With the increase in incidences of drowning in Kashmir, the small team of rescue and recovery River Police is ill-equipped and lacks manpower to deal with the situation. Shafath Hussain reports.
Whether it was sheer coincidence or divine intervention, a 23-year-old girl was rescued from river Jhelum by River Police who were already present there looking for Shakir Ashraf’s body, a young student who had jumped from a bridge over a bet with his friend.
From last few years, the number of people drowning in different water bodies in Kashmir has risen. The government has set up a small River Police cell who are assigned the job of rescue and recovery.
Many people drown accidently but some commit suicide by jumping into rivers. Shakir, however, jumped from a foot bridge in Srinagar, over a bet with his school friend. Most of the people are rescued by locals and the fishermen community living near lakes and rivers in Kashmir. The River Police cell is also doing its bit in saving lives.
River policing has an old legacy in Kashmir. There used to be a River Police Chowki before the turmoil but it was closed down. “They were posted in the Basantbagh before the (onset of armed) militancy and would often help in rescue operations,” says a local resident. People often accuse the river police of coming late to the scene.
However, the Divisional officer at Nehru Park, Muhammad Shafi, feels that their efforts are not appreciated often. Giving list of the people the River police have saved, particularly the tourists, he says that the work done by river police hardly gets any media attention. “So far we have saved more than eight hundred lives,” Shafi said.
The river police is a small contingent of around 12 people who are stationed near Dal Lake. “Dal is given a priority because lot of tourists come here in this season,” Shafi said. “Only this week three boys were rescued by the river police in Dal Lake.”
The officer claimed that River Police lack latest equipments and training.
Muhammad Sultan Kuloo owns a shikira (boat) at the Poloview. He has been ferrying passengers across river Jehlum for thirty four years. He claims to have saved a lot of lives and recovered many bodies of people drowned in the river. He says that in his life time never has it happened that a boat got drowned here. “I have saved more than ten lives,” says Abdul Rashid another Shikara owner near Poloview. “A girl jumped into Jehlum near General Post Office (a few paces from Poloview) few days back and I saved her.”
In 2010, a father and daughter were crossing the Jehlum at Qamarwari when the boat they were travelling in capsized. Their bodies were recovered after two days with the help of river police.
Shakir could have been fished out early had there been coordination between different organizations during emergency, say his relatives.
Police are not the only organization to have a water rescue team. There are people in the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA), tourism, water sports etc. whose job is to conduct rescue operations but are hardly held accountable. “It is the LAWDA which is meant for overall handling of the security in the water bodies,” says one police official.
The inter-organizational communication, an important tool in rescue and recovery operations, too is missing. There is hardly any effective communication between the various organizations at the time of emergency. “The River Police reached the spot late by one hour as the LAWDA officials did not open the Dal gate keeping our team waiting for an hour,” said one police official.
Constable Latief is in charge of the river police near Nehru Park. He has saved many lives including some foreign tourists. He along with others was awarded a cash of one lakh rupees by then inspector general of police for saving two hundred and fifty people when a storm hit Dal lake in May 2007.
Though the incidents of drowning have been rising in the valley, the government is yet to deploy rescue teams along the river Jehlum that criss-crosses the valley.