
The last year’s flood can be termed truly as “Nature’s Backlash”! We have totally vandalised our fragile environment and ecology due to our insatiable material greed. River Jhelum earlier called Vitasta and locally known as Vyeth has been Kashmir’s life line for centuries. It used to be pure and clean. People would drink its water. However, it became murky after washing the sins of Kashmir’s black sheep for last 68 years or so. Kashmir’s so called elite was the main culprit. Incidentally, Jhelum in its fury totally covered with muck the poshest areas where the majority of the deviant elite had been residing.
For all these years no one bothered about the condition and the health of the River. Its bed got totally silted. Even the spill over channel got filled up. Its embankments were usurped and vandalised by construction of hotels, guest houses, private houses and even mosques! Worst things happened with its flood basin. It was converted into colonies and even some government offices were set up in it. The irony is that the authority entrusted with the planning and development of the city of Srinagar set up its office in the flood basin of the River!
Apart from the criminal negligence of the concerned in failing to taking urgent preventive measures, during and after the flood, there was total failure on the part of the government. In fact, one was not sure whether any government existed in Kashmir!Omar Abdullah was shown on TV throwing “Bananas” to the marooned people from the state helicopter. One was reminded about the “Rise of the Planet of Apes”. He should thank God that the people did not pull down his chopper like the Apes do in the movie! This “Banana” episode reminded one about the “Banana Republics” of South America and Omar Abdullah rightly earned the name of the “Banana Chief Minister”!
The worst tragedy is that even the new government too is in deep slumber. For over nine months nothing substantial seems to have been done in regard to prevention of future floods. Its first priority should have been the prevention of future floods. The only news one got was that ISRO has been asked to undertake satellite flood zoning of Kashmir which may take over a year or so. As regards dredging of the River, desilting of the flood spill over channel, strengthening of the embankments, and setting up of dewatering stations above the flood level no news is coming out. Even the drains and dewatering system appears to be without any major change. Apart from the city getting water-logged repeatedly, there are still some areas in the valley water logged from the previous flood.
In the movie it is shown that a report regarding measures for flood prevention has been shuttling between New Delhi and Srinagar for over three years! Some engineers had predicted the possibility of a disastrous flood but no one seems to have been seriously bothered about the subject. In fact, even the MET Office warning about flash floods was ignored by the “Banana Government”! Now that they have seen the face of the disaster, the first task for the present government should be to get along with the implementation of the most urgently needed flood prevention measures. The task can be given to some resourceful engineering companies in the field on a turnkey basis to be completed in a definite time-frame. The Chief Minister has all the residuary powers under the constitution and after identifying a resourceful organisation even if from abroad can ask them to go ahead dispensing all lengthy paper formalities. However, that needs political will on the part of the government. Does this government have such a will? That is the million dollar question! One has to keep the fingers crossed and probably wait for some more “Murky Waters”. However, next-time these will not only be murky but “Bloody” too!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired) is Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir