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Jammu & Kashmir government ignored deluge of flood warning

Four years ago, the Flood Control Department of Jammu formulated a dire but accurate warning on the state's summer capital being flooded by an intense spell of rain.

Mail Today Bureau | September 11, 2014 | Updated 17:05 IST
Jammu & Kashmir govt ignored deluge of flood warning
A flood hitting Srinagar would leave "most parts of the city submerged", a senior official of the department had told a local daily. The report was uncannily spoton.

A deluge of warnings on J&K ignored they knew it was coming. They must have because there were enough warnings, and the clearest came by the truckload.

Four years ago, the Flood Control Department of Jammu formulated a dire but accurate warning on the state's summer capital being flooded by an intense spell of rain.

The report and its copies weighed roughly a tonne, and the heavy-duty consignment was sent to the Union Ministry of Water Resources in a truck. Nothing of note happened after delivery, certainly not enough to make any difference to what was inevitably around the corner.

Then there's a depressingly prescient study of Srinagar's water bodies that is sitting in the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Carried out by GIS Laboratory, Jammu & Kashmir State Remote Sensing Centre, it says that more than 50 per cent of the water bodies in Srinagar have been lost during the last century.

Scientists Humayun Rashid and Gowhar Naseem used satellite imagery to study shrinking of lakes between 1911 and 2004. "The loss in the spatial extent of these lakes and wetlands has affected the micro-climate of the city besides exposing it to flood threat," they said.

The Srinagar of old, the two scientists said, had a unique ecological set up with extensive areas under wetlands, lakes and water channels.

"Though siltation brought about in lakes and wetlands especially during floods was natural, yet subsequent encroachment, earth-filling, planting and construction by individuals and converting water channels into roads, presents a living example of how these valuable assets of natural landscape of Srinagar were destroyed," the report said.

It explained how the micro-climate evolution has been fostered by "undesired land use change", and pointed to the "acute problem of drainage since these wetlands and lakes acted as sponges during the floods".

Impact

On Wednesday, as the bold rescue effort led by the armed forces expanded without losing momentum in Jammu and Kashmir and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah declared he could not "stop rain", the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment pointed to climate change as a possible villain (see accompanying reports).

Invoking recent flooding tragedies like Leh in 2010 and Uttarakhand last year, the CSE said that although climate change was a process, the current trend over last 10 years reveals that "it has an impact".

The Flood Control Department report of 2010 had said that Srinagar was likely to face a major catastrophe in the next five years and that the department had nothing in place to save lives and property.

A flood hitting Srinagar would leave "most parts of the city submerged", a senior official of the department had told a local daily. The report was uncannily spoton.

"The Srinagar-Jammu highway may be washed away, leaving the Valley cut off from the rest of the country," it said, adding that the road "leading to the airport would also be submerged". The Flood Control Department was more than just a doomsayer. It formulated a Rs 2,200-crore plan, seeking about a fourth of that immediately to put basic infrastructure in place.

Then prime minister Manmohan Singh had backed the suggested plan, promising priority release of a first installment. Saying four years were needed to put the plan into action, then minister for flood control and irrigation Taj Mohi-ud-Din had gone public with his appeal, telling mediapersons that he had taken up the matter with the Centre because the threat was "too imminent to be ignored".

Four years have indeed gone by, and Srinagar's lack of floodproofing has cost it dear.

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