Chief Engineer, Irrigation and Flood Control department, Kashmir, Mir Javed Jaffar tells Saima Bhat that there is no way to handle September 2014 (floods) like situations as Jhelum has limited carrying capacity
Mir Javed Jaffar (MJJ): We are doing exactly the same job what we were doing before September 2014 floods. However, both situations are different. In September 2014 we had a discharge of around 1,20,000 cusecs while this time (March) it was just 40,000 cusecs.
Frankly, we don’t have answer to September like floods because our carrying capacity is just 35000 to 40000 cusecs.
Remedy is not that we give sand bags to people but it should be long term measures which can take care of that extra discharge. We could have stored excess discharge in the catchment areas and then released it once precipitation was over but that is against Indus Water Treaty. It is like we have sold this river to another country.
KL: Was there any disaster management plan in place?
MJJ: Yes, the disaster management plan is being taken care by the local administration. My job is to take care of floods so that it doesn’t breach or overflow embankments and how gates are operated. In addition to that, we have to keep enough material available in the shape of bags and sand.
The thing we learnt after last floods, as per norms we have to keep 11 lakh bags available but this time we had three lakh bags extra available and even the availability could have reached its double, 22 lakhs if needed.
KL: Are our bunds safe?
MJJ: These bunds were constructed around hundred years back as consolidated bunds. But post 2014 floods all embankments overflowed. Jhelum breached at many places not because of the failure of embankments but it overflowed which eroded the outer surface, causing the breach.
Post 2014 floods we are facing difficulties like when river had minimal discharge, embankments were looking very fit. During floods around 500 to 800 meters of embankments were damaged due to sluffing. Now the question is if they are safe?
We cannot just concentrate on spots breached in last floods. We keep check of even the spots that seem fit as nobody can assure that bunds are 100 per cent safe. So we are keeping a check on all the bunds.
KL: Is restoration of bunds over?
MJJ: Temporary restoration of breaches is complete and the permanent restoration is almost 70 per cent done. After continuous rainfall for a week now, we had to declare floods as the level had reached 18 feet in Srinagar. Thankfully it didn’t breach at any place because we have kept extra two feet available for safety purpose.
KL: Before last floods PWD had cut a portion of bund in Sempora which proved costly. It is still in pathetic condition after six months?
MJJ: I think we have done a lot of work on that patch. Actually the height of floods in September was too high, damages were huge; so it needs some more time to complete all the work.
KL: How long you need more to complete the restoration?
MJJ: We had a damage of 480 crores, so we started up with the restoration on priority basis from the 1/5th or 1/4th of it. Like first priority was the river itself, no water should come out of it. We are done with that. Then there are catchments areas like nallas from where the water comes. We treated those nallas first where there is habitation or where there was deviation of the channel.
To complete all work within one or six months is not possible it will take couple of years as the damages were huge.
If we see planning, we have framed many schemes for all catchment areas, and tributaries. Technical advisory committees have approved them, we were just going to send them to GOI for funding but they have changed their funding pattern. It used to be 10:90, in which 10 per cent was given by the State and 90 were from GOI. But now it is 30:70.
Earlier we couldn’t even get 10 per cent from the State because of financial constrains. So getting 30 per cent from the state is even more difficult.
We have taken up the issue with GOI, let’s see what happens.
KL: There was a plan for Dongripora flood spill channel. What is its status and how it is going to help in future?
MJJ: Actually this Dongripora was just an idea, draft appraisal which we submitted in 2009, of creating storage within the available channels by enhancing their carrying capacity to 60,000 cusecs. The proposal was to create a channel from Dongripora to Wullar which will further increase the capacity. But there were many observations, like they were not accepting it can carry 126000 cusecs and it took me 9 months to prove that yes it will. Second they said it is an imaginary line of Dongripora and give us proof, so we made a pre-feasibility report on that which took me another 10 months.
This project is roughly going to cost Rs 18000 crores out of which Rs 13000 crores will be given as compensation to locals for land and structures. Now everything has been submitted to GOI but there is another query: if Wullar can sustain 126000 cusecs of water? And what will be its effects as per the Indus Water Treaty, and its effect on the dams of the other country. These observations are going to take another year but as per our last meeting in Delhi, I requested them to give some amount for urgent works so that we can start. They have agreed to it and accordingly my plan has been approved by the State and all departments of CWC. On April 7 there is a technical advisory committee meeting of GOI which will approve initial Rs 400 crores. And in rest of the year when we will submit our full project report, for which we have maximum 2 years, our project will get approved.
KL: If we see bunds from Srinagar to Khanbal there are massive encroachments. Why did your department fail to clear them post September floods?
MJJ: Encroachments are there and they are there since decades. Removing tin sheds is easy but when it comes to concrete structures, people come up with legal papers. What can we do in that situation? Otherwise we have cut around 170000 trees post September 2014 floods.
There are court orders with us under which all deputy commissioners will help us in drafting an outline for Jhelum. It envisions restoring river Jhelum to its original shape, the one that is there in the revenue papers. This part has been done in last 15-20 days. We have bifurcated the plan, once that is done we will come from different sides and encroachments will be cleared.
KL: There should have been planned dredging of Jhelum. It happened but not in the planned manner. Why?
MJJ: Dredging has already taken place. Last time there was no flood in Baramulla and Sopore, because since 2012 there are two dredging machines in Baramulla which are working till date. They have taken lakhs of cubic meters of sand which we auctioned and government earned revenue of Rs 7 to Rs 8 crores from it.
It was only because of dredging that the capacity of Wullar increased from 24000 to 34000 cusecs. Same happened this time. On priority basis we are working on dredging but at the same time we don’t need much of it because it has less slope, it can create dead storage. We have to go for controlled dredging, strictly as per levels.
On ground we have some deposition on the curves of river but due to floods inner curves get depositions and outer curves get eroded so this time we did it manually. We have proposed for two more dredging machines for Central and South Kashmir, which will be a continuous process to increase its capacity.
KL: Why we have to depend on action and reaction outlay, in which at the end we go for Kandizal option. Why we don’t have any long lasting plan?
MJJ: There is no option of breach anywhere. People keep on saying Kandizal breach brings relief. But when I asked my senior retired officers, who had supposedly breached Kandizal, that how they did it, and where they were doing it, nobody has any answer. Neither had they seen it nor had they done it.
Actually what happens is, at Kandizal Pulwama, the alignment of river is such that the embankment gets breached itself. There is no intervention from our department.
And if it was happening some 30 years back, there was no habitation then. But now we can’t afford to breach Kandizal as thousands of people live in that area. We can’t afford to kill a person at the cost of others.
In 2014, Kandizal had three breaches; one breach was of 400 feet length and of 30 feet height. That time normal expected rainfall was 28mm but we got 478mm, which was 1400 per cent more and it was because of Western and Southern disturbances.
Yesterday we had a minister from Union Government who asked, do you need any help? I told him we don’t need sand or bags but a permanent solution.
KL: Experts have predicted more floods, are you prepared?
MJJ: If we get September type flood then we don’t have any answer. Even if the first project gets approved we can create a capacity of just 60,000 cusecs, but what if we have 70,000 cusecs of flow?
Last time we had just 40,000 cusecs capacity and we got 4 to 5 feet more water on our embankments. We had 60 to 70 breaches in the main river. What can be done in that case? In Padshahi Bagh we gave 50,000 bags but then everything got washed away.
We don’t have any answer to September like situations yet. We need long term measures to deal with floods. Otherwise destruction is inevitable. If this alternate flood spill channel is not approved, we have another proposal under which we may create some smaller storage in tributaries. But we won’t allow them to discard the Dongripora project.