21 Sept 2014

Jammu and Kashmir Floods : A Tale of Calamity and Callousness !!

In February 2010, J&K’s flood control department issued a major flood warning based on its study of Srinagar’s drainage system and state’s unpreparedness to cope up with any such eventuality. The report went on to say that summer capital of the state was by no means prepared to protect its people from floods. One senior official quoted -“We are expecting a water discharge of around 150000 cusses if flood hits Srinagar city, leaving most parts of the city submerged”. The report was followed up by typical political response. Urgency of the situation was ‘acknowledged’ by state and central governments and funds were ‘promised’ to mitigate the prospect of calamity in a state which has almost developed a keen sense of indifference to loss of human lives. Mostly caused by the vested and multi-layered political interests.

The Colour of destruction

Four years and six months later, in a manner of self-fulfilling prophecy, the warning issued by flood department now almost looks like a news report written ahead of the time. Jhelum has unleashed what appears to be the worst flood over a century in the valley – washing off man and material alike and painting the entire canvass of Srinagar into a muddy monolith of destruction. Lifeless floating shapes of human and animals mock at the criminal negligence of administrative machinery and hope that their deaths – which have now been reduced to numbers and left to be fondled by the cozied up statisticians, will add impact to a message that nobody seems to be paying attention to. The message that there is no alternative to respond to such warnings on time. That the one billion dollar loss J&K has suffered through this drought is three times more than the estimated cost of putting up the infrastructure to deal with such natural disasters in the valley. And we haven’t yet begun to count the loss of lives!

Raising the hope

According to last reports, over one third of city of Srinagar was covered with flood waters. The death toll has crossed 250 and more than 1 lac people have been affected otherwise. Nobody doubts that Actual counts are bound to be much higher. Destruction of such scale and nature are invariably followed by two narratives – angst at the inefficiency of administration and resilience of the Aam Aadmi. Administrative inefficiency is much more pronounced in places where politicians have been able to keep the cauldron of identity politics boiling – successfully divesting our attention from meaningful progress as a society. Whereas scattered stories of how people clung to acts of kindness and unite during such dark hours are always appreciated but are never enough to dispel the onslaught of calamity. Thus our resilience, howsoever laudable, can’t make up for our political indifference. We, the people, have to decide which narrative of politics we want to be in the mainstream.

Even amid misfortune of such scale, there are reports that help from UN has been stranded at Srinagar airport by political dark horses so that some of our own inefficiencies are not exposed. A certain separatist leader was so alarmed by the relief efforts that he personally took on a rescue effort coordinated by Army and forced flood affected people, much to their dismay, to throw away all flood relief items. Some reporters couldn’t wait till the calamities subdued to salvage goodwill for Army because of their rescue efforts. And here nothing can be taken away from the Army’s efforts itself – which has deployed more than 3 lacs personnel and 300 jets all across the affected areas and has helped rescue around 80, 000 people. But the fact that propaganda still takes the driving seat in what could be one of the worst yet strongest equalizers for people coming from all regions and religions rings a deafening alarm – our leaders see political currency in such acts. They believe that the voter inside us will resonate to their acts of such symbolism.

Irony in the name-  a bank branch submerged in water

The man of the hour himself, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, showed his girth during Bhuj earthquake when he was barely a few days old in Chief Minister’s office. This flood throws a similar challenge for him to effectively communicate to people that they will not be left feeling abandoned in the hour of need. Effective communicator that he is – he was quick to gauge the situation in person and announced immediate relief measures for the state. But the real challenge will begin now – once the water subsides and dreaded possibility of epidemic starts to raise its hood from weeks of unattended carcasses. It will be interesting to see how he dissociates his task at hand as statesman from the immediate political realities – state elections scheduled later this year.

A dog rescues its offspring
The million dollar question, then, is whether we learn something from this wanton episode unlike our political counterparts. Do we collectively change the discourse of politics in India in general and Valley in particular? Can we dislodge identity propaganda as the premiere political currency and replace it with real needs of the people – a thriving environment and robust infrastructure? Answers to these questions will largely decide whether valley sees a repeat of this destruction and whether precious lives are literally washed off from the face of the planet.

We wonder then, in despair and helpless anger, what meaning would the phrase heaven on earth bear for all those who have lost their lives during the flood.


Yasin Malik

UN trying to help India/Pak on floods

Warning on Kashmir Floods:

What is your opinion on recent J&K floods?

How well equipped is India to handle such disasters and calamities effectively? How it can be made better?

(Written by Manish Jha, an Alumnus of IIIT Hyderabad and currently working with Microsoft as Program Manager. He is also associated with a social initiative 'Joy of Reading')



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