Flash floods in Jammu

Rajan Gandhi
Flash floods come in a fury, leaves behind devastation, destruction of life and property. Jammu Division is experiencing heavy rains since last fortnight which has caused hardships to residents of many localities as overflowing water entered houses along with extensive damage to roads of Janipur, Paloura, New Plot, Talab Tillo, Shakti Nagar, Ban Talab, Narwal, Sunjwan and Channi within city limits and the havoc due to it in villages is beyond imagination so much so that bridges have been washed away along with roads and as such many villages like Kangrail have been cut off from rest of the state.
The rains also triggered several landslides along the Panjthirthi-Nagrota road in the city. Many precious lives have also been lost.
Question arises, is this natural calamity or man made disaster and the answer is simply man made. With the ever increasing demand for residential colonies, land sharks have encroached each and every inch of space of the entire region with all Government Departments be it Jammu Municipal Corporation, Revenue, JDA, ERA, J&K Housing Board, UEED or Irrigation and Flood Control being mute spectators for decades and the resulting devastation is in front of everyone despite the fact that every possible rain water drain have been demarcated in records of respective departments. So much is the rot in the system that one ex-minister is involved in raising a palatial bungalow on the rain water drain itself, ex- minister’s complex of residential flats and commercial buildings had been sealed and what to speak Bathindi has 24996 kanals and Sidhra 5626 kanals and 13 marla of forest land encroached as per records and even court orders are not implemented in safeguarding and evacuation of government land. When lawmakers themselves are indulging in such kind of activities question is then who will bell the cat. Government contractors assigned for civil work leave the malba and construction material on road sides which with rains goes into drains, clogging them and resultant chaos is for everyone to see. In majority of JMC areas there is no door to door collection of garbage as a result everything ends up in drains. There is no effort or campaign from JMC for the same. Majority of JMC workers work till 9 am then providing services to other offices and practically you cannot get cleaned whole city with this kind of effort. Poor quality of roads is another matter of concern and there is no accountability.
Jammu has miserably failed to manage the storm water drains. Mumbai learnt its lesson for tampering with nature in 2005. The stories of wetlands in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Guwahati seem to be strikingly similar. Unplanned rapid urbanization post 1989 in Jammu also has led to large-scale conversion of watershed area of ponds, rain water drains to residential, commercial estates. Rani Talab, Roraian di Chapri, Talab Tillo are the names of ponds which have been either encroached or converted to concrete parks. Even lands of temples like Ranbirshewar Mandir near Civil Secretariat as well as Ram Mandir at Purani Mandi have either been converted to park or full fledged commercial building. Rain water drain outside Railway Station has been encroached by JDA park with an eat point at Zorawar Singh Chowk end. Moreover the catchments have also got deforested or degraded; which has caused huge silt movement in the catchment. Does our Social Forestry division exist as no major plantation drive has been undertaken in recent past? The silt then flows directly into the water bodies along with garbage clogging them. The departments assigned to protect water bodies have themselves filled up the water bodies and show these as cases of change in land use patterns. Glaring example is Rani Park in City itself.
The vital roles played by the urban water bodies in flood moderation and groundwater recharge are completely underestimated, unaccounted and overlooked. The lakes and water bodies of India are directly influenced by a number of legal provisions and regulatory framework. Article 48-A of the Constitution states: “The State shall endeavor to protect and improve environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country”. Similarly, Article 51-A (g) says it is the fundamental duty of each citizen “to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.” The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), issued a rule for conservation and management of wetlands in December, 2010, under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, called the Wetlands (Management and Conservation) Rules, 2010. But one has to give teeth to the law as once only when the wetland is notified under the Act then only it can be protected; otherwise the Act is of no use. Gharana Wetland is a classic case in Jammu. In the state of Jammu and Kashmir, lack of implementation of strict laws has allowed people to construct on the flood plain areas and typically no official has been taken to task till HC intervened and has started recovery from SMC officials.
The city gets deluged even if it receives less-than-normal rainfall. But instead of reviving the drains, the Government has started to use high-end technologies, pipes for instance, to divert rainwater to nearby rivers using funds from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewable Mission. In the present scenario when cities are extracting huge quantities of ground water and water bodies are disappearing, we should use the runoff storm water drains to recharge the groundwater. The loss of storm water can be solved by integrating green infrastructure into the storm water management process. Some of these best management practices to reduce the runs offs are green roof, filter strips, rainwater tanks and cisterns, permeable pavement, grass channel, bio retention ponds and swales. Many countries have taken up these initiatives and have also incorporated these practices as part of their policies with a law that all newly developed or retrofitted developments need to manage 80 per cent of storm water runoff from impermeable surfaces. If the developer fails to tackle this then he needs to pay the retention fees which is used by the city to retrofit streets, parks and other sites for better management of urban runoff. Germany collects rain taxes for the amount of impervious surface cover on a property, which generates runoff and directed to the local storm water channel. So, more the rainwater is caught and conserved, less is the runoff added to the storm drains. Less runoff allows for smaller storm water channels, which, in turn, saves construction and maintenance costs at the site. Thus people get rain tax reductions by converting their impervious pavement into porous ones. In India, there have been sporadic efforts in this direction. In 2012, the Jaipur Development Authority planned a conventional dense graded asphalt parking lot at Gandhi Nagar railway station. Porous asphalt pavement, also referred to as permeable pavement, contains pores or separation joints that allow water to flow through and seep into the soil, thereby reducing the runoff. Another such example can be seen at the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) in Hyderabad’s Uppal Road. They constructed nine rainwater harvesting ponds (rain gardens) to catch runoff. Each garden is 40 sq m in area and is circular in shape. Nine ponds have the capacity of holding 180 cum of rain. These rain gardens created have resulted in zero runoff from the three hectare campus. Water table in the area has also risen by 1.5 metre. Has any of these techniques been applied anywhere in Jammu?
Jammu receives most of the rainfall in just 125 hours of rain and it is important to catch this water for water security throughout the year. There is also a need to manage the runoff flowing through the storm water drains in cities to avoid water-logging and flash floods. There is a need that the building rules and codes reflect the maximization of on-property storm water use wherever possible. The city corporations should have infrastructure proposals in accordance with the relevant adopted storm water management plan. The city engineers should work with the builders and the developers to agree on suitable storm water management strategies. They should work in such a way so as not to overload any previously adequate downstream system. With so many parking developed in recent times, have concerned departments ever thought of Porous Asphalt parking? Has any upcoming construction by Government agencies adopted rain water conservation? Are our town planners, Municipal Corporations or other bodies aware of all these? If no then really sorry state of affairs and if yes where have they used their expertise? Answer to all these will be a big no , either repeated laying and repairing of roads and drains every year is too lucrative a business for them to abandon or ‘Chalta Hae’ attitude is supreme. Why repair works are undertaken in rainy seasons is another debatable point? Our political class may not be technical qualified to get the things in right direction but our self claimed technocrats and bureaucrats have miserably failed to deliver the things on the ground despite both Jammu and Srinagar being awarded Smart City projects. Think about helpless public whose hard earned money gets washed away in flash floods. Once in fifty years is excusable but every year its same old story depicting sordid state of affairs. If we don’t plan even now, nature is not going to spare us and will claim its own lost space with vengeance and nature does not discriminate between rich and poor.