It May Take Years For Kashmir To Restore Flood-hit Economy

19 September 2014
The Economic Times

Srinagar: In mid-1970s, at the peak of the movement for the restoration of autonomy that Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed till August 1953, the then prime minister Indira Gandhi famously remarked that clocks cannot be turned back. However, for more than two decades now, separatists are engaged in a bloody armed rebellion to turn clocks back to 1947 when Kashmir acceded to India. More recently, the Indian military's ruthless battle against insurgency gave birth to a larger movement seeking restoration of governance systems to the 1989 status. Now, as Kashmir tries to come out of its worst floods, one question people in Srinagar ask each other is: how many years will it take to get Kashmir back to its 2013 position? Massive rescue operations led by the army with active participation of the civil society, police and NRDF, may have limited the human toll - so far about 277 deaths have been confirmed - but the impact of these floods of biblical proportions on the state's economy and infrastructure is mammoth. 'The most harrowing experience I had during these floods was the sight of Veshu (a tributary of Jhelum) washing down complete apple orchards with trees and fruits almost intact, like momentary floating gardens!' said Waseem Wani, a volunteer at Achthal village in Kulgam. With 2,600 villages affected by the floods and 390 villages in Kashmir completely submerged for many days, just like major parts of Srinagar city, experts say the economic impact on agriculture, businesses and infrastructure will be enormous. 'I see it (losses) at more than double the state's gross domestic product,' said Shakeel Qalander, former president of Federation of Chamber of Commerce Kashmir. According to him, a sample survey suggested that 15% of the 2,01,588 houses that 2011 census listed suffered damages. That means more than 30,000 houses. 'We have more than half a million commercial establishments across all sector and we estimate 1,00,000 have taken a hit, some of them hugely,' said Qalander. FARM DESTRUCTION The main mover of the state's economy, the Rs 3,600-crore apples and fruits business, was already under stress when floods hit. The government in August had estimated that 70% of the crop in Kulgam, 60% in Shopian and 50% in Baramulla and Anantnag were already lost due to recurrent hail storms and a major attack of apple scab. Now, the floods have destroyed almost all that was left. 'We are trying to save whatever is possible,' Shabir Ahmad, an apple grower from Shopian said. He said soon after the rains, the trees have started losing foliage. 'The pear crop being highly perishable was lost because all exit roads from Kashmir were blocked by landslides.' Destruction of paddy looks complete. 'The only thing we may recover is fodder but I have my doubts if cattle will have it,' said Reyaz Ahmad, a rice farmer whose fields are still under water. Parts of Anantnag, Kulgam and Sonawari, which form Kashmir's rice belt, were the main halts for the excess discharge in Jhelum. Usually Kashmir gets two-thirds of its grains from the rest of India. This year it will be 100%. Even Pampore, the saffron town, was flooded - perhaps for the first time. 'This time, the Jhelum took a man-made route of the alignment on which alternative highway is being built and caught us literally with our pants down in the midnight,' said Shams Irfan, a journalist who slept for five nights in a truck parked in the middle of saffron fields.