Kashmir flood threat: Rising river not only threatens flood, it also makes dredgers non-functional

Sporadic heavy rain in Kashmir over the past few days has increased the threat of another flood. The place has barely recovered from a terrible flood which had devastated large parts of the Valley in 2014.

The most ominous, albeit little noticed, aspect of the sporadic rains was that the dredgers that have been trying to extract silt from the river had to stop working by the end of last week.

They now lie idle at various points along the course of the river. The dredger just past Srinagar had to stop working on Saturday, when the river rode to more than the eight metre depth from which that dredger was equipped to extract silt.

The situation was similar on the stretch of the river just downriver from Sopore. A resident of an adjacent village points to an uprooted tree to indicate the level to which the river rose in 2014. It appears to be little more than one metre below that level now.

The Jhelum river. Photo courtesy: David Devadas.

The Jhelum river. Photo courtesy: David Devadas.

Another dredger, a little downriver from Baramulla, was not only unable to function, it was in real danger of being torn from its moorings by the current. On that stretch, where the river approaches the gorge at Uri, the current is extremely strong — much more than it was just a couple of weeks ago.

Contract extension

Ironically, the company which had been given the dredging contract a little more than a year ago is set to get an extension — just when the river has made its dredgers non-functional. The issue was apparently cleared at a high-level meeting of the appropriate authorities in New Delhi last week.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been moves to cancel the contract and hand the dredging work to centrally owned companies. However, the company appears to have successfully argued that the contract allows it an extension. It has also claimed that the unrest last year did not allow it to complete the work during the stipulated one year.

The fact is that the government was barely in control of large parts of the Valley for long periods last year. Chaos reigned. Most of the seasonal migrants from other states, on which Kashmir depends for manual labour, left quite soon after the unrest began in early July.

After the uprising subsided in November, Kashmir had an extraordinarily harsh winter. Combined with the unavailability of labour, that further delayed the dredging operations. The company claims to have completed about a quarter of the work it was contracted to do more than a year ago.

Not only was the winter harsh, it also continued longer than usual. There was snow in large parts of the Valley, including Srinagar, even a couple of weeks ago. There is still a vast amount of snow piled on the higher reaches.

That adds to the current flood threat. There have generally been two causes for floods in Kashmir. One is rain, of which the Valley has had a lot over the past month. The second is snowmelt. Quite soon, most of the snow on the mountains surrounding the Valley will melt, adding the second potential cause.

Public anger

If, indeed, another flood occurs, the anger of common people will no doubt be extremely high. A substantial proportion of houses in many colonies has been repaired or completely reconstructed since 2015. Some owners are just completing their reconstruction.

The people have depended on the government to get its act together with regard to dredging the silted river and flood channel, as well as complicating factors such as illegal construction and illegal riverbed sand mining.

There was a huge groundswell of public anger over the lack of rescue and relief in 2014. Many Kashmiris had hoped that the Centre would send funds for reconstruction after the BJP became part of the coalition, but that has not happened either.

The stage seems to be getting set for a tragedy of errors.

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Updated Date: Apr 26, 2017 17:02:54 IST

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