Battling its worst flooding in 60 years, Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in the country that doesn’t have monitoring centres to warn about changes in the levels of rivers and lakes that dot the flood-prone border state.
A proposal by the Central Water Commission (CWC) — a Union government body responsible for keeping a watch on rivers and reservoirs — to set up flood-monitoring stations has been pending for more than five years.
“We have held several rounds of discussions with the state government for at least five years but we have not been able to set them up,” CWC chairman Ashwin Pandya told HT. “We have over 140 monitoring stations across the country but this is the only state where we don’t have any.”
There is growing anger against the Omar government for failing to warn about the devastating floods and the pace of relief efforts. Chief minister Omar Abdullah’s residence was stoned by angry locals Wednesday night.
The state government, Pandya said, had been dragging its feet on studies that have to be done for setting up monitoring stations. “Even then, it would be difficult for us because the water bodies are very close to towns and we won’t have much lead time,” he said.
But experts say there is enough data from earlier floods for CWC to work with. The CWC should have been more proactive and could have saved lives, Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the South Asia Network for Dams and People, a non-government organisation, said.
Weather forecast would have saved more lives, Pandya said. The meteorological department would have only send out rain alerts, Thakkar countered. “But once the rain falls, it is the responsibility of the CWC to figure out where the water is headed,” he said.
Thakkar said heavy rain started around September 2. “After that, there were at least two days before the flooding began. Many people could have been relocated if someone was monitoring the water levels.” Even the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan mandated a flood-monitoring mechanism, former water resources secretary Ramaswamy Iyer said. “If anyone claims that flood forecasting is only done for rivers with water reservoirs, then it is hogwash,” said Iyer, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Policy Research.