12 Months of Neglect

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Exactly a year ago this day, skies over Srinagar were abuzz with air-force choppers, dropping relief material to the people marooned  in the worst flood to have hit the Valley in a century.  Three-fourths of the city lay submerged as residents frantically signaled for help from their rooftops. Thousands who had rushed to the safety had nowhere to go. The inflatable rescue boats, wooden canoes and improvised floating devices made of plastic drums and tyre tubes criss-crossed the waters to help the desperate. Hundreds of Kashmiri youth also jumped into the rescue and relief effort, putting their lives on the line to reach the inaccessible recesses to save the stranded.

Much has changed over the past twelve months. Srinagar has regained a semblance of normalcy. The people who had a livable house have returned to their localities, spending thousands to clean the filth deposited by the receding waters and repairing the damage to the structures. But many whose houses collapsed are still putting up at the temporary accommodations.

The official estimate had put the number of the damaged structures at 3.50 lakh, most of them residential houses, including the partially damaged 1.5 lakh houses. But all these house-owners have been paid peanuts in terms of compensation.

The truth is that while on the outside the situation might look relatively normal, under the surface the detrimental humanitarian fallout of the flood is still playing itself out. The difference is that while during the deluge the tragedy was apparent to everybody, now it is not. People are busy putting their lives together.  The experience has by now taught them that the state government will be of little help. Nor will be the centre. So far, the centre has come up with a measly Rs 1667 crore  rehabilitation package for the state.  At the time of the announcement, the finance minister Arun Jaitley said that New Delhi will sympathetically consider state government’s request on long-term measures to improve the flood-hit infrastructure. But the question that people ask is that if not now then when.

Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed has given his own assurances, saying the people who have lost their houses will be adequately compensated “before the onset of winter”. But on the ground little has changed. The state government’s calls for an adequate flood-specific package have gone abegging. This has made people cynical about any hope of the rehabilitation help. Many even see the ideological reasons for the denial of the aid, with the BJP government at the centre considering it political unproductive to invest in the reconstruction in J&K. The result has been unedifying. A great humanitarian tragedy has been trivialized. What is more, the state government doesn’t seem to be doing much about this. The immediate and extraordinary response that the disaster of the proportion of September deluge called for is sorely missing not only in the governance but also in the political discourse of the state.

Today as we observe the anniversary week of an unprecedented natural calamity, the hope of a rehabilitation package looks more distant than ever. PDP’s non-pro-active approach on this front hasn’t also gone down well with the people. And BJP can’t seem to care less. The centre is not willing to acknowledge that a catastrophe of the scale of the September 7 deluge ever took place. Where do we go from here? Perhaps nowhere. But this state of affairs needs to be confronted. PDP can’t claim to represent Valley and appear unconcerned about the sufferings of its constituency. After all, the flood rehabilitation was among the major reasons for its coalition with an ideologically antagonistic BJP.

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