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One year after the floods, a deluge of despair in Kashmir

Catch Team | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 4:19 IST

The disaster

  • September marks one year of the devastating Kashmir flood
  • The calamity killed 300 people, damaged 3.50 lakh houses
  • People are struggling to rebuild their lives, for lack of state help

The suffering

  • The state had sought Rs 44,000 crore for rehabilitation
  • The Centre has given Rs 5,039 crore, Rs 500 crore of it for the army
  • Only around Rs 300 crore has reached the flood-affected

It's a year to the week since Kashmir was devastated by a ferocious flood. At least 300 people died and thousands were rendered homeless.

The people though are still struggling to rebuild their wrecked lives. The state, hamstrung by lack of resources, has helped little, if at all. And the central government's expected rehabilitation package never came.

This has fed an already alienated populace's sense of hurt and anger, much of it directed towards New Delhi.

And everyone has joined in this loathing - civil society groups, traders, political parties, even separatists.

They joined the call for a shutdown on 7 September, the anniversary of the flood, to protest against the Centre for not providing an adequate reconstruction package to the state.

Don't shut the door on us

Criticising the Narendra Modi government for neglecting the flood victims, former chief minister Omar Abdullah asked it to allow international aid if it didn't want to provide financial assistance for rehabilitation.

"If New Delhi is not willing to release the package or doesn't have the funds to sanction it, then we should be allowed to get it from wherever we can," the National Conference chief said. "We suffered from both sides. Neither did we get any help from the Centre nor from where help would have come".

Omar was echoing the prevailing sentiment in the valley. According to a state estimate, the flood affected 12.5 lakh families, damaged 3.50 lakh structures, including 83,000 pucca and 21,162 kutcha houses, and partially damaged 1.5 lakh houses. Agriculture, horticulture and tourism incurred massive losses.

The Modi government has been more munificent towards Nepal than to Kashmir, says businessman Shakeel Qalander: where else has a calamity been ignored and victims left to fend for themselves?

Soon after the deluge, the state government had put together a Rs 44,000 crore demand to address the widespread devastation. The Centre has so far sporadically released just Rs 5,039 crore.

From even this grossly insufficient amount, the Centre deducted Rs 500 crore to pay the army for its rescue and relief operations over the first two weeks of the flood. Only around Rs 300 crore has reached the flood-affected so far.

People whose concrete houses collapsed received Rs one lakh and those who lost their kutcha houses got just Rs 17,600.

Shop owners who lost their merchandise and suffered damage to the shops received anywhere between Rs 50,000 to Rs one lakh. Among them, only those who had insured against the flood could get back on their feet. The rest have been left to pick up the pieces of their devastated lives.

"Kashmir has to be the only place in the world where an enormous natural calamity has been all but ignored and people left to fend for themselves," said Shakeel Qalander, a prominent businessman. "New Delhi has ensured we don't receive foreign aid and are also not given reasonable internal help. It is so callous."

Resigned to their fate

Kashmiris, therefore, are inclined to see a conspicuous bias in the way the Centre has dealt with the deluge in the valley as against the calamities in, say, Uttarakhand and Nepal.

"New Delhi has an obligation to help out the states ravaged by natural disasters. But we see a clear bias against the tragedy in J&K as against the one in Uttarakhand. Similarly, New Delhi has been disproportionately more munificent towards Nepal than to a disaster of similar scale in Kashmir," said Fayaz Punjabi, an executive member of the Kashmir Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

"In our case, while the army was generously paid for its rescue and relief effort from the State Disaster Relief Fund, the state has been left alone to deal with a crippling calamity."

One aspect that is publicly stressed while comparing responses to the floods in Uttarakhand and Kashmir is the alacrity with which the Centre went for a professional assessment of the damage in case of the former.

In 2013, when floods struck Uttarakhand, a joint team of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank partnered the state government and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery to conduct a Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment at the request of the Centre.

The team completed its work within a week and by August 2013, the detailed report on the social and economic impact of the disaster was delivered to the state and the central governments. The World Bank and the ADB then pledged $400 million for reconstruction and rehabilitation in the disaster-hit areas.

In case of Kashmir, however, the professional assessment was done five months after the disaster by the World Bank. It pegged the loss at Rs 21,000 crore, far below the state's estimate of Rs one lakh crore. Still, nothing came from the Centre in terms of a package.

According to Omar, his government had started talking to the World Bank to get international aid. "I had the first meeting with officials of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank before the election code came into force," Omar said.

"We had prepared a project, but there has been no forward movement on that. So, we suffered from both sides. Neither did 1we get anything from here, nor from where we would have got some money."

Though the PDP-BJP coalition has been promising an imminent Rs 70,000 crore package from the Centre, nothing has been announced so far. Not even on the anniversary of the flood when everybody in the valley expected it would be.

First published: 8 September 2015, 9:46 IST