I had a detailed telephonic discussion with Iftekhar Gilani of the DNA newspaper about the conditions in Kashmir at about 1 p.m. today. Iftekhar is a Kashmiri journalist based in Delhi.
He told me that the state government of J&K has become totally dysfunctional, and even the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah can do nothing. The Director General of Police and other police officers have become helpless as their telephone links have been cut off.
The situation is very bad in Kashmir.. Many people are stranded amidst water and have not yet been traced. Iftekhar suggested that the following urgent measure are required to deal withe situation :
(1) A Central Command Centre, manned by the army or some other agency, for rescue and relief work, should be immediately set up at Srinagar airport, which is not underwater, and is the safest place in Kashmir. This Centre should direct and monitor all rescue operations, and all agencies, Central and State should be subordinated to it and work under its direction.
(2) Information bulletins should be issued from this Centre every hour stating about the general situation, as well as the special situation in various localities, what are the water levels in various localities, what rescue operations are going on, where are people stranded, what effort is being made to rescue them, what is done to the people rescued, how is water and food being supplied etc
(3) There is acute shortage of drinking water and food. Water bottles in large quantities can be sent from Delhi and elsewhere, as well as chlorine tablets to put in the drinking water, which may be contaminated. The food required should be non perishable items like biscuits, etc Later blankets would also be required as soon it will start getting cold.
(4) Post rescue relief and rehabilitation planning should begin immediately, because more problems will arise after the water recedes, e.g. of sanitation and diseases, and rehabilitation of people affected by the floods.
After speaking to Iftekhar I tried to contact the Union Home Minister, Mr. Rajnath Sngh, but was informed that he had gone to Gujrat. I then spoke on telephone with the Union Home Secretary, Mr. Anil Goswamy, and asked him for an immediate appointment which he was kind enough to give me.
I reached his office at North Block at about 1.30 p.m. and was with him for about 45 minutes. I related to him the suggestions of Iftekhar Gilani. I said that as a Kashmiri I was deeply concerned about the plight of people in Kashmir. I also informed him that a lady Assistant Secretary of the Press Council, of which I am the Chairman, informed me in my office today that both her daughter and daughter-in-law had gone to Srinagar to attend a wedding, but were untraceable thereafter.
After listening to me in detail, Mr Goswami then briefed me about the work the Central Government had been doing to relieve the Kashmir flood situation.
Among the things he told me were :
1. Due to the heavy rains, the Jhelum river overflowed its banks, and the water entered the low lying areas in Srinagar. A barrage was also possibly breached. Many houses were wholly submerged , while others were partially submerged. People in houses which were totally submerged shifted to houses of neighbours, while those in houses which were partially submerged went to higher floors or attics.
The house of the Chief Justice of the High Court was totally submerged, and he had to be shifted to another house.
2. Due to the cutting off of electricity supply in Srinagar, the mobile phones stopped working as their batteries could not get charged. This created a panic situation because people were cut off from their near and dear ones.
3. There was disruption of water supply too. This has created a water shortage.
4. The Central Government agencies, including the Army, Air force, NDFR, CRPF, BSF, etc have been working round the clock to restore the situation
5. Food is coming from Gujrat, Karnatak, Bihar, and other states
6. Water bottles and chlorine tablets are being sent on a large scale.
7. Mobile phones and chargers are being supplied to people
8.. The J&K House in Delhi is presently acting as the nodal agency where relief material can be supplied.
9. Some boats have already been sent, and more are being sent to rescue stranded people.
10. Several other urgent measures are being taken by the Central Government.
The Home Secretary said that rescue boats are often being pelted with stones by people, not because they regard rescue workers as enemies, but out of frustration, and to sometimes seize these boats.
At the end of his briefing I suggested to the Home Secretary that the Central Government should publicize in the all India English and Hindi newspapers all the steps taken by the Central Government to provide relief to the people of Kashmir, as most people do not know about it. These publications should also mention the telephone numbers where people who are unable to get information about their relatives and friends can get information, so that the authorities can quickly locate and rescue such persons.
The Home Secretary said that he would speak to the Cabinet Secretary and Home Minister about my suggestions immediately. I am grateful to the Union Home Secretary for giving me an appointment at such short notice, and then giving me so much time.