Over the last few days, trucks in Srinagar have been dumping soil on a low-lying stretch — the dry bed of the Doodhganga, a flood spill channel of the Jhelum. The area once levelled will be given to street vendors.
Months after the Jhelum flooded the city, the municipal corporation is filling up what would have been a vital diversion for the water should the river burst its banks again, a very real possibility as experts have warned.
The earth-filling comes at a time the J&K government has sought Rs 2,600 crore from the Centre to strengthen embankments and desilt the river and its tributaries. It is not a one-off example. State projects have often encroached on rivers and streams in the valley. This was why, when the water came in 2014, there was no channel it could flow into.
The Doodhganga, originating from the resort of Yusmarg, was once the city’s main source of fresh water. It is the second major stream earth-filled by the government. In the 1970s, it filled and built a road over the Nallah Mar, which passed through the old city.
“We have submitted a proposal to the Centre seeking assistance for embankments, equipment and disilting,” Minister of State for Flood Control and Irrigation Abdul Majeed Padder told The Indian Express. He felt the possibility of another flood is “remote”, though “we are gearing for any exigency”.
The proposal freshly submitted is an update on a request for Rs 2,250 crore in 2009-10. The Centre had then released Rs 100 crore as a contingency. “We bought two Ellicott dredgers and water JCBs and started desilting,’’ former flood control minister Taj Mohidin said. “We did some work in the Jhelum and the flood channel, which saved Baramulla and Sopore, but unfortunately proposals for more funds were never pursued by the government.” The costs involved will have escalated, he said.
Former chief engineer (flood control) Mir Najibullah, whose team had prepared the detailed project report then, said the Central Water Commission had raised some queries. “The queries were never answered, the funds not released. The proposal should be followed up, otherwise we could face a September-like situation again,” he says.
The previous proposal included dredgers, desilting and strengthening of embankments. “The fresh proposal is the old project with fresh additions worth Rs 400 crore,” said current chief engineer (flood control) Javeed Jafer. The project involves alternative channels at Sangam and Dogripora, which will cost over Rs 18,000 crore. “A separate flood channel from South Kashmir to Wular is a comprehensive project and it will take at least one year to prepare DPRs; only then will it be submitted to Centre,” said Jafer.
Among the government’s own encroachments is the head office of Srinagar Development Authority, built in what used to be a flood channel. Other government offices that have come up in the channel, in Bemina, include Haj House , State Board of School Education, Police Public School, Police Housing Colony, Government Women’s Polytechnic College and even Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences College and Hospital. A maternity hospital too is coming up.”
“There used to be scores of channels in Bemina,” said Mir Naseem, who was chief town planner for more than two decades. “Now they have constructed offices there. The most ironical thing is that they have constructed a hospital.”
In the first master plan for Srinagar, any construction left of the Jhelum was banned as the entire area was a flood basin. In the 1971-91 master plan, such constructions were allowed and the new city was built in this area.
Last September, flood control engineers said, the discharge of the Jhelum waters had crossed all previous records. Against the river’s capacity of 25,000-30,000 cubic metres per second, and the adjacent flood spill channel’s capacity of 5,000-6,000 cusec, the Jhelum flowed at one lakh cusec, which is why it burst its banks.
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