(by Muzamil Jaleel)
Among a people generally distrustful of the government, its handling, or lack of it, of this calamity has washed away whatever credibility they may have given it credit for. Across Srinagar is example after example of the government’s total absence on the ground when lakhs of people needed its help.
The rescue operation isn’t led by anyone because there isn’t any communication between officials. The people have no means to contact anybody in the government. The Army, Air Force and NDRF are functioning on their own. The cellphones of almost all government officials are defunct. Director of Health Services (Kashmir) Saleem-ur Rahman, for example, said he cannot contact his officials. The only network functional is Aircel; government officials use BSNL or Airtel.
All government offices are shut, as are the civil secretariat and the high court. The state police’s control room is being run from a DIG’s car where a few officers use wireless to communicate among themselves. On Tuesday night, police managed to send a few radio updates to the public.
In the morning, IGP Abdul Gani Mir was roaming around in civvies near Sadar police station. A few policemen had tried to halt anxious people from rushing towards inundated neighbourhoods, got into a scuffle and had to retreat inside. Several other police officers walked around in civvies.
A senior officer near the Barzulla bridge said, “Our SDPO, Shehragi, is missing. We have no information about the SHO, Raj Bagh. Most thanas are submerged. We will be able to gauge the real magnitude of this only after the water recedes completely.”
No policeman was visible anywhere else. Against NDRF and Army personnel working independently, came constant accusations that they were giving preferential treatment to non-local workers. When rescue teams were attacked by relatives of trapped people, an NDRF officer told them: “Where is your own administration? Where are the police? We don’t belong here and have no idea where to go.”
Local volunteers took out their own rescue boats. While the Air Force conducted sorties to rescue people from roofs, a large number of volunteers went inside submerged neighbourhoods on makeshift rafts.
No one from the cabinet, including the CM, was accessible. Several legislators including ministers are in fact trapped. Almost all local newspapers and Internet portals operating from here are closed.
A young IAS officer and a magistrate in Srinagar, Abid Rashid Shah, was trying to guide NDRF men in a rescue. He didn’t have a phone. He hadn’t spoken to other officers since the floodwaters submerged Srinagar. A reporter told him that his father had managed to come out of a submerged house. “I had no way to find out,’’ he admitted.
He said he is expecting a serious law-and-order problem once the
waters recede. He had no credible information regarding casualties or the number of houses down. “The immediate need is to restore phone connectivity. That will help stop the rumour mills,’’ he said.
The breakdown of the administration is because there wasn’t a system in place to handle such a crisis. The civil administration doesn’t have a single satellite phone. The police have one and that is with the IGP. And no official seems to be in charge of anything.
Rescue teams have constantly reported that trapped people are desperate for drinking water and something to eat, especially for the children. There has been no such arrangement. A group of volunteers Tuesday brought a few cartons of drinking water bottles that were ferried to some of those who couldn’t be evacuated immediately.
With the administration missing, the calamity has given rise to a sense of community. For survivors rescued, relief camps within the town are being run by the people themselves. There are several efforts conducted by local mosques and gurdwaras. The largest camp has come up at a wedding hall at Sanatnagar where 4,000 people are housed. It is run by the Rawalpora Baitul Mal. Another is in a community centre building in Goripora where hundreds have taken shelter. Local people have also set up community kitchens and are preparing food packets to be distributed around the city. In fact, the mohalla committee of almost every area that has escaped the flood has been converted into a relief committee, with the local mosque at the centre of this activity. Mosque loudspeakers are being used to transmit messages about the situation and relief.
At a relief camp that has come up inside the Sanatnagar Gurdwara, Sarabjit Singh, an engineer, and Sumair Singh, a trader, have set up an information counter. “We have registered details of 3,600 people from our community who are missing. There are 86 families of survivors here. We have around 10,000 people from our community still out there in the ubmerged localities,’’ Sarabjit Singh said. “We are running a round-the-clock langar for them.”
There is also collaboration among these community-run groups. “We received rations from the neighbouring Hyderpora mosque,’’ Singh said.
(Courtesy: Indian Express)