By Vijay Darda | 15-09-2014
At the last count, 1,42,000 people had been rescued by the Indian Army in an on-going operation after unprecedented floods literally drowned the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Lest, we forget it is called the place that is heaven on Earth. Its people have faced death by drowning in furious flood waters that have not left anything untouched, including the entire state capital, forget the remote village areas that usually face the wrath of such disasters.
We all know that each story of human misery has heroes and villains. In this case, the heroes are undoubtedly the brave Indian Army jawans who reached out to all those tens of thousands trapped in difficult situations, and then rescued them out to safety. We have a collective national tendency to treat their heroics as a part of their job, as if it is something akin to the daily file pushing that goes on in the cosy comforts of babudom. But this defence of J&K is more than a war effort as the floods were an onslaught to everyone irrespective of any difference. We all know now that the state government was simply overwhelmed, and there was no one on the ground from the administration to even get a bottle of water for these trapped victims. The Indian Army did it all alone, and with its own resources. The villains are surely those who threw stones at the rescuers and also attacked the personnel of the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF). Some even went to the extent of cutting their boats, so that these could not be used to rescue others. But let us forget about them.
Kashmir has been under attack from enemy forces right from the days of independence. It has been defended by our brave jawans. This time the attack came from man-aided natural forces. Initially, the rains in the first days of this month were a welcome break. These ended the prolonged drought, and the state government was relieved. But soon the relief turned into a nightmare. There was water everywhere even in hospitals, banks and state government offices. Life as we have come to know with the internet, mobile connectivity and ATMs had come to a standstill, nothing worked. The worst part, this tragedy also affected the chief minister Omar Abdullah.
The descent into disaster was swift. Within days of the Union home minister Rajnath Singh talking to the state government regarding the return of the Kashmiri Pandits, the prime minister Narendra Modi was in the state capital making announcements about the largest rescue plans and the relief and resettlement effort. The disaster could not have been prevented, as chief minister Abdullah said cryptically: “I did not bring the rain, I cannot stop it.” Nor is climate change merely a matter of the lifestyle of individuals, as the prime minister would have us believe. Surely, flood control measures and warning systems have nothing to do with individual life styles and are a part of governance.
The governance failure comes into sharper focus especially when now we know that in 2010 a warning had been sounded by the Flood Control Department and it predicted the contours of such a disaster hitting Srinagar. The warnings also came with a ` 2200 crore mitigation plan that was clearly ignored. It is just a coincidence that the Prime Minister sanctioned a collective amount of ` 2100 crores after the flood hit the state.
Clearly, it is not just the case of ignoring one warning. Whether it is Uttarakhand, Mumbai or Bihar, as a nation we have shown a singular lack of planning and foresight when it comes to dealing with water- related issues. It is not that natural disasters like floods or hurricanes do not hit other countries. But then all these places have advance warning systems and emergency measures in place. We do have the scientific and technological muscle power to launch satellites for other countries, but then we seem to be particularly handicapped when it comes to saving the lives of our own people with simple systems like sewage in urban areas or flood control channels and safe structures in mountain areas. It is at such times that we realise that we have any army that can save us from further disasters.
Right from the 70s and 80s when we started becoming conscious about environmental disasters, experts have been warning us about the dangers of the attacks on the fragile Himalayan eco-systems. They have been telling us that the Dal Lake in Srinagar is shrinking and desilting is a major ecological threat. But we also have a tendency to dismiss such warnings as alarmist cries of loony scientists. Now, if the entire Srinagar came under water, the problem was clearly due to the fact that these warnings were not acted upon.
The people of Kashmir have been singularly unfortunate. In this heaven on Earth, they have known no peace. Their lives have been ravaged by successive wars and militancy, and generations have not been able to live what we call a ‘normal life.” The personal life of everyone there has a sad aspect to it. Now the extensive damage caused by these floods is not limited to just physical things like property but also the loss of near and dear ones and this would also take years to be repaired. It is just a cliché that time is a healer, sure it does cover up the wounds but the pain survives.
Everyone has been now saying that it is not the time for politics. Surely, not for partisan politics. But the right time for settling political issues. The floods also struck the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), and first Prime Minister Modi and then his counterpart in Pakistan Nawaz Sharif spoke of helping the people on both the sides. Later, the Indian Army also rescued a Pakistani member of its national assembly. No one expects this tragedy to instil the sense to solve the Kashmir dispute, but then the least that can be done is that the blood-letting and violence that goes on under the guise of this conflict should come to an end. Till then, let us all salute the brave jawans for saving Kashmir and Kashmiris.