LAWDA’s “Irrational Zeal” puts livelihoods and habitats at risk

The 2014 Kashmir floods have gone down in history as the one of the most devastating floods in the modern history of Kashmir. The scale of the damage and devastation was as unprecedented and intense as the floods. While the much touted flood damage relief has not been forthcoming by the GoI, some sporadic and little relief was disbursed by the state Government. Among the recipients of the relief were the residents of Ashai Bagh and Saida Kadal. The relief was in the nature of helping these flood affected victims to rebuild their homes and hearths. But the ultimate irony is that while the Revenue Department disbursed the relief, the Lakes and Waterways Department (LAWDA) is being obstructionist; the department is not allowing repair work of the damaged dwellings. LAWDA’s contention is that it cannot, on account of a High Court Order, allow construction/repair of dwellings that fall within the 200 metres range of Dal Lake. But the problem or more accurately, the issue here is that the dwellings in contention at Ashai Bagh and Saida Kadal precede the High Court order. That is, these were built and people resided in these houses before the High Court Order was issued.

Now there are many issues and questions arise about the whole saga: why is LAWDA acting with such zeal now? Why can’t or won’t it take into account the time period of the High Court Order and the nature of these dwellings? If the High Court Order is to be taken literally and sanctity maintained to the order, why was/is not any due thought given to the rehabilitation of these flood victims and victims of time and circumstances?

These are commonsensical questions but important and germane ones that have a bearing on the lives and habitats of the people. The whole issue actually pertains to the inertia that defines government and governance of the state and the apathy thereof. Sarkari bureaucrats do their jobs but at times in a callous manner and the policy making premises that inform policies are , most of the time not well thought out and there is no stakeholder input to policy design and process. Hence the cumulative pile up of problems and issues that have a negative bearing on peoples’ lives. These issues are not peculiar to a regime , party or government but cut across regimes-be it the National Conference, the PDP or coalitions thereof, all are implicated in the poor design and execution of policies in the state.

Broadly speaking, the problem is lack of stakeholder(people) involvement in policy conception and design and then fiats and decrees by government that, at times, tend to be irrational. All in all, peoples’ lives get affected and misery ensues. Now returning to the peculiar case in contention , what are the options that can ameliorate the sufferings of the people?

It can be argued that the Government can take a status quo ante approach wherein permission is granted to people who were or have been residing in these areas since ages ( the government can draw a definitive datum and time period for this). Or, if this proves to be legally or bureaucratically impossible, then provide immediate alternate accommodation. Dwelling places plus means of livelihood to these affected people. But the problem is that these people live off the water. Water is the means of sustenance and livelihood for them. This then leaves restoring the status quo ante option as the only sustainable and reasonable option. And given the nature of the problem where people’s habitats and dwellings and hence social, emotional and economic stakes are involved, the Government must take remedial action on  a fast track, urgent basis. 

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