February 2017 News

If Jhelum Swells This Winter, Can Summer Floods Be Far Behind?

8 February 2017
Kashmir Monitor
Nisar Dharma

Srinagar: Sunday night, Farooq Ahmad, a houseboat owner in his mid-50s living in Srinagar's Abi Guzar area, was awake. The Jhelum, the river that meanders through the city, did not let him sleep for a moment. He had to pull up his boat every few hours to match the river's increasing shoreline. Otherwise, it could have capsized or simply drifted away. 'It (the water level) was rising steadily, which is very uncommon in winters when the snow does not melt quickly. We didn't expect the water level to rise; we have never seen this before,' he says, bemused. The tiring nocturnal effort was demanded of Farooq following the fresh heavy snowfall in Kashmir the Saturday-Sunday night. Farooq was on his toes that night too, clearing snow off his houseboat's rooftop, lest it may have plunged. The snowfall, coupled, rather surprisingly, with thunders and lightening, was the fourth major spell of precipitation this winter. And it followed the January's 132.8-mm snowfall in Srinagar-the highest since 1992. As the temperature increased a bit and the meltdown began, the Jhelum swelled. 'The river rose by around 4-5 feet during the night. It didn't let me sleep,' says Farooq, who is also worried about the near future, believing that the abnormally-behaving Jhelum may create havoc during the summer, again. 'If the water level is so high now, what would happen during the summer? We may have another 2014-like deluge waiting for us, God forbade,' he says. While Farooq's worries may have been discarded as a mere whim a few years back, the still-afresh 2014 memories make people rethink. For, they know what a filled-up Jhelum could unleash. And with so much precipitation this winter, the odds are that the houseboat owners' worries can become a reality. Cautious Hanief Lone, the Chief Engineer Irrigation and Flood Control (I&FC), has the same worries. 'The level of the Jhelum has started to decrease now. The rising levels will become a concern only after March 15,' he says. 'The water level would begin increasing after March 15, when the snow melts and rains are frequent.' The water levels this year, as per Lone, are expected to remain in 12-16 feet range. 'The water levels will remain high this year. If there is increased rainfall along with the melting of snow, it may be a matter of concern,' says Lone. 'We are ready for the situation. We start monitoring the levels after March.' The 'danger levels', as per the Chief Engineer, at the three gauges-Sangam, Ram Munshi Bagh (Srinagar), and Asham-are 18, 16 and 13 feet, respectively. After 2014 deluge, the government ordered dredging the river bed to prevent a repeat of the disaster. However, the process has faced several roadblocks right in its second phase, when it was handed over to a Kolkata-based dredging firm in February last year. The state's chief minister herself expressed unhappiness over the slow process twice in the last 10 months. The contractor was supposed to remove seven lakh cubic metres of debris in 12 months from Srinagar and nine lakh cubic metres in 20 months from Baramulla and Sopore. But as of now, the 'tentative' figures given by Lone reveal that the contractor has only completed around 1 lakh cubic metres in Srinagar and around 2.5 lakh in Baramulla and Sopore. The slow pace has been attributed to the 2016 unrest. Asked if the current dredging process would be able to provide some support if there is a flood threat, the Chief Engineer said, 'It was still in its early phase.' To mention, the government, during the first review meeting of the I&FC Department in April last year, was told that 'the carrying capacity of the river has been increased to 45,000 cusecs from 33,000 cusecs previously.' The Jhelum discharged over 1 lakh cusecs of water, which submerged most of Srinagar in 2014.