By the evening of 5 September 2014, the Jhelum river in Srinagar was flowing at 22.4 feet — 4.4 feet above the danger mark. Two days later, dozens of neighbourhoods in the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir were submerged.
By 10 September, the devastating floods of 2014 had killed 190 people across the Valley, heavily impacting the areas of south Kashmir.
Srinagar, the commercial and urban heartland of Kashmir, was shattered by a “once in a hundred years” flood. But fast forward seven years, the situation is unchanged.
The river’s holding capacity has been increased from 31,000 cusecs to 41,000 cusecs, no match to the 1,15,000 cusecs that had deluged Srinagar and other parts of the region in September 2014.
“If it rains as it did in 2014, a similar situation cannot be prevented,” said an official of the Irrigation and Flood Control Department. “If the event is repeated, there will be a flood, no doubt about it.”
Only alternative, too costly
First conceptualised in 1975 by a high-level government committee, the construction of an additional flood spill channel to mitigate the threat of floods in Kashmir is yet to be executed and is still being “studied”, The Kashmir Walla has learnt.
In the project, it was recommended that the alternative flood spill channel from Dogripora in south Kashmir to Wular Lake in north Kashmir should be constructed.
But five decades down the line, however, it still remains only an idea and no progress has been made even on its Detailed Project Report (DPR).
“It is still being executed on paper and no work has been done about it on the ground. Right now, it seems impossible,” said a senior official from the Irrigation and Flood Control (IFC) department.
The concept of the channel was reiterated in the detailed project report of Flood Mitigation in Kashmir project in 2010, which was put on hold by the Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC) that helps the states in devising and analysing flood control measures.
The CWC had, instead, advised that a funding of 98 crore rupees would be released for work of immediate nature. In the aftermath of the 2014 flood, CWC approved a funding of 2083 crore rupees for different works including dredging and protective works.
The project was divided into two phases: I and II. And the priority was given to Phase-I, depending upon the amount of work done.
In 2015, DPR was made for the Phase I for the amount of 399.29 crore rupees, and in early 2016, the funding of the project began.
The project involved the work of immediate removal of bottlenecks, dredging, protectional works and resectioning at two spots, Sharifabad and Naidkhai. “It is in its final stage and is expected to be completed by the end of this year,” the official said.
Only the land compensation issues had cost the department upto 140 crores rupees, the official said. Two bridges were removed and new bridges were constructed in the first phase.
For the second phase, a DPR was prepared in 2018-2019 and a total amount of rupees 1623.43 crore rupees was approved in February 2020. However, the pandemic began the month later and life came to a standstill in Kashmir. A strict lockdown was imposed to curb the spread of the virus further.
The funding was again delayed and the Phase-II wasn’t started.
In the DPR of Phase II, it was mentioned that the flow of water should be increased to 60,000 cusecs. In 2014, the discharge rate in the river was recorded as 115000 cusecs against the normal discharge of 25,000 cusecs. Seven years later, the waterflow level has been increased to 41,000 cusecs.
“If the situation of 2014 repeats itself, there is no way we can avoid floods,” said the official, adding that they still haven’t been able to reach the level where such a calamity can be avoided.
The official said that the only way to avoid a 2014-like flood would be the construction of the alternate channel from Dogripora to Wular. “It is not easy to construct … (it) is difficult and expensive.”