Men In Khaki: The Real Heroes Who Saved The Day When Kashmir Got Flooded

4 April 2015
Sameer Yasir

Srinagar: Nearly two weeks after he took charge as the top cop of Kashmir Valley, Syed Javed Mujtaba Gillani received a frantic call on 29 March. The flood channel of Jhelum river on the western outskirts of the Srinagar had been breached, posing threat to hundreds of residents of city's Hamdania Colony who wanted help. Gillani, a tall man in early forties, rushed with his men to the colony. Fearing a repeat of last year's devastating floods, which marooned most parts of Kashmir, the anguished residents sought help but not from the civic administration, which increasingly represents the face of corruption in Kashmir. They wanted men like Gillani, who have been on the ground, both in good as well as bad time. IGP Gillani. Hamdania Colony is a low-lying area prone to inundation at the slightest rainfall. A crippled drainage system makes things worse. But Gillani had come prepared, bringing along a de-watering pump which was quickly set into motion. It was one of the sixty pumps that Jammu and Kashmir police procured after the September flood. As the water level began to recede, another set of policemen brought sandbags to strengthen the embankment of the flood channel. 'The moment we returned from Hamdania colony, we set up a Special Control Room in PCR to disseminate accurate information on situation in the city and help people anguished by bad weather,' Gillani told Firstpost. For a police force, who have been hardened by over two decades of insurgency, two events in recent memory have been of greater significance and none of them are related to conflict. The first was in September last year when the floods devastating most parts of the Valley. The other came last week when it rained furiously for days and the threat of another flood loomed large over Kashmir which has so far killed over two dozen people. After two days of incessant rains earlier this week, the Jammu and Kashmir government announced a situation of flood with the Jhelum river flowing perilously above danger mark. The continuous rains triggered major landslides in Central Kashmir's Budgam district, killing 16 members of two families. Two more perished in flash-floods in the state. The drill was repeated by police across Kashmir. Men of the force, both civic and uniformed, patrolled the banks of the menacing Jhelum to keep a constant check. Many rushed into the residential areas in Srinagar and villages of the Valley to help the locals. In the relief and rescue operations, police evacuated thousands of people to safer places. 'I was surprised by the instant response of police. Their presence breathed a sense of relief in our colony,' Ishfaq Ahmad Shah, a physician, who lives in Hamdania Colony, told Firstpost on Friday. 'With the help of residents, the police began de-watering the area and attached sandbags to strengthen the flood channel which ultimately averted a major crises,' he said. With rains showing no signs of relenting, Gillani deployed his men on night shifts for patrolling in flood prone areas. Gillani, who took over as Inspector General of Police (Kashmir) last month, initially deployed around fourteen thousand of his men across Kashmir valley for the rescue and relief operations. Forty boats were mobilized in city and more than fifteen hundred people were evacuated to safer places. 'Somehow the fear among locals was more in comparison to the flood situation last year. People needed assurance and sustained assistance, so we deployed more police personnel and resources which helped in boosting the morale of people and allaying their fears,' Gillani told Firstpost. The 7 September floods caught people unawares and marooned much of the Srinagar city and many parts of Kashmir. The state government estimated a loss of Rs 1 lakh crore. A report by the National Disaster Management Authority had said that 45,594 houses were damaged and close to 280 people lost their lives across the region. IGP Gillani says providing accurate information is important to overpower the rumour mongering in times of social networks. On many occasions, unidentified people posted alarming images from last year's flood to falsely describe the situation in Kashmir in the last week of March. 'I was surprised when, three days back, I noticed that we had received more than 30,000 calls, messages and pictures from people in distress, trying to know the situation or seeking information on water level of Jhelum. The access to social media of common men in Kashmir has made a huge difference but it has also become a tool of misinformation,' Gilani said. In Srinagar city the water-logging caused due to defunct drainage spilled the rain water onto the city's roads and homes. With the memories of September flood fresh in their minds, hundreds of shopkeepers in Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar city, emptied their shops and evacuated their goods to safer places. Many residents also abandoned their homes out of fear. In such crises, the de-watering of the city is the prime responsibility of the Fire Service, Srinagar Municipal Committee and Urban Environmental Engineering Department who scrambled to activate their men and machinery. Jammu and Kashmir police, however, stood up to the challenge. The SSP of Srinagar city, Amit Kumar, reportedly did not sleep for days altogether as he remained on the roads most of the times when incessant rains continued to pour into the city. Ghulam Din Bhat, who owns a grocery store in Lal Chowk, said as soon as the water started overflowing from the drains in the city, SSP Kumar stood for hours together on the road till dewatering pumps were brought and the road was cleared. 'Late in the night I saw him assuring people not to worry. He did not move till the pumps arrived. People were told about the helpline number in case they wanted to leave their houses. He walked on the Bund and oversaw the deployment of sandbags to strengthen embankment at many places,' Bhat said. For Gillani and his men, the job is far from over. Police is keeping a close watch in the landslide prone areas and if there is any apprehensions of landslide, residents are being evacuated and shifted to safer places. 'If you look at the picture from Shopian and Kulgam in south Kashmir and the efforts our forces put in, the aim was to stop the crises before it could erupt,' Gillani said. 'But our job hasn't ended. We will be fighting the circumstances in another place in another way,' he said.