Snowfall declared as ‘natural calamity’

Areas which usually are snow bound and prone to receive heavy snowfall in Jammu and Kashmir need steps and measures, on short term basis, in extreme cases , to be taken by the Government to provide help to those people who are put to disadvantage or are cut from the outside world. The Union Territory Government has declared the recent snowfall and its impact on the daily routine of the people as a ‘specific natural calamity’. Obviously, the measure was going to benefit the sufferers especially those sections with moderate means whose houses have been damaged and such declaration would make the process of granting and paying the ex-gratia money as compensation and relief to the eligible people quite easy. State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) under the norms of which the snowfall in the UT has been declared as a natural calamity, could make the entire process of sanction and disbursement of the relief amount plain -sailing and well ordered which otherwise under District Disaster Management Authorities provisions, could not be done. At the outset, in addition to prospects of early disbursement of ex-gratia relief to the affected persons, the Lieutenant Governor has directed that 4×4 rescue vehicles and ambulances to be provided to snow ”affected” districts so as to provide help to the ones in distress. It has, however, been observed that usually snowfalls cannot come under natural calamities but the UT Government has done it for the first time only after taking cognizance of the specific fallout of the recent heavy snowfall. It is nice that the Lieutenant Governor has sought detailed information about the problems faced by the people on account of the aftermaths of the snowfall but what we feel is that usually before the onset of the winter season, the Government through all district offices, ensures that enough stocks of goods of daily use especially rice, floor, sugar, medicines, LPG, etc were built up and whether any temporary disruption in supplies for a few days any temporary disruption in supplies for a few days, as is usually wont to the behaviour of the weather during the season, was not going to have any effect on availability of essential commodities from retail sale outlets. Winter preparedness measures need to be taken well in advance and not like proverbial digging the well when fire was raging. We have now better organised and adequately funded Municipal Councils and Panchayats etc in addition to other administrative apparatus to keep the roads motorable by removing snow from them. What we observed in respect of the recent snowfall is that the clearance of snow from roads was unsatisfactory so much so that important road leading to the Srinagar Airport had not been fully cleared of the snow even after the fourth day of the snowfall. Equally is the utter confusion and disarray witnessed on the National Highway where not to speak of normal position of vehicular movement getting restored, even no steps are reportedly taken in at least stranded people mainly visitors returning from the valley, being in a position to reach back home as the road at many places has again been damaged after one way traffic for a day was partially restored. Unfortunately, every year during winter season and even during monsoon season too, the erratic behaviour of the busiest Jammu-Srinagar National Highway takes the administrative machinery and the levels of preparedness of different agencies by surprise wherein panic buttons are pressed more than dealing with the situation in an organised way. Making four lane road or widening it have been found of less importance than taking measures to keep the Highway useable and smoothly motor-able round the year