Shutdown on a flood anniversary might not be the best of ways to observe it but this is what Kashmir did on September 7, the day the surging Jhelum breached its levees and sank three-fourths of Srinagar and swathes of North and South Kashmir. Markets were closed, traffic was off the roads, schools observed a holiday in response to a hartal call from the traders and the separatist groups which was supported for the first time in years by a mainstream political party, the opposition National Conference.
To prevent a law and order situation, the state government did what it is wont to do: Chairman Kashmir Economic Alliance Showkat Chowdhary was arrested in the wee hours today. He was lodged at Police Station Zakura. President, Kashmir Traders and Manufactured Federation, Mohammed Yaseen Khan was held at Kothibagh police station.
Similarly separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik were placed under house arrest.
The scene is very familiar in Kashmir but the occasion was different. For once, the shutdown had no separatist context. The traders were demanding the rehabilitation package from the centre which despite being promised has not materialized, leaving thousands of the victims to mop the fallout of the flood.
Kashmir will be the only place in the world where an enormous natural calamity has been all but ignored and people left to fend for themselves. New Delhi has ensured that the state doesnt receive foreign aid and also not be extended a reasonable internal help. People are inclined to see a conspicuous bias in the way the centre has dealt with the deluge in Kashmir as against the calamities in other parts of the country. New Delhi has been disproportionately more munificent towards Uttarakhund and Nepal than a disaster of similar scale in Kashmir. In case of Kashmir, while Army was generously billed for its rescue and relief effort from the State Disaster Relief Fund, the people have been left alone to pick up the pieces of a crippling calamity.
Now the Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has reiterated his commitment to fully rehabilitate victims of September 2014 deluge and reconstruct the flood-ravaged infrastructure. But the truth is that such assurances now carry little conviction. The government has certainly been hemmed in by the lack of adequate financial support from New Delhi. People are still grappling with the still unfolding fallout of the September deluge. The rehabilitation is by and large still pending. A significant number of people have lost everything and been compensated a pittance. But while the victims have displayed a great resolve against heavy odds and tried to rebuild their lives, the state government has failed to make a redeeming difference.
It is time that the government gets its act together and not only takes firm steps to rehabilitate flood victims but also prepares for a prospect of another flood. As a result of the bitter experience of the last year, the ability to help out the victims and successfully handle a flood-like situation has emerged as the new benchmark for the performance of a government in the state. And this government can hardly afford to fail this test. If PDP expects to redeem its coalition with BJP, this is the only way to go about this.
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