By Sheikh Qayoom,
Srinagar : When a day’s rain is enough to inundate markets, choke drains and flood streets in a city of 1.3 million people, something must be seriously wrong somewhere. Srinagar city, especially its uptown business and residential areas, were devastated by the floods that hit Jammu and Kashmir in September 2014.
The city is yet to fully recover from that shock. People are still crying for relief, rehabilitation and compensation. A highly disturbing fallout of that disaster is that now even a day’s rain is enough to choke drains and flood streets and markets in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.
Just a day’s rain since Monday has resulted in serious drainage problems here besides swelling of all the major and minor water bodies around it.
The Dal Lake is swollen to its capacity. Water from leaking embankments have flooded the fashionable Boulevard Road.
At the Cheshma Shahi crossing, thronged by tourists visiting the Mughal Gardens and the Tulip Garden by the Dal Lake’s banks, vehicles were seen struggling to cross the over three feet of water.
Some vehicles simply got stuck in the middle of the road, leaving occupants guessing whether to wade through with shoes on or roll up pants to brave the inundation.
What is true of places on the Boulevard Road is also true of the Khushal Sar and Brari Nambal areas of the old city parts of Srinagar.
The fashionable Residency Road is no exception. Water-logged Regal Chowk and the uptown Polo View area are becoming too much for the shopkeepers and commuters to bear with.
“This used to be the busiest time of the tourist season in Kashmir. Today I am looking at the sky,” said Showkat Ahmad, a shopkeeper in the Polo View area.
Engineers of the urban development department say the earth is saturated because of incessant rains. Most drains remain choked because of last year’s floods.
“The drainage system is choked. We are doing our best to ensure that areas do not become water-logged”, said an engineer of the department who wished not to be named.
The Srinagar Municipal Corporation has pressed de-watering pumps into service to drain water-logged areas, but this is seen as too little given the magnitude of the problem.
“The city is no longer the Venice of Asia as it was known during the times of Mughal emperor Jahangir,” said Khwaja Nisar Hussain, a retired chief engineer.
“The city had a natural drainage system because of ‘Nallah Maar’ (Serpentine Canal) laid by the emperor that formed a waterway for transport and also drained all the rain and flood waters out.
“Water transport formed an important part of Srinagar’s commercial activity besides imparting grandeur to the city. The canal had a tiled floor and one could see its clean floor through the glistening water.
“Unfortunately, the canal was filled up in the late 1960s and through the middle of 1970s. A road has come up where the canal once existed.
“That has been the beginning of urban devastation of the city,” Hussain added.
Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed went on a whirlwind tour of Srinagar on Monday with some senior ministers and officials.
Sayeed gave on the spot orders to lay new parks and beautify areas in and around the city.
The tour got wide media coverage as Sayeed became the first chief minister in many years to undertake an entire day’s extensive tour of the city’s interiors.
The problem for Sayeed and his officials is that Srinagar’s problems are not something a chief minister can resolve in a day or even a month unless he has a magic wand.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at [email protected])