Deforestation, unplanned urbanization, illegal construction activities, state apathy!

Floods and pollution in Kashmir valley


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Kashmir valley, known as a living heaven on earth, is at high risk of floods this year as Jhelum and its tributaries have lost water carrying capacity and velocity due to September floods. The natural beauty of Sri Nagar is gradually disappearing from the face of the city due mainly to pollution. 

Unplanned urbanization, encroachments on water bodies, silt deposition and unchecked discharge of pollutants are making water bodies in Kashmir to shrink at an alarming pace, which in turn is decreasing their capacity of holding water and making the valley more vulnerable to floods. JK government has not undertaken any practical steps to contain repeated floods. 

Union Minister Jitendra Singh today said that Kashmir floods are being constantly monitored by latest satellite technology at the National Remote Sensing Centre. An ISRO team had been permanently kept stationed at the disposal of the state administration in Srinagar, but somehow it was not utilised to its full potential. ISRO took upon itself the responsibility of collecting satellite pictures and providing vital information based on these, simultaneously to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, National Disaster Management Authority and the Government of Jammu and Kashmir". In addition, the inputs were also sent to the Department of Ecology, Environment, and Remote Sensing, Government of Jammu and Kashmir to enable them to utilise these as per the local requirements, This information was also disseminated to all concerned, and Indian RISAT-1 satellite has now been programmed for 2nd April, 1800 hrs.

The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly witnessed violence over the ongoing flood relief operations in the Valley with the Opposition accusing the government of providing very little relief to those affected. The Opposition charge was led by the National Conference, Congress and an independent lawmaker Rashid. They raised slogans against the government. The protesting lawmakers later marshalled out of the House and it had to be adjourned for 10 minutes.

Heavy rains over the weekend led to water level in River Jhelum crossing the danger mark late and the state government issued a flood alert, causing anxieties. Though the rain stopped yesterday, fresh showers this morning again raised fears of flooding in the state and capital Srinagar. The Meteorological Department has predicted that the Kashmir valley would receive heavy rains today. A total of 16 people have been killed in the past few days, mostly in building collapses triggered by mudslides.

It is ironic that despite a separate regulatory body, Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA), massive encroachments and erection of many structures and hotels have led to the reduction in the size of Dal Lake, a world famous tourist attraction in the heart of Srinagar city. In facts people allege that LAWDA allow constructions in prohibited and non-prohibited demarcated area of Dal Lake against hefty amounts. 

Perhaps it is the ignorance of the administration and the people of Jammu and Kashmir that a flood threat is once again looming over the valley, which in September 2014 witnessed the most ferocious and biggest floods the state has seen in over a century.

The Flood Control Department not just predicted the floods; it had formulated a Rs 2,200-crore plan, seeking about Rs 500 crore of that immediately to put basic infrastructure in place. The then prime minister Manmohan Singh had backed the plan and promised help from the Centre, but even after five years Kashmir valley is still vulnerable to floods. 

Omar Abdullah-led government preferred to ignore the Flood Control Department’s report which in 2010 predicted that floods will hit the state in the next 5 years; or unplanned constructions over flood channel, river banks and encroachment of water bodies. It is ironic that the state government, under the leadership of the then chief minister Omar Abdullah, ignored the warning of the report which clearly stated that Srinagar city awaited a major deluge and the government had no mechanism to save human lives and property. 

But to be on the safe side, then CM Omar pleaded that his government was caught off guard as there were no prior indications of such a catastrophe, which in one way or other badly affected the lives of every person living in the state, particularly in the Kashmir valley and in the summer capital, Srinagar.

However, contrary to his clams the report had clearly said that 150,000 cusecs of water from river Jhelum will hit Srinagar, submerging most of it.

The report had warned that most parts of the valley from Khannabal in south Kashmir district of Anantnag up to Khadinyar in north Kashmir district of Baramulla are likely to be hit by the flood. The 300-km-long Srinagar-Jammu highway may be washed away, leaving Kashmir cut-off from the rest of the country. The road leading to the airport will be submerged, 

Ironically, the JK administration has completely failed to learn any lesson from September 2014 floods, which created havoc in Kashmir valley and destroyed property worth crores of rupees. Following floods in September, tons of slit from mountainous catchments of the rivers, including Jhelum, settled in these water bodies affecting their water carrying capacity. And on top of that major stretches of embankments of river Jhelum, which were damaged in the last floods, were not adequately braced during the past over six months to withstand another flood.

Experts say that the administration has not effectively plugged the breaches on Jhelum embankments and it has also failed to given depth to Jhelum and its tributaries, which they lost due to slit deposited during September 2014 floods. 

The Flood Control Department not just predicted the floods; it had formulated a Rs 2,200-crore plan, seeking about Rs 500 crore of that immediately to put basic infrastructure in place. The then prime minister Manmohan Singh had backed the plan and promised help from the Centre, but even after five years Kashmir valley is still vulnerable to floods.

A PIL submitted in Jammu and Kashmir High Court in November 2014, alleged that LAWDA officials demand Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 for allowing constructions in non-prohibited residential areas and Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh for constructions in prohibited commercial areas around the lake.

A Wikileaks cable released in 2011 about Kashmir politics was titled ‘Kashmir politics as filthy as Dal Lake’, which suggests how obvious the deterioration of this world famed water body had become.

Unplanned urbanization, deforestation and encroachments have affected most of these water bodies over the last two decades have ony aided the floods and pollution, affected most of these water bodies.

A major attraction in Jammu Kashmir and the main site seeing place in Sri Nagar Dal Lake has shrunk from 58 square km in 1953 to 11 square km in 2015 while it has also lost 12 meters in depth. It is the same Dal Lake which in September 2014 floods racked many downtown areas in Kashmir and damaged property worth crores of rupees. Apart from reduction in size, Dal Lake has also witnessed massive pollution. 

Untreated sewage from hundreds of hotels, houseboats and residential houses on the bank of Dal Lake finds its way into the lake. Even though the state government is planning to shift the Dal-dwellers and rehabilitate them elsewhere, it is yet to be implemented with success.

The massive pollution of Dal Lake is directly responsible for the decrease in the depth in the lake by 12 meters. Similarly, the 42-km long flood channel which was constructed from Padshahi Bagh in Srinagar to Wullar Lake, the largest sweet water lake in Asia, to drain out water from the valley by British engineers after one of the major floods in the history of the state in 1902, has been reduced to a small drain. The majority of the land, which used to come under this flood channel, has been illegally occupied by locals.

After every seasonal flood, Kashmiris have difficulties to reinvent their lives. Intermittent rains cause havoc especially in Kashmir valley. Literally, no one is sure if he or she would be alive next month and in living conditions in Kashmir valley. 

Both extremist, political natural calamities make the life of Kashmiris miserable. 

Meanwhile the rescue and rehabilitation operations by Indian military forces are in full swing in Jammu Kashmir. Indian government has extended full support to the suffering Kashmiris in all respects and Pakistan has also announced it is also ready to help “our brethren” in neighboring Kashmir.