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Published in the 16-31 March 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

J&K snowfall: govt like post-tsunami US

By AP Muhammed Afsal

The Milli Gazette Online

Unlike their tsunami counterpart, the avalanches victims of the Jammu & Kashmir failed to witness the mercy of the world, let alone India. Leave alone others, even their own state government was not there in their hour of need. The chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was in London and Dubai to attract tourists and later merrymaking in Delhi while his valley was suffering from an unprecedented snowfall and rain in the last 30 years. Several thousands people were stranded along the Jammu-Srinagar highway as rescue operations were stalled due to forecast of fresh avalanches and snowslides. With most parts of the state cut off from the world, and bodies yet to be dug out from the deep snow, more than 500 people were feared dead. The only beneficiaries of the snowfalls were the security forces deployed in the Valley. They were quick to rescue stranded people and offer supplies to far-off places. For the first time people in the Valley saw the forces in a different role.

As usual every year, the J&K government had moved to Jammu, the winter capital, leaving the ordinary Kashmiri to face the crisis. A crisis of this magnitude should at least have prompted the administration to set up a control room in Srinagar. Later, when the skies cleared, VVIPs started landing and paying aerial visits. 

As the new generation of Kashmir did hardly hear the avalanches and their consequences, people have forgotten the methods of fighting back the natural calamity. The helpless people could do nothing but to bow to the natural calamity. Apart from the huge loss of life, thousands of people were rendered homeless as whole villages were buried under snow and snowslide from mountains. In one village, Waltengo near Srinagar, 197 bodies have been recovered. Many areas still remain inaccessible. People, despite the tragedy, engaged in vigorous relief works and did a commendable job by either evacuating the stranded people or recovering and burying dead bodies, while the government was absent from the scene. Essential routes still remain under snow and state and district hospitals are not accessible. There is no communication between district and tehsil headquarters. Snow clearing machines are still out of sight in remote areas, and police and civil administrations remain paralysed while public distribution department is still non-functional.

To make matters worse, apple production is likely to fall by 20-30 percent this year as snowfall has felled apple and other fruits trees harming the horticulture sector. Anantnag, Shopian, Pulwama, Kulgam, Baramulla, Kupwara and Budgum are worst hit areas. The revenue this sector brought to the state is estimated at 10000 million rupees a year while the dryfruits sector fetched 3000 million. Last year also these industries had suffered huge losses due to drought and hailstorms. The coalition government led by PDP has come under sharp criticism for the way it has handled the situation.

On 28 February, former chief minister Farooq Abdulla demanded centre's direct role in rescue and relief operations. Even CPM, a government ally, preferred to boycott the opening day of budget session as a protest. The centre on February 23 sanctioned Rs 500 million and asked the state to utilise 740 million rupees from the state’s security budget for rescue and relief operations in the valley. The day before saw PM Manmohan Singh announcing an ex-gratia of Rs 50,000 each to the next kin of those who lost their lives and CM Mufti Mohammed Sayeed announced another Rs. 100,000 but amount of compensation could hardly allay the grief of those who lost their whole families. Bashir Ahmed, who lost all his 22-member family in Waltengo villages was one among them. 

Meanwhile, at least 35 persons, including some women and children were injured, four of them critically when police severely cane-charged stranded Srinagar-bound passengers at Satwari government higher secondary school on February 28. Police resorted to cane-charge twice in the day to evict passengers who were shifted last evening to the school for being airlifted to Srinagar from Jammu Airport. This attitude showed the most callous face of the administration.

In a letter to the Prime minister, general secretary of Movement for Empowerment of Muslim Indians (MOEMIN) Navaid Hamid reminded him that more than 25 thousands people are reported missing in Kashmir. "Unfortunately the nation, except some units of the armed forces, had not come forward in extending a helping hand to the affected people. This clearly demonstrates not only the emotional but territorial isolation of the nation from the people of the state," he wrote. «

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