Flood Package: PDP should speak up

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TEN MONTHS after the September deluge devastated Kashmir, and the state government pegged the loss at one trillion rupees, Centre has announced a rehabilitation package for Kashmir. But instead of the demand of Rs 44000 crore made by the previous government, New Delhi has come out with a measly amount of Rs 1600 crore. This has shocked the people in Kashmir who expected the centre to be more generous. Similarly, the civil society and the business community has termed the package humiliating and slammed the People’s Democratic Party for maintaining a “criminal silence” over the state of affairs. At a hastily called press conference, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the civil society group Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies said the package was a pittance compared to the colossal losses. The finance minister Arun Jaitley has now signaled that the state could be extended more relief and that a special team will undertake a fresh survey to assess the flood damage. A team comprising Niti Aayog chief executive Sindhushree Khullar and secretary, expenditure, in the ministry of finance, Ratan Watal, is expected to review the damage caused in particular to infrastructure installations and the setback to tourism. Such a survey will be third since the floods sank 70 percent of Srinagar and the large swathes of South and North Kashmir besides some areas of Jammu.  Earlier two were undertaken by the state government – which did it immediately following the floods – and another one was carried out by the World Bank. The state government submitted Rs 44000 crore package following a month long assessment of the damage and the World Bank which surveyed the flood fallout in February put the loss at Rs 21000 crore. The need for the third assessment and that too ten months after the deluge, means that the centre has all but trashed the first two reports, including the one by World Bank, which should have otherwise been considered more objective and professional. This betrays a rank indifferent approach towards the devastation in Kashmir which is at a stark variance with the centre’s response to the calamities in recent years in Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu and now most recently due to earthquake in Nepal.

In case of these disasters, centre not only called for the international expertise in loss assessment but also expedited the relief and rehabilitation package. For example, when floods hit Uttarakhand in June 2013 causing widespread devastation, a joint World Bank and Asian Development Bank team in partnership with the state government and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery conducted a rapid assessment of loss at the request of the Union Government. The team completed its work within one week and by August 2013 the detailed findings on the social and economic impact of the flooding was delivered to the state and the central government in a comprehensive report. What is more, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank also agreed to provide 400 million dollars for reconstruction and rehabilitation in the disaster-hit areas. But no such urgency was exhibited in case of Kashmir. The situation has come to a pass where the disaster of a colossal scale is now begging for the acknowledgement by the centre. PDP’s non-pro-active approach on this front hasn’t also gone down well with the people. Disaster of the proportion of September deluge calls for an immediate and an extraordinary response, something that in case of Kashmir has been missing from the day one. We hope that the state government, particularly PDP, which represents Valley in the coalition, displays some earnestness about the need to respond to flood-hit. We need the party to represent and articulate the grievances of the people of Valley just the way BJP does it in Jammu. It is time PDP speaks now. Though Member Parliament Tariq Hameed Karra has made some right noises following the announcement of the so called rehabilitation package, we need the Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed or at least the party president Mehbooba Mufti to talk now. 

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