A Year After Deluge, Still That Sinking Feeling In J-K

6 September 2015
The Hindustan Times

Srinagar: A Diwali visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last October till Eid this July, hopes rose high in Jammu and Kashmir each time there was an occasion for announcement of a relief package. And each time, hopes drowned and barely survived, just like people did last September, when the state was devastated by the worst floods in more than a century. A year has passed since the deluge claimed over 300 lives, damaged over 2.6 lakh structures, including homes, and washed away crores of rupees worth roads, bridges and communication network, but there is still that sinking feeling in the Valley, which bore the brunt of the floods. The trauma revisits people every time the skies open up. Many have not been able to rebuild their damaged homes and its economy is counting its piling up losses after a second year of slump in business and tourism. New Delhi has so far doled out the relief in bits and pieces giving the opposition parties and the separatist groups a perfect recipe to stoke the anger of Kashmiris, many of whom say the handling of the situation by both the Modi government at Centre and the Mufti regime in Srinagar has reinforced the 'feeling of alienation'. Local dailies and separatist groups are also making comparisons of the two Kashmirs - that how Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is being rebuilt by international aid after an earthquake, while this one was 'neither allowed any international aid nor did Government of India provide any to rebuild homes and livelihoods'. A call for observing September 7 as Black Day by the Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA), an umbrella body of trade unions, private schools, besides other sectors like tourism, transport, agriculture and construction, got support from both the opposition National Conference and the separatist groups. The J&K High Court, hearing a PIL, has also questioned the delay, prompting the court to ask the Centre to spell out its relief policy by September 10. Chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's governement, on his part, is sending distress signals for a face-saver to ally BJP. Deputy CM Nirmal Singh told reporters in Srinagar on Saturday that Centre would soon sanction a 'big package' for rehabilitation of the people affected in the floods and it would be bigger than the Rs 44,000 crore that was sought by the previous government led by Omar Abdullah. For now, however, the state's coffers are as they were - empty. At a joint press conference in June this year, Union minister Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh had put the total of funds released to J&K at Rs 5039 crore. While releasing Rs 2437 crore, Jaitley said Rs 1,602 crore had already been released under the State Disaster Relief Fund and the National Disaster Relief Fund, besides a special project assistance of Rs 1,000 crore having been announced by the PM during his Diwali visit to the state. Out of the Rs 1602 crore, however, Rs 500 crore were deducted to settle the bill of the defence ministry, for rescuing more than two lakh people, including tourists and non-Kashmiri labourers, and air-dropping food, water and medicines during 'Operation Megh Rahat'. That left the civil society and trade groups fuming. 'Kashmir is being punished for giving a mandate against the BJP. But the PDP tied up with the BJP to form the government, selling us the promise of getting more funds for relief and development. Since the PDP has failed to honour its word, it should walk out of the alliance,' says Showkat Chaudhary of KEA. Of the estimated 2.03 lakh houses damaged in the floods, first instalment of relief under PM Relief Fund went to 16,748 fully damaged houses. Later in February, the PM announced Rs 426 crore to compensate 1.87 lakh severely and partially-damaged pucca and kutcha houses. Relief of Rs 50,000 and Rs 25,000 was announced for severely and partially-damaged pucca houses respectively, and Rs 25,000 and Rs 10,000 for kutcha houses likewise. The assessment of the damage was verified by the patwaris. Residents in the worst-hit localities claim that they have got Rs 1 lakh from PM relief fund and Rs 25,000 from the state fund to rebuild fully-damaged concrete houses. But a majority of homes fall in severely and partially-damaged categories have so far received payout of Rs 3,800 and another Rs 1,500 for damaged possessions. Likewise, industry was promised two-year moratorium on bank loan interest and soft loans. 'Forget the two-year moratorium, one year is already gone. The next year, we will have to shut shop,' says Mohammad Sadiq Bakal, president of Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers' Federation. Behind the delay in Centre announcing the relief package is also how the state pegged its losses. Consultations between trade, industry and civil society groups had pegged the losses at Rs 100,000 crore. The then Omar Abdullah government had pruned it to a 'realistic' Rs 44,000 crore. When the PDP-BJP government brokered an alliance in March this year, it found even the Rs44,000-crore demand difficult to defend as it also reportedly included the Rs 10,000 crore fiscal deficit of the state. Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra, political advisor to the CM, claims nothing came the state's way since the new government took over. 'We got Rs 1,100 crore as an initial package, which was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visited Kashmir during the floods. It was later followed by Rs 1,300 crore. Nothing has come for rehabilitation after that,' he said, his claims at variance with that of ally BJP. Parra, however, blames the former government, saying their package proposal lacked explanations about utilisation and accountability. The Mufti government claims the Centre needed to know where the money will be spent. To beat the previous regime in the numbers game, the state government has now proposed a 'well-conceived' Rs 1.2 lakh crore (one lakh twenty thousand crore) package to the Modi government. 'We are hopeful something will come now. We have given a proposal which talks about specifics - in terms of what needs to be spent on roads, previous liabilities and infrastructure. It is a plan which will be executed over the next three to four years,' Parra adds. But cabinet minister Altaf Bukhari, who also belongs to the PDP, is not sure when the money will come. 'There might be an announcement but we do not know when,' he says. Bakal says the Valley's economy is sinking after two back-to-back years of poor business. 'People are not buying things but selling gold to repair homes. The tourism sector has been badly hit. Traders are in for double whammy. The banks are breathing through our necks for paying interest on loans and insurance companies are delaying payments. Most small traders had no insurance cover,' adds Bakal. The federation also alleges that the cheques given to some traders at a function in Srinagar went to those affiliated to the PDP. Many Kashmiris have been refusing the cheques of the state government, calling the amount 'paltry and an insult'. Nazir Ahmad Shah, a resident of a mixed Hindu-Muslim neighbourhood on the exchange road in Lal Chowk, said he returned the '3,800 relief he got for his three-storey heritage house. 'The market value of my house is worth crores. Not even a door can be made with '3,800,' says an angry Shah.