'Ministers, Bureaucrats Fled Kashmir When People Needed Them Most'

26 September 2014
Greater Kashmir
Javaid Malik

Srinagar: The leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha and former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has turned the residence of his in-laws at Hyderpora in uptown Srinagar into a coordination camp to oversee relief and rehabilitation work for the flood affected people, shares his views about the devastating floods which hit Kashmir with GK Senior Editor Javaid Malik. You were present in Srinagar when floods submerged Kashmir. Was it a coincidence or you had rushed to the Valley? Azad: I reached Srinagar on August 30 without knowing there would be floods. I had come on one week holiday. Well it's a coincidence it started raining after I arrived. During first three days I visited many areas and took the stock of the emerging situation. Things worsened from September 6. It was difficult to move around as water level was high. I got stuck in this part of the town (Hyderpora). After assessing the situation I realized that coming days are going to be tough. I called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Kashmir and informed him that entire Kashmir s under water. I requested him to declare it as national calamity. Prime Minister visited Jammu and Kashmir the following day and he called it as national disaster. Soon after Kashmir got marooned I flew to Delhi for one day and spoke to Army chief and top union ministers. I informed them that rescue and relief are two important missions and people of Kashmir need all possible help. I have been in Srinagar for past three weeks. This is for the first time in past three decades I had no government vehicle and security for the first ten days. One of my PAs was my driver and I personally used to go and collect relief material from Airport, especially medicines. I managed to call doctors from south India and succeeded in setting up free medical camps at different places. I spoke to chairmen of medical companies who dispatched the consignments within 24 hours. There was no human resource available in Srinagar, so I had to get some people from Chenab Valley and other places to help us out with the relief work. We have been working for 18 hours since the day floods hit Kashmir and are trying to do our bit without much publicity. You have been virtually acting as a chief minister? Azad: (Laughs!) No. I don't want to do that. I am a very silent worker. At the moment my official duty as the leader of the opposition in Rajya Sbaha is to oppose the government. At present I am neither opposing the central government nor the state government neither any individual. I think this is the time when all the political parties should work together irrespective of keeping an eye on the elections. I am very unhappy rather that most political parties are not working to the extent they should. Some people are not working, even while they may be in government. When I say government that doesn't mean chief minister and ministers only. What I am hearing from the media, chief minister is doing whatever he can do. But government doesn't mean chief minister alone. It means ministers and entire official machinery. To my utter surprise I am not seeing any ministers and officers. I must have visited 100 places in Budgam, south Kashmir and Srinagar. I was expecting that every officer from junior to senior should have been on the streets. I visit various parts of the city during night without any security but I haven't seen anyone from the administration out. Had you been the Chief Minister of JK at this point of time, how would have you reacted? Azad: I am not criticizing the Chief Minister. I am saying when a national calamity takes place, the call is for the nation, not for chief minister alone. Each and everybody be in the government or in opposition, senior or junior officer should rise to the occasion and should not hide behind the excuses. I know the ministers and senior officers who fled the Valley. When people were fleeing I brought my wife from Delhi to Srinagar to see the situation. Best minister, best officer is one who would have died with people. When everybody would have drowned they would have too. I don't hold the Chief Minister responsible. I faced the same situation when I was the chief minister. No officer, no minister came forward to save the situation and I had to quit. I am not acting as chief minister's spokesman but as a former chief minister I can realize the difficulties he would be facing as his instruments and tools are not cooperating. It's unfortunate that they are hiding and are not shouldering their responsibilities. I have not spoken to him (Chief Minister) for the past one month, that is besides the point. Do you mean to say that all government employees failed to deliver? Azad: I am not saying that all the government employees have failed. Some officials have done a commendable job, but some government employees are hiding behind the excuse. It's a deliberate attempt as in Jammu and Kashmir the bureaucracy is highly politicized. Some people are doing it by design. They want Omar Abdullah government to die like this. That is not done. If our people survive, we can play the politics and if they don't survive what shall we play the politics for. There are two kinds of people. One category is that which never works. They get promotions, construct properties in Jammu, Delhi and other places. Why should they be bothered? They are bothered about their children and properties. Other category is that which work selflessly, but they are very few and they cannot run the government alone. Q. Many areas in Srinagar are still submerged and people are saying administration has failed. What is your take on this? Azad: My greatest worry is that many areas are still submerged. Jawahar Nagar, Rajbagh and Bemina are still submerged. I cannot bear the pain and hardships which people of this area are facing. It is something intolerable. I have spoken to people in Delhi. The Union Home Secretary had sent six pumps to drain the water out and all these are working. I am in touch with whoever matters to get the pumps and other equipments airlifted. Today I had called senior officers of the Flood Control Department. I made them speak to the Home Secretary. Employees of the Flood Control department have assured me that all these areas would be cleared within 3 to 4 days. Once these areas are cleared I would heave a sigh of relief. Why Central Government is not declaring Kashmir floods as national disaster? Azad: I spoke to the Union Home Minister that there is a big debate in Kashmir about it. He said that the Prime Minister has already announced it. The Prime Minister said that the flood is a national disaster, but he never declared it? Azad: I and Soz sahib (Saif-u-Din Soz) and my party are very clear that we are not going to accept anything short of national calamity. We are not going to accept Rs 70,000 for reconstruction of the houses. This amount is peanuts for a person who has lost the house worth Rs 1 crore. We suggest that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah should lead an All Party Delegation to Delhi. We don't mind joining him. We have to collectively plead the case of our people. Some people wanted to distribute cheques of Rs 70,000 among the people whose houses have been completely damaged but I asked my people not to allow locals to take these cheques. We cannot expect Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 formula. We have to ensure that farmers, businessmen and others who have suffered huge losses get adequate compensation. If these floods are not declared as national disaster, I would take up this issue in the parliament. The devastation caused by floods is huge and it has to be compensated. I want that state government should come forward and make it clear that it won't accept anything less than a national disaster. If we accept this formula of Rs 40,000 or Rs 70,000, they won't declare it as national disaster. Impression is being created that the Centre wants to take the charge of the relief and rehabilitation operations in J&K, keeping the state government at a distance. Do you think it would be feasible? Azad: It is not desirable. I don't mind involving all other political parties also. No politics should be played over this catastrophe and distributing the relief material. There should be no partisan approach. Government of India should not get involved in the politics of who gets credit for it. When we were in the power we faced many disasters but we always allowed state government to carry forward the relief and rehabilitation operations. Do you think Assembly elections should be postponed? Azad: I believe elections can be held on time. Polls were slated to be held in November or December. There is still one and a half month to go. The real rehabilitation is not going to be a one day job. It would take place after winter is over. There are no labourers available in Kashmir at present. Postponing elections won't serve any purpose. Rehabilitation work should be carried out by the elected government. Imposing Governor's rule can worsen the situation and politics would be played over the relief distribution. People won't work and they would hide behind the excuses. It would be complete misrule. I personally feel that elections should be held on time to avoid chaos and confusion. There are apprehensions that epidemic may break out in flood hit Kashmir. Are you satisfied with the measures being taken to deal with any such eventuality? Azad: I had cautioned union health ministry about the possibility of epidemic breaking out after floods. I had told them that we have to be prepared. At present lot of NGOs and doctors are coming from other parts of the country and are providing the medical aid. I had called the State's health minister Taj Mohiuddin. He assured me that by Monday top hospitals in the city would be made functional. We have got enough medicines and doctors and I hope situation won't take an ugly turn. Do you support the idea of international aid reaching Jammu and Kashmir to benefit the flood affected people here? Azad: If somebody is supporting us, what is the problem. Government of India is not inclined to take the help of international organizations? Azad: As long as we are competent enough there is no problem. At present we have no dearth of doctors or medicines. Drugs being provided to people are coming from quality companies. What about getting international aid for reconstruction as JK's infrastructure has suffered huge damage in the floods? Azad: For reconstruction state government and centre government should sit together. In this backdrop I was saying that concerned officials should have been on the field to assess the situation so that case for any sort of the aid is build up. The first priority should be the assessment. Officials should ensure that they carry out a thorough survey and it should not be a halfhearted effort. From top to bottom everyone should be on the job. Don't you think we should fix responsibility for this devastation? Azad: When we say devastation, all of us are responsible for it. When I was a student, I remember that entire area from Barzulla onwards to Hajj house till University of Kashmir were all low-lying areas which were meant for water to flow and were water bodies. Now we see houses everywhere. This time whatever came in water's way, it washed if off. I have seen entire south Kashmir where all the river beds and flood channels are full of trees as people want to make money by selling them. There are trees and houses in water bodies. Where will the water go? We can't blame one particular person or a particular government for the devastation caused by the floods. All of us are equally responsible. We should learn a lesson from this catastrophe. We have to draft a new flood control master plan for entire Kashmir as water came from south Kashmir and reached Sopore in north Kashmir. In 2010 J&K Government had sought assistance from Centre for the infrastructure to prevent floods from submerging Kashmir? In fact state had sent a detailed report to the centre but no one responded. What is your take on this? Azad: By sending a report you don't get any work done. Whenever you send any report you have to follow it up. Unfortunately Jammu and Kashmir never follows any of its report or proposal. We say that we have sent the report to Government of India and our job is done, but that is not the case. If one has to get work done, somebody has to sit there and ensure that GOI takes note of it. Even if Centre would have acted on the proposal, it would not have saved Srinagar as water came from south Kashmir. Six rivers flow in south and central Kashmir. As I said we need a flood control master plan to deal with the situation. You said Rs 70,000 is not acceptable. If GOI doesn't declare it as national calamity, then what happens? Azad: We will fight for it. The amount should be realistic. People whose houses have collapsed should be given Rs 5 lakhs at least. We hope GOI realizes the intensity of the catastrophe and helps people to rebuild their shattered homes. Lal Chowk, the commercial hub of Kashmir, is completely devastated.Do you think special package should be announced for the businessmen? Azad: It's a cause of worry. It's not Lal Chowk only. All the commercial centres from Lal Chowk to Anantnag have suffered huge losses. You can see heaps of material. People think that it's something which has come out of streets. It's not the case. When shopkeepers opened their shops, they found their entire merchandize turned into muck. They have lost everything. All bazaars are ruined. What about the bank loans which people have taken? Azad: I think there should be a moratorium for at least two years and people should be allowed to settle down. I will personally take up the matter with the finance minister and see what best can be done. On the other hand insurance companies should rise to the occasion and settle the claims of the people forthwith. Any message for the people? Azad: I want to salute the people of Jammu and Kashmir especially the people from Chenab Valley who left no stone unturned to reach out to the flood hit victims of Kashmir. NGOs played a vital role and did whatever they could. I salute the young boys of Kashmir for being on the forefront and rescuing the marooned people. They rescued more than 80 percent of the population and saved precious lives. They used every possible thing which could float on the water. Young boys of Srinagar are so innovative that I too have learnt a lot of things from them. They have proved that they have huge potential and if their energy is used in proper way, they can bring a revolution.