Heavy snowfall disrupted life in Kashmir in the first week of 2021. On the ground, the public found it difficult to come out of their homes and accusations were levelled that the administration was in hibernation. The Kashmir Walla spoke with Aamir Ali, Nodal Officer Emergency Operation Centre in Kashmir, about the response of the administration to the heavy snowfall.
Can we consider the snowfall spell last week a disaster?
Snowfall is not categorised as a notified disaster by National Disaster Management Authority. However, if the damages due to snowfall are beyond the coping capacity, then can it be declared as a State Specific Disaster, but that decision is to be taken by the State Executive Committee (SEC) of the Disaster Management Authority.
What are the departments involved in responding to the snow spell?
At the divisional level, the Divisional Commissioner and at the District level the District Development Commissioners monitor the snow clearance. The departments involved in Snow Clearance are the Mechanical Engineering Department and Roads and Buildings (R&B) Srinagar Municipal Corporation, Urban Local Bodies and PMGSY.
The roads are categorised into Priority-1, Priority-2, and Priority-3. The roads under Priority-1 are the main arterial roads, where snow clearance machines are deployed by the Mechanical Engineering Department for Clearance. Secondary roads come under Priority-2 and they are normally cleared by the R&B Department. The Srinagar Municipal Corporation clears snow in the lanes and bylanes of Srinagar and in Towns by the Urban Local Bodies. PMGSY clears snow on roads constructed under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna.
Were there shortcomings in the response to the snowfall?
It needs to be appreciated that the snow clearance was done immediately. All arterial roads, approaches to hospitals, PHE installations, electrical grid stations, airports, inter-district roads, etc. were cleared immediately. But there are a finite number of snow clearance machines, available with the Mechanical Engineering Department, and the snowfall was continuous. All departments acted promptly. There was a power outage and the Power Development Department acted promptly in restoring the power supply. The water supply schemes that got damaged were also restored by PHE Dept.
Some activists suggested that the government should engage manual laborers under the NREGA scheme. How viable is it?
The NREGA [National rural employment Guarantee generation) is a national scheme and snow clearance activity is not allowed under the scheme. However, if it is approved by Govt of India it can help generate livelihood for the unemployed in the lean season.