Govt closed eyes to Jhelum deterioration

The failure of the state and central government to undertake timely conservation measures of river Jhelum—which has lost its carrying capacity due to extensive siltation, encroachments and pollution—led to
massive destruction of life and property due to the ravaging floods earlier this month.
The water level in Jhelum, during recent floods, broke all records crossing 33 feet at Sangam in Anantnag and 23 feet at Ram MunshiBagh, submerging localities on both sides of the river. The silt-laden Jhelum waters for the first time also entered the Dal lake, severely affecting its flora and fauna.
Considered to be lifeline of Kashmir, Jhelum originating from Verinag spans over 175 sq.kms from south to north Kashmir. Jhelum is joined by four streams, Sundran, Brang, Arapath and Lidder in Islamabad (Anantnag) district. Besides, small streams like Veshara and Rambiara also feed the river with fresh waters. The river settles in Wullarlake before flowing to Pakistan administered Kashmir through Baramulla district. The river assumes tremendous importance for providing waters for drinking and irrigation purposes and draining the surplus waters to save Kashmir from floods.
However, in absence of conservation over the decades, the river has lost its carrying capacity and has been extensively polluted by direct inflow of sewage from all drains from south to north Kashmir. Ironically, instead of treating the sewage, the government constructed pump stations on its banks to empty all drains into the river, thus drastically affecting its eco-system.
In 2005, the state government had launched a beautification drive of Jhelum banks on the three-km stretch, from Shivpora to DubjiGhat (Maisuma), but it failed to extend it to other areas of the river. The Irrigation and Flood Control Department had in 2010 sent Rs 2200 crore project to the Union Ministry of Water Resources for tis sanction. The project included undertaking restoration works including dredging of outfall channels, protection and anti-erosion works and increasing hydraulic efficiency. However, the Ministry had few years ago approved only a part of the project costing Rs 97 crores to facilitate immediate interventions including procurement of machines and dredging in Jhelum, particularly of its flood spill channels in Srinagar and outflow stream at Daubgah and Ningli in Baramulla.
The Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah had in 2012 launched the Jhelum Conservation Project from north Kashmir’s Baramulla district but absence of funds delayed the execution of conservation measures.
“Despite warnings and clear indications of impending flood disaster, the government has failed to design and develop necessary schemes in Kashmir that could enhance the resilience of the vulnerable people in the flood-prone areas to reduce their risk to flood disaster,” Prof. ShakilRomshoo, Head, Department of Earths Sciences, Kashmir University, told Greater Kashmir.
Elaborating, he said, the flood problem in the Valley is due to inadequate carrying capacity of river Jhelum in its length from Sangam to Khandanyar.
“Just upstream of Srinagar at Padshahibagh, a flood spill channel with capacity of 17,000 cusecs takes off to by-pass the city. However, in spite of flood spill channel, floods were caused by Jhelum in the Srinagar town, as the discharge of river through the town exceeded 35,000 cusecs,” he said.
Experts said floods represent the commonest type of hydro-meteorological hazard in Kashmir. Jhelum flood plains are drained by 24 tributaries and are prone to floods. In general, the layout of Kashmir is such that it is highly prone to flooding.
“Growth of human population and horizontal expansion of settlements and encroachments on the water courses, reclamation of low-lying floodplain areas for agriculture, siltation of rivers, construction of roads along the river banks and construction in the flood plains, have worsened the flood risk in the Jhelum basin,” he said.
“There have been more than 30 major floods in the archived history of Kashmir. The data shows that the frequency of flooding has increased in the valley during the last five to six decades. Coupled with the unplanned urbanization and mismanagement of the Jhelum floodplains, the situation has become alarming due to the prolonged steady precipitation observed in Kashmir, compounded by the high snowmelt runoff from the extensive snow-packs observed in the mountainous regions this year,” Romshoo said.
“Even though there is tremendous advancement in flood hazard prediction, there is insignificant progress in translating the benefits of these scientific achievements for the good of the society in our state. The government should facilitate development of zonal plans and robust strategies in the flood-prone areas of Jhelum for mitigation and control of floods in the long run. There is need to improve the flood forecasting techniques in mountainous Kashmir Himalayas,” Romshoo said.
Chief Engineer of Irrigation and Flood Control department, Mir JavaidJaffar, said state government has approached central government as it does not have funds conserve Jhelum or increase its carrying capacity. “We had some years ago submitted a comprehensive project which included increasing capacity of flood spill channels estimated at Rs 2200 crore to the Central Water Commission for funding. We had projected floods waters over one lakh cusecs, but the Commission had raised several queries and asked us to prove our estimated flood quantity. We had sustained our estimations using various models, but this flood proved our theories are correct. We have again taken up the matter with the CWC and hopefully the project will be approved soon,” he said.

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