Sukhnandan Kumar, minister for PHE, Irrigation & Flood Control tells Saima Bhat that people of Kashmir should have sumps or water tanks to store water, just like people of Jammu
Sukhnandan Kumar (SK): In March 2015, when it was raining heavily Rangil Water Supply Scheme (RWSS) was hit by slides twice. For me March 2015 rains were just heavy rains. You (Kashmir media), had exaggerated it by calling it floods. And because of your reporting and presenting heavy rains as floods, state suffered huge loss in terms of business. You know, all tourist reservations were cancelled because of your false reporting. You (Kashmiri media) think that you people are more loyal to Kashmir than us (Jammu people). But I believe we too are equally concerned about the welfare of Kashmir. But it’s the Kashmiri media that is Kashmiri’s real enemy. You just want to fill your pages.
Post September 2014 floods Rangil was hit by 26 slides, same is the case with Doodh Ganga water supply. When we restored both in March, then another big slide hit the extension canal which feeds Rangil.
It took us one month to restore it completely which we did by making an alternate steel canal. Then it started leaking and it again took us time to correct it. Just 10 days back a big stone had come into the canal, we couldn’t blast it but instead we used some chemicals to melt that stone. Now it is restored completely.
We have restored Doodh Ganga water canal completely, but four days back some 1000 people came and cut down the water pipe twice as a mark of protest against erratic electricity supply and bad roads.
I cannot correct water scarcity of 60 years in just one month. Give me at least one year to work.
KL: What is the main reason of such acute water scarcity in otherwise water abundant Kashmir?
SK: There are many unaddressed issues that hamper proper water supply. There are thousands of unplanned colonies in Kashmir. And because of these colonies people don’t get 24 hour water supply. Now only option left is people of Kashmir should have sumps or water tanks to store water, just like people of Jammu.
Then there is huge demand for water during farming season. Usually farmers cut these canals during this season to supply their fields. It hampers household supply.
Few days back I went to Sonawari area and saw women taking water for drinking directly from the river Jhelum, without any treatment. I was accompanied by my collation partner Nayeem Akhtar. When these ladies saw us they tried to approach us. But instead of giving them a hearing Nayeem Sahab left hurriedly. But I stayed and talked to them and promised that I will give them a filtration plant. These ladies later sang songs praising me.
KL: What is the demand and supply ratio of drinking water facility in Kashmir?
SK: To be frank enough I don’t know the present ratio.
KL: Experts believe that J&K is prone to September 2014 like floods. Are we prepared to face another such catastrophe?
SK: We are fully prepared. Our temporary restoration is 100 percent complete. For permanent restoration we recently had a committee from Delhi who is looking into it.
We had sent a requisition of Rs 400 corers for Jhelum River and for making a flood spill-over channel. GoI is releasing 70 percent of that package in next week. Rest of it, Rs 120 crores, will be given by the state government. I have talked to Chief Minister and he is releasing that amount soon.
KL: Contractors allege their payments are due with the department and you haven’t paid them even if they worked on war footing basis during March and April rainfall?
SK: Money that was sent under natural calamity fund by GoI was utilized for temporary restoration. All the money for works will go to contractors after proper verifications only. We have money but we are waiting for verifications.
KL: You have outsourced various projects of dredging and de-slitting when our state has a full-fledged irrigation and flood control department?
SK: We have not outsourced anything. There will be proper tendering for all dredging related work. And whatever work is going on right now it is done by irrigation department.
Only one tender for 7 kms near Hajj house, was made public and it has already been started. For rest of the work, tendering will be open for all on a large scale.
KL: What is the present status of Dongripora flood spill-over channel?
SK: We don’t have its present status report.
KL: After September 2014 floods your department actively demolished illegal encroachments along river beds. Why has pace slowed down all of a sudden?
SK: Your courts give stay orders without even verifying if the appellant really own a legal structure. You should ask honourable courts to pass stay orders only after proper verifications. Besides that I trust my God. Another flood won’t hit our state. You should also trust your God.
KL: ITI casual labourers recruited during PDP-Congress regime under cabinet order were promised that they will get permanent after 7 years of service. It has been already 9 years but nothing has happened?
SK: I suppose you should have asked this question to the previous government. I am just three months old. But I promise, I will do something for those 8 thousand ITI employees who were recruited through cabinet order. But I can’t say anything for those who were recruited as casual labourers.
KL: Thousands of people were promised jobs under Land Owner Scheme for letting govt dig bore wells on their land. But despite utilizing their land no jobs were given?
SK: This scheme was started some four years back and we have recruited some of them as casual labourers. But if a person has taken compensation he won’t get any job.