Govt Has 'no Funds' To Save Kashmir From Floods

11 November 2015
Greater Kashmir
Mukeet Akmali

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir government seems to have not learnt any lessons from the devastating floods of 2014 as it has failed to carry out dredging in river Jhelum and removing encroachments on its banks despite passing of a year since the deluge wreaked havoc in Kashmir. Experts had warned the government to carry out dredging of the river and its tributaries on fast-track basis as the floods had brought in tonnes of silt. But as per officials in the irrigation and flood control department, the opportunity to carry out the work in the lean water season has been lost due to paucity of funds and bureaucratic hassles. 'At the same time, drive against removal of illegal constructions has become casualty to vote bank politics.' A senior official of I&FC department admitted that the department has so far failed to carry out dredging on a large scale due to paucity of funds. 'We have carried work of dredging in bits and pieces which is not sufficient to increase the carrying capacity of the river,' he said, adding that the department had earlier this year issued tenders for purchasing two dredgers. The process hasn't reached anywhere yet. Owing to inadequate machinery the department has now hired an 'excavator' (Water Master Classic) from Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) - the body responsible for preservation of Dal Lake - for removing masses of land that have grown up in Jhelum in the summer capital of the State. Another excavator has also been put to use in absence of the dredgers which are actually used for de-silting and dredging. However there has not much progress in removing the silt as few machines are not enough to dredge the river on scientific lines. The state government had decided to outsource the dredging to an outside company, but they too have not started the work so far. Sources informed that while dredging of the river has failed to take off, the removal of illegal encroachment has become casualty to vote bank politics. Sources said that 'political interference and vote bank politics' is acting as a major hindrance in removal of encroachments in Jhelum which have choked its flow. Experts said the encroachment of Jhelum contributed to high water levels during floods last year. Despite repeated assurances by various ministers and officials, the drive against encroachments is restricted to certain 'non-influential areas' where temporary sheds and small structures are removed while major encroachments in areas like Rajbagh, Shivpora and Qamarwari are left untouched due to 'political patronage.' 'Many illegal structures have come up on Jhelum banks, but we don't have powers to act as in most of the cases concerned MLAs or political representative force us to suspended the demolition drive,' said a senior official of Irrigation and Flood Control department. Dismal performance of the government to clear encroachment can be gauged by the fact that during last one year the state government has removed few illegal structures on banks of Jhelum. As per official estimates more than 2000 structures were to be dismantled. Earlier this year the government had said it would construct another flood spill channel with 60000 cusecs capacity from Sangam in Islamabad to Wullar Lake and carry out dredging of Jhelum and existing flood spill channel to increase their capacity from the present 40000 cusecs to 60000 cusecs. Minister for Irrigation and Flood Control, Sukhnandan Kumar, told Greater Kashmir that due to paucity of funds the government was not able to carry out dredging on fast-track basis. 'But now (PM) Modiji has given us a huge economic package which would suffice to our requirements and provide us adequate finance to dredge the river and initiate flood management,' he said adding that the government is committed to ensure proper dredging of Jhelum to reduce chances of floods in future. The minister further said that the drive against encroachments will be expedited so that the illegal constructions on the river and its banks are removed.