Floods Should Make Us Think

Institutions are subservient to human needs, not the reverse

 It will be unfair, unjust and unrealistic.   Yes! Holing elections in mid-winter when mercury drops to sub-zero in the state more particularly in Kashmir and some worst hit areas of Jammu will not be a fair game. It will make life of the multitudes, suffering the after-flood blues and struggling for survival more miserable.  Elections in the near future certainly are going to deflect the attention of the administration from ravages of floods and human sufferings to the maintenance of law and order. 

True, holding “elections” for the State Assembly before January is a ‘constitutional’ requirement but in extraordinary situation- a human crisis, as has been obtaining in the state after the September 7 deluge such a requirement is not a bind that leaves no escape route. “Political institutions” as rightly said by John Stuart Mill, “are work of men; owe their origin and their whole existence to human will….In every stage of their existence they are made what they are by human voluntary agency.” 

In the given situation, I do not think there is anything sacrosanct about the contemplated dates for holding of elections in the state- these can be altered. Constitution after all has not been framed to add to the sufferings of the people. Here, I am reminded of the concluding address of Dr. Rajendra Prasad in the Constitution Assembly. ‘It has a ringing appeal and an abiding relevance today’. He said, “We have prepared a democratic Constitution, but successful working of democratic institutions requires in those who have to work them willingness to respect viewpoints of others, capacity for compromise and accommodation. Many things which cannot be written in a Constitution are done by convention.”

 Denouncing my building case against holding of elections in state when people are still in “mourning” and are engaged in picking up straws for rebuilding their nests as “idealism”, a journalist pronounced   my view as individualistic . ‘In such matters individual views’ he commented, ‘do not matter, the GoI is guided by inputs from multiple agencies operating in the state.’  It would be tomfoolery, if I believed   my views on the election date will have a sway  but articulating public opinion both stifled and bolder and   harsher realities sometimes do hit the right eardrum- like that of Indian Prime Minister, Morarji Desia. After his visit to Kashmir during 1977 elections, seeing situation himself he disagreed with GoI’s ‘eyes and ears’ in the state. And allowed comparatively free election- which he later often boasted about. Instead, of listening his cabinet colleagues he consulted leader of the opposition, Mrs. Gandhi about elections in the State… the rest is history.

New Delhi, may deny to put its finger on the pulse of people.   It may not go with the peoples’ urge of attaching top priority to rehabilitation of people and rebuilding infrastructure in the state instead of elections. And not allowing international aid or so far failing in roping in agencies like the World Bank, Asia Development Bank and other loaning and donor agencies it will be only confirming the public perceptions that the crumbling economy and woes of common people are of least importance to power centres in the capital. And strengthen their belief it is more concerned about installation of a dispensation of its choice in the state than reconstruction. 

There is need to understand that the suffering population cannot wait for installation of the new dispensation in the state- whatever its complexion and composition. That means another five months. In my previous column, I had suggested setting up of an independent authority for rehabilitation and reconstruction with all donor agencies as its member as is done worldwide during major natural disasters and catastrophe. My suggestion had found some takers in the civil society and the trading fraternity. Such an agency with experts from diverse fields could be tasked with creating as comprehensive a project as Uttarakhand Disaster Recovery Project that would also enable safeguarding the future of the state.

Notwithstanding,   devastation caused by   the 2014 deluge and the crippling impact it has   on  our economy it has opened a new opportunity for correcting the mistakes committed in the past by our town planners and development organizations. Like an able urban cartographer, the recent floods delineated the territories that historically belonged to the river Jhelum- these include vast wetlands, floodplains and flood basins that have been converted into massive colonies. The rising of waters in Dal and Nageen lakes submerging not only dwellings within the lakes but vast areas around them can comfortably be attributed to the filling up of more than thirty feet deep Mar Canal. That not only accommodated overflowing waters of these lakes but also siphoned them of to other lakes and into the river outside the city. 

The question arises can the housing colonies in the wetlands and low lying areas be relocated. Can Dal and other lakes be restored to their old dimension and glory? Can Venice of the East, title restored to Srinagar by reviving the Mar Canal (Nallah Mar) to its fifteenth century glory. This can be done- it has been done in many other parts of the world. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy besides causing devastation in many parts of America hit New York City on October 29, flooding streets, tunnels and subway lines and cutting power in and around the city. Just two years after, New York have begun a program for relocating people from low lying areas vulnerable to floods to other safer areas. The program has been extended too many other areas with sole objective saving people in future and ‘returning hundreds of parcels of land’ to the nature.  The revival of Ark Sea in Kazakhstan with the help of the World Bank is an inspiring story for those of us dreaming about reviving of the Dal Lake to its pristine glory.  This Sea was once the world’s fourth largest lake – a rich haven for fish, birds and other wildlife but for wrong planning of the soviet Russia it started drying up and seventy percent of it was converted into a desert. And now the efforts of the Kazakhstan government and the World Bank, it has been substantially revived. 
Kashmir also calls for international support for reviving its water bodies and rebuilding its economy