It is just six months after the >devastating floods of >September 2014 , but the residents of the Kashmir Valley have >again been spending sleepless nights, scared that water would overwhelm their homes and lives. Though the levels in the Jhelum have fallen from the recent high, the clear and present danger that the river poses to the Valley’s residents has not abated. The unseasonal rain has once again put people at risk, even as agriculture and tourism face nature’s onslaught. And it is not as if the problem is restricted to the Valley — the Jammu-Srinagar highway remains shut following landslips and the Army averted a major disaster in Zanskar following one. All this points to a single conclusion: that this strategic region is hugely vulnerable, something that bears little repetition given what happened in September 2014. It is ironic that the State government had just >submitted a Rs.44,000-crore rehabilitation package for the deluge of 2014, in which nearly 300 people died. The State’s summer capital had turned into a large lake in 2014, leaving the government and the administration as helpless spectators. Much has been written about how with unplanned urbanisation drainage channels have been choked in the Valley, creating the potential for large-scale flooding following prolonged spells of rain. In the absence of proper drainage systems, it is more than likely that the flood threat will remain. There has also been massive siltation of lakes, with many wetlands lost forever. All this information and more was hammered home in the wake of last year’s catastrophe, but the real question is: have the lessons been learnt? Are the State and Central governments better prepared today than they were last time? Will they be able to tackle the varied natural-humanitarian disasters that may lie ahead?
A Central Minister was sent from Delhi to study the situation, and one can only hope there is better preparation all round. It is fortuitous that the Centre and the State are on the same page with a BJP-PDP coalition government in power. According to Union Minister of State Jitendra Singh, the Indian Space Research Organisation was collecting detailed data on the prevailing situation, which were being shared with other agencies. The Army, the National Disaster Response Force, the police and the civil administration all need to work in tandem. At the same time, unplanned and unchecked urbanisation needs to be curbed firmly if the region and its people are to be sheltered from the threat of repeated floods. Our urban development strategies need to take a different, sustainable course.