Kashmir Floods 2015: The Deluge Redux?

Flood scare A waterlogged street in Srinagar, Photo: Faisal Khan
Flood scare A waterlogged street in Srinagar, Photo: Faisal Khan

It started with spasms of pattering rain on Sunday, a familiar enough occurrence in the spring. But it soon turned into an uninterrupted 48-hour spell of a gentle shower overhung by a darkened sky. It washed away steel bridges, cracked open metalled roads and made concrete houses collapse. It once again made the Jhelum swell and brought it to the point of spilling over its embankments and into Srinagar, which it had sunk just seven months ago, leaving behind a still-unfolding trail of devastation.

But just then the rain stopped. The surging Jhelum rumbled on for a while and slowly went down to its normal level. The Valley heaved a collective sigh of relief.

The rains, however, didn’t stop before wreaking some havoc. In Budgam, 16 members of two families were buried alive when their houses came under a landslide. The landslides also damaged 44 structures, including 18 houses, in the district. In Pulwama, hundreds of families living near the banks of the Jhelum from Nayina to Lethpora were moved to safer locations. So were the villages along the river’s meandering course from its origin in Verinag in South Kashmir to Srinagar.

In Srinagar, the incessant rain played on the people’s worst fears. Most residents stayed awake on the first night, fearing the river might catch them off guard as it had done last September. As the rain continued unabated, there was voluntary evacuation from the posh colonies of Raj Bagh, Jawahar Nagar, Gogji Bagh etc. Lal Chowk, the city’s commercial hub, was once again waterlogged, forcing shopkeepers to quickly relocate their merchandise.

“We can’t take a chance again,” says Khursheed Ahmad, who runs a readymade garments shop. “In September, we waited and lost everything. All our goods turned to slush.”

The narrowly missed fresh calamity has raised serious challenges for the state government and undermined the confidence of the people who are still struggling with the fallout of the apocalyptic September deluge. More so, when there has been little government-aided rehabilitation so far.

In a survey commissioned soon after the flood, the J&K government had estimated the loss at Rs 1 trillion. The housing sector alone has suffered losses of over Rs 30,000 crore. As per data released by Chief Secretary Mohammad Iqbal Khanday last September, around 83,044 pucca houses and 21,162 kutcha houses were completely damaged, besides 99,305 huts and cowsheds.

Following this, the state government submitted a proposal to the Centre, seeking a special financial package of Rs 44,000 crore for the rehabilitation of the flood-affected people. The demands included payment of ex-gratia relief of Rs 9 lakh for a fully damaged pucca house, Rs 6 lakh for a fully damaged kutcha house, Rs 4 lakh for partially damaged kutcha and pucca houses, including boundary walls, and
Rs 1 lakh for other structures.

Now, while the Valley stares at the danger of incessant rain coupled with the melting of snow leading to another flood, the Centre is yet to decide the flood package, let alone release it. This, even when the BJP that rules at the Centre is now an equal partner in the J&K government.

“The Rs 44,000 crore flood relief package has not been accepted by the Centre and the finance minister here has distanced himself from it,” National Conference leader and former cm Omar Abdullah recently told the J&K Assembly. “When one after another their Common Minimum Programme issues are getting rejected, what can the people expect from this coalition?”

With the relief package stuck, people in the state are still waiting to be compensated for the losses they suffered last year even as the threat of a repeat tragedy looms large. “Last year’s flood dealt a body blow to our economy and the lack of proper rehabilitation made it worse,” says Shakeel Qalander, a noted businessman. “Another deluge will spell the death knell for us and make recovery even more difficult.”

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