Science and tradition suggest that early winter snowfall is good for Kashmir ecology but the fragile service delivery systems sent people crying, reports Yawar Hussain
As the year’s first snowfall draped Kashmir, beginning on January 2, life came to a standstill with people and the administration both choosing to stay homes till sunshine brought back the sheen to the streets.
The people reacted to the snowfall as per their own requirements: tourists were happy that they will have fun; Harisa-makers were excited that they will have better footfalls; workers in PDD, SMC, and the PHE had their share of the crisis in managing the impact of the mess. People, by and large, were tense because snow, especially a heavier fall, seriously compromises the services. That was perhaps why, amidst a congratulatory campaign on social media, people responded in a way as if a calamity had hit Kashmir.
Yasin Dar, a Srinagar resident, was not just enthralled by snowfall but he built a giant snow octopus in his garden to commemorate the day. Like Dar, scores of people across Kashmir took to snow sculpturing. In continuation with the Covid-19 theme, Safiya Mehraj, an artist from Srinagar paid her tributes to the Covid warriors by building a representation of a doctor donning a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kit while treating the patients.
Nadeem Hussain from Shalimar (Srinagar) made an African Simbah, a snow lion. Besides, he made a portrait out of snow of great Kashmiri poet Mehjoor.
These portraits were quickly put on virtual media. The most shared remained the one in which somebody had written “return the bodies’, a demand that three slain Pulwama youth’s families have been seeking. Though the actual works melted away, these remained on social media forever.
The Other Side
Bashir Ahmad Magray, a resident of Shopian, which witnessed around five feet snow, said snowfall causes all sorts of problems in the valley, particularly in rural areas.“Roads remain closed and slippery for months. We have to walk on foot even to get basic amenities,” Magray said. He found the administration slow, if mot missing, on the ground.
Waleed Ahmad, a resident of Verinag in Anantnag, said a few inches of snow made people cry for water, power and other basic facilities. “What is good about it? It is good for a bunch of tourists and Khojas (a Kashmiri term for elites),” he asked. “In far-flung areas of Verinag, people are forced to ferry patients on shoulders to the hospital. The snow clearance machinery is outdated. Snowfall brings in misery only.”
Shahid Nazir, a resident of Budgam, an area that received comparatively less snowfall, said snow cuts electricity and leads to slippery roads along with price hikes. “With winters coming in, people in rural areas scour the markets like ants to stock up on food supplies during the winter period,” he said.
On Sunday, when the snowfall started, the Meteorological Department had already issued warnings about it. Soon all the arterial roads were choked along with causing power outages and property destruction. Following this chaos, the administration came under criticism from the public, political parties and social activists.
The snow clearance in most of the parts of the Valley took four days with many parts of south Kashmir yet to be connected to their respective district headquarters.
While Srinagar’s inner roads took some time to be cleared of snow, the district administration lent its four machines to Shopian district whose half of the snow clearance machines had broken down. Pulwama’s Pampore area, as per locals, was without water and power supply for three days.
It was in this criticism that people hailed the Kashmir Power Development Corporation Limited (KPDCL) for restoring the electricity on a war footing. Visuals of KPDCL ground staff on top of the snow-laden electricity poles and transformers, amid high risk, were all in the news. In one instance, at least, some Mohalla Committee garlanded their local power linesman.
Chief Engineer KPDCL Aijaz Ahmad Dar said out of 850 11 KV feeders, 723 had developed snags due to the snowfall but in just 48 hours 570 of them were restored by around 5000 employees working amid harsh the weather throughout Kashmir.
However, all wasn’t well in the summer capital Srinagar where several areas had to wait for electricity restoration till late Wednesday evening. Srinagar may not know that vast belts in south Kashmir will take more than a week to see the power. “In our village, we had two delivery cases and the government was responsive and sent two dozers,” one resident from a down south village said. “The two machines took almost 10 years to cover a 13 km distance so much is the accumulation.”
The Srinagar-Jammu national highway remained closed for five days with 2000 odd Kashmir bound vehicles with a huge number of passengers stranded at Bus stand Jammu.
The highway closure triggered a scare in the administration, which ordered rationing of fuel. Kashmir normally retains a month of its requirements in stock.
The heavy snowfall killed three persons while causing destruction to properties as well. Three deaths were reported, one each from Srinagar, Kupwara, and Shopian districts.
A Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Sub Inspector in Srinagar lost his life after a shed collapsed on him due to the heavy snowfall, at a former legislator’s house in Hazratbal area of the city outskirts.
In Shopian district, an elderly man died on a stretcher that was being carried to hospital on foot. The deceased, aged 60, was identified as Bashir Ahmad Famda, son of Abdul Rehman Famda, a resident of Chowan village in Keller area.
The official said the heavy snowfall damaged over 90 structures, mostly residential houses. These included 15 houses in Pulwama and nearly 30 residential houses, shops and other structures in Srinagar. Besides, Imamia Public School at Rainawari, tin shed at Munawarabad were also damaged in Srinagar while several vehicles were also damaged. A workshop namely Usman Auto Workshop at Tengpora Bypass was also damaged where some vehicles have also suffered damage.
Similarly in southern districts, nearly two dozen structures including residential houses were damaged due to heavy snowfall in Shopian and Pahalgam area of Anantnag districts.
In Baramulla, at least seven structures and sheds were partially or fully damaged in Boniyar and Uri Tehsils. In Kupwara district, two residential houses in Qalamabad and Kralpora were damaged.
In Budgam district, three residential houses were damaged due to heavy snowfall. Rooftops of two shops located at the main market Chadoora were also damaged. In Ganderbal district, two residential houses were damaged.
Srinagar hospitals received around three dozen pregnant women referral cases with 21 patients from parts of Anantnag district alone amid this snowfall.
While patients claim that the staff in Srinagar hospitals was also thin as doctors and paramedics couldn’t reach, the civil society raised apprehensions about the functioning of ventilators and concentrators in view of non-availability of electricity which are crucial for some Covid-19 patients. From remote peripheries, reports of dozers being used to ferry patients from snowbound areas were reported.
In many cases from south Kashmir, the Jammu and Kashmir Police did help some patients to reach hospitals but in the majority of cases, the locals had to shoulder the ailing.
In DK Marg area of Kulgam district, the local youth carried a woman patient, Rahima for eight kilometres on their shoulders to sub-district hospital.
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) General Secretary, Farooq Amin said the government should have thought that electricity is a must for Covid-19 patients who require ventilators.
The National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party along with the Apni Party all criticized the administration’s response in dealing with the aftermath of snowfall.
Srinagar Municipal Corporation Mayor Junaid Azim Mattu Thursday was forced to make public the shortcomings on their part to handle the situation in the city. Mattu said that the SMC had outdated equipment to handle even half a feet snow on Srinagar’s roads.
It took several days for the flight operations at the Srinagar Airport to resume.
Director Srinagar Airport Authority put the onus on the district administration for failing to clear snow inside airport premises. Scores of tourists were seen dragging their luggage from the main gate to the airport.
While the locals faced hardships, the tourists had a field day in Kashmir. Many of the tourists who had come in for the New Year celebration were stuck in the Valley due to closure of the Jammu-Srinagar national highway and suspension of the air traffic as well.
A group of tourists from Delhi, while talking to Kashmir Life said that they haven’t experienced such hospitality anywhere.
“The people are so warm. They have offered us so much, love. Our hotel owner has slashed the fare of our room because we are stuck here,” the group said.
Meanwhile, the Kashmir Houseboat Owners Association (KHOA) announced free accommodation to tourists who are stranded in the Valley.
KHOA President Manzoor Wagnoo appealed all the tourists who are stranded to approach any houseboat in Srinagar and stay till they are stuck here.
Virtual vs Real World
While the snow fell, it also halted the wired internet services in the Valley leading to dejection among people. Jammu and Kashmir already has slow mobile internet since August 5 last year barring two districts Ganderbal and Udhampur.
“Our Jio Fibre internet wasn’t working. What would I use the phone for? I just clicked photos and shot videos then waited,” he said. Also, it snowed more in the virtual world in comparison to the real one.
The social media platforms were inundated by the photographs and videos of snowfall from across Kashmir.
From prominent people to commoners everybody had a picture or video to share on their social media accounts leading to the perception that this snowfall is unprecedented in history.