Relief Turns to Tears That Turn to Anger as Kashmiris Take Stock of the Massive Devastation
SRINAGAR: Politics seems to now overtaking relief and rehabilitation, with the different political parties finally emerging from hibernation to take stock of the spoils and see what they can retrieve for themselves as the flood waters slowly ebb out of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Jammu and Kashmir government had completely collapsed at the time when it was needed the most, with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah being absolutely right in stating that he had been left without a government. However, the areas in which he is being indicted by the people are in the prevention of the floods through timely action to secure the bandhs; monitoring of the rivers; and timely action as soon as these crossed the danger mark. His officials claim that much of this was done, but sources are categorical that the inefficiency of the state government during the years had led to erosions and a decay of the system that was evident in the non-response when the waters submerged large swathes of the state.
The torrential flooding of South Kashmir did not act as a wake up call for the government and its experts, and while some warnings were issued these did not strike a note of urgency. Many who heard the message to evacuate from the mosque loudspeakers ignored these, as at the time there was rain but no signs of a flood. The Chief Minister himself did not bother to address the people, and in fact urged them not to panic leading to further complacency and a refusal to evacuate. However as many said, “evacuate to where, where were we supposed to go.” As an alternative had not been made available, and people were just being asked to leave without any idea of why and where.
After the flooding the administration disappeared and it was only about two weeks later that it has resurfaced to clean out the Secretariat, and restore some level of order in the offices. Thousands of files were put out to dry even as workers started clearing the ground floor that was submerged under water earlier, of the decaying and rotting furniture and material. Hundreds of state employees demonstrating outside were able to meet the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary and assured that their grievances, arising of course from the flooding, would be looked into. The government was visibly limping, even as officials sought to come to grips with a situation that had passed them by.
The South Kashmir floods should have sent out a warning to requisition boats, bring in more boats and set up rescue teams, none of which was done by the civil administration. The result was that rescue operations were hampered by a scarcity of boats, with only the Army and the Kashmir youths visible in rescuing the terrified people. The police had disappeared from view, as had every department of the Jammu and Kashmir government. Not a single control room was established then, or even now, with a single authority in charge of rescue, and now relief and rehabilitation processes.
The anger is palpable against the government and the Chief Minister. The National Conference members cannot move amongst the public because of fear of violence. The people, to the last man and woman spoken to, are clear that they were deserted and left alone to fend for themselves. State government employees and NC members insist that they were saving themselves as well, adding however that “we were there but obviously not in uniform.”
It was not clear where they exactly were as the Kashmiris grappled with the terrifying waters on their own. Today relief work is hampered by the inability of the state government to act as a coordinator between government and private relief that is pouring in from all parts of India. Relief material lying at the airport has become the victim of red tape, with a NGO from Delhi maintaining that much of what they had sent was confiscated by the state government and distributed its own. However, the shortage of drinking water, medicines particularly insulin because of the high percentage of diabetes in the state, food and clothes has been met. Medical teams have also arrived from different parts of India and are holding relief camps along with the Kashmiri groups that have been working day and night, first in the rescue and now in the relief.
Warm clothes, blankets and shelters are now urgently required before full winter sets in. Again the government does not seem to have looked at the last as yet, with just some organisations in Kashmir exploring the possibility of purchasing pre-fab or other more insulated cabins for those who have lost their homes in the floods. Rehabilitation is going to be a major issue particularly if lives are to be saved from the bitter winters ahead. But as the political leaders, including those in government said, “there is no sign that we are even looking a few weeks ahead.”
The devastation is unimaginable, with this is only just sinking in. The Kashmiris who were caught in just trying to save their lives, are now waking up to the reality that they have lost not just their homes and belongings but also their businesses. The business hubs in Srinagar were completely destroyed with Lal Chowk shopkeepers still in a daze about the extent of the losses. The state government is putting down estimates, but this seems to be based on star gazing than real assessment on the ground. Apple orchards have been destroyed, as have been crops all across the state. Gulshan books one of the biggest publishers in the state have lost their godowns and entire stock of books to the waters. They only have a handful of publications left at the Srinagar airport.
Relief at being safe is being replaced by tears as Kashmiris return to their homes and their shops to find everything gone. Anger is a palpable sentiment that has turned against the government and the national media. Conservative estimates from the government are that it will cost Rs 100,000 crores to rebuild Jammu and Kashmir, in not less than five years. That is everything is not lost to corruption and inefficiency as is the growing fear amongst the people, used to both aspects of governance for decades.