Author: The Speaking Chinar
•9:38 PM

Tragedies bring out the real in us; tragedies also unmask and rip off the façade from many pretentions. When waters were submerging Kashmir, the first thing that sunk were its governance systems, everything else took to waters after that. Even while these floods and the weather conditions had been forewarned, a callous indifference and silence ruled, as they have been ruling during all other catastrophes in Kashmir. 

Early on, last week, as south Kashmir started caving in to waters, it had become clear that the flood was unrelenting. On Friday the 5th of September, envisaging the likely scale of this tragedy, pro freedom leader Mirwaiz Umar gave a call for volunteers and aid, to undertake flood relief measures. This was the first organized relief effort to have been started in Srinagar even as early indicators of devastation had still not woken up the government. Into Saturday as water levels rose, as did the criticism against government inaction, the CM was seen to tour some flood affected areas starting with the Indian army 15 corps at Badami Bagh Srinagar. Yet except for the few tours by CM’s entourage, there was no visible plan of action on ground to deal with this crisis. Evening when a Chinar tree collapsed to rain fury near RajBagh, the CM was, in tow with media, personally supervising the clearance of the tree debris. In such times when the magnitude of a disaster is huge and unfolding, events like removal of tree debris should have been left to local officials, while the governance head should be ideally working out a plan of action with his team. By next day as Jehlum waters pushed into more habitations and took with it everything that came into its way, Kashmir was sinking, abandoned by those who claimed to be its masters. Overnight this government had vanished into thin air and everyone was left to fend for self. This failure of governance could be best exemplified by the fact that when waters started rising at Kashmir’s primary maternity hospital, Lal Ded, all medical and health staff fled leaving patients at the mercy of invading waters. When many infants and newborns died, parents were forced to wrap-up their corpses like parcels, awaiting burial in this flood fury. When the CM was broadcast by cameras supervising the tree debris removal, did he even for a second think of the hundreds of patients and infants stuck at the maternity hospital which was just a few hundred meters away from the tree debris site and very vulnerable since this hospital, like many others, lay close to the banks of overflowing Jehlum? Tragically even days after the rains had stopped there was no rescue effort from the government at this hospital, even as Indian choppers flew by, where patients and attendants survived by local help only. Elsewhere in worst flood affected areas like Jawahar Nagar, RajBagh, Natipora, Solina, Nowgam, Batmaloo, Bemina, Batapora, Dalgate, Tengpora etc, the initial help that emerged came only from local volunteers. Not only had the government been forewarned about such a flood few years back, also Srinagar is clearly marked by flood prone areas v/s those where flood waters are unlikely to reach. Thus the government could have clearly chalked rescue & relief measures also identifying areas where the flood affected could be temporarily shifted. Tragically with governments in Kashmir always been more concerned about own survival than of commoners, such measures do not seem a priority for them. Just days before these floods, local media had reported a senior minister in the present government, Taj Mohidin blaming one of his ministerial colleague Sham Lal for deliberately failing the ‘flood prevention projects’ even while the government was well aware of its serious implications. Plain failure of the government or deliberate attempts to put Kashmir to risk?  

As New Delhi took note of the flood tragedy in Kashmir, NDRF and Indian army teams started some rescue efforts, but with lack of guidance and knowledge about local areas and approaches, many of these teams were soon going aimlessly. Initially such rescue efforts proved to be feeble and clumsy, mainly directed by instinct and personal pointers and accused of being selective in rescue. Locals clam that Indian teams gave priority to rescue tourists and non Kashmiris, ignoring most locals they passed by. With the rescue efforts by Indian forces having reached less than 10% of the flood affected, in major flood areas it were the local volunteers who rescued an overwhelming majority of people, away from media glare or nationalistic PR promotion. Even the food & water packets air dropped by Indian forces (even in the very limited areas they operated) it is estimated that more than 50% were wasted since either these landed into flood waters where the affected could not wade to or were destroyed on impact on ground. Locals also found that many of these food packets were expired.

The government is not the only one to be blamed here, while it takes the major share of blame for its inaction and apathy. Introspecting, some of the blame for vandalizing nature lay with common people too. Just days before these floods were gathering, I personally witnessed locals near the Dal basin of Saida Kadal and its interiors refilling Dal lake waters illegally to create land for encroachment. And this has been happening for many years now, brazenly with the tacit support of local politicians, who nurture such lake grabbers for vote banks. It has been estimated that the waters of Dal and Nigeen lake have shrunk by almost 40% due to encroachment and refilling. This very illegally forced contraction of the lake resulting in greatly decreasing the water retention capacity of these water bodies. Elsewhere across Kashmir the water carrying capacity of Jehlum and its flood channels have greatly been reduced by silt and shrinking embankments. 

The flood affected, especially ones who lost everything, like other IDP’s (internally displaced people) having been uprooted from their dwellings, will have to start from scratch. And the government of India will have to treat them exactly like it treats other IDP’s like the Pandit migrants. The same kind of rehabilitation assistance in restructuring lives and rebuilding homes is needed for these floods affected IDP’s that it offers KP migrants. And by providing equal treatment to people affected by calamities in Kashmir, India will only prove that its approach to the people of this state is not limited by religion or creed. 

Now that flood waters are receding and people are starting to gather the pieces of their lives, there will be claims and counter claims by politicians, but fact remains that NO political party, especially those supporting New Delhi here (hence having ways and means to act in Kashmir) helped in any of the rescue efforts in the valley. Not surprisingly again, what the India media relayed from Kashmir was a one-sided picture of the rescue efforts here, many pathetically promoting it as a PR exercise. While the Indian forces did meagerly contribute in the rescue efforts, yet they were not the only ones involved, in fact an overwhelming majority of flood affected people in the valley were rescued by civilian volunteers. The Indian media has not relayed how hundreds of thousands of people had been rescued and were being taken care of by volunteers in areas of downtown, north Srinagar, civil lines, in colleges, schools, local community centers, mosques and all this without any government help. 

As corpses are being retrieved from receding waters, there has to be a postmortem of the systems that failed this state again and again. So huge is the trust deficit against the state here that most people have been asking New Delhi and other relief agencies to direct their relief efforts, if any, bypassing the state government, for otherwise they believe not much of this will reach the flood victims.  Last heard the CM claimed to the Indian media that ‘his government had set up 137 relief centers catering to above a lac affected’. He could provide credence to such claims by uploading details of these relief camps and their operations on the internet. His government could also take off much of its criticism by providing details of the pre-flood measures it had undertaken and its post flood relief measures, including details of people rescued by state officials. Until we see these details, this claim of ‘state relief’ will be treated on ground as just ‘political talk’. Couple of days ago when a senior government minister and NC general secretary was asked by an Indian TV channel about criticism on governments inaction he replied “this criticism of government inaction (in flood relief) is being done by vested interests”. Very true Sir, every flood affected who lost his home and hearth has a ‘vested interest’ in speaking about how your government failed us all. Those who survived these floods, survived in spite of the apathy of this government, and those who died in these floods could have been saved had it not been for political arrogance and governance indifference.

One flood day,
From sunk Srinagar.
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