Both the Government and some civil society organisations planned the celebrations of the last year’s destructive flood reported to be the worst in a century. Apparently, it was given out that the celebrations are to honour the peoples’ will and resolve to survive the worst disaster in Kashmir’s recent history. Kashmir was shattered and the Kashmiris were shaken by the magnitude of the disaster. One would have thought that all of us would be introspectingabout the causes of the disaster rather than celebrating our survival! There are no two opinions that the Kashmiris are the most resilient people and have survived many calamities both natural and manmade. There is no harm in reaffirming our capacity to face all sorts of odds and then survive to be ready to face the next one. However, we need to go beyond celebrations.
First question which everyone should be debating is why did it happen? Merely saying it was a Divine act of retribution for our misdeeds is not enough. That is rather an easy route to escape blame which otherwise devolves on the responsible persons. All these years we have left nothing undone to vandalise not only the River Jhelum itself which has been from the earliest times the River of Life for Kashmir but its entire catchment area as well as its flood basins.
Kashmir used to have incessant rains earlier too. In fact, spring and autumn are real rainy seasons in Kashmir. We do not get many rains during the monsoons. However, in spite of days and days of rains we did not get such disastrous floods in the recent past. The first reason is the destruction of the forests and meadows in the catchment areas. 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 rain water hardly stays in these areas and quickly comes down with earth and boulders down the slopes. Thus the river gets swollen up in a very short time and the floods result.
Then is the flood basin or the areas where the excess water can thinly spread. 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 the 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 are two things which needed to be done. First was to conduct an investigation for various failures at all levels. This needs to be done to prevent similar occurrence in future. However, this can wait. The most urgent task for the government as well as the people was to take urgent remedial measures to prevent future disasters by initiating flood control measures. These would include 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 has been done so far. On the contrary the government is celebrating its yearlong inaction. What an irony! Had this happened in any other country, apart from some people been put in the dock, massive flood prevention measures would have been completed by now.
While the government had been planning celebrations, the people had been preparing to protest the government apathy and inaction. To sprinkle salt on their wounds as a finale to the celebrations, the government did not even allow this and house arrested and even detained most of the political and trade organisation leaders. Can there be anything more undemocratic and callous than this! What a shame!