The great tragedy due to the floods in J&K, in my opinion, was caused by the collapse or absence of effective town panning and drainage system in Srinagar and other places, and this tragedy will occur again and again in most of our cities in India unless we learn a lesson and take urgent remedial steps soon..
In one vital respect India has gone backward rather than forward in 5000 years, and that is in respect of town planning and the drainage system in our cities.
5000 years ago our ancestors had built the great Harappa-Mohenjodaro civilization, which was largely city based having excellent town planning and drainage systems. According to the eminent Indian historian, D.D. Kosambi, no ancient civilization before the Romans had such advanced town planning and drainage and sanitation system.
Each city had a higher and a lower part, the higher part being for the richer , and the lower for the poorer people ( like the division between the civil lines and chowk areas in many cities in India today ).
The main streets ran in straight lines from north to south, and from west to east, intersecting at right angles. These streets ran for about a mile, Lanes were joined to these streets, each lane having a public well. Street lamps were provided for the public at night. Encroachments on streets and lanes were strictly prohibited.
Most houses, some of which were multi- storeyed, had baths, wells, and horizontal and vertical covered drains, connected to underground street drains covered with stone slabs. The soak pits were made of burnt bricks, which was also the material used for building houses.
There was a Great Granary for storing grain, great baths,( like the Roman Baths ) Harappa having 5 of them , the largest being of dimension 180 ft.x 108 ft. and 8 ft. deep. There were devices to fill and empty the water from them. There were galleries and rooms on all sides of these Baths.
Now contrast this with the situation in most cities of India today :
1. Town planning no doubt exists on paper in most cities in India, with Master Plans demarcating the residential, commercial and industrial areas, but the ground reality is quite different. Due to the corruption and connivance of the state and municipal authorities, illegal constructions and encroachments have mushroomed everywhere in most cities in India, turning them into urban jungles. Buildings are often constructed in violation of the building rules. For instance, perhaps half of Delhi is illegally constructed. As a result, the demarcations on paper in the Master Plans of different areas for different purposes have become totally blurred in reality.
2. The drainage system in most cities has totally collapsed due to illegal constructions and encroachments ( in connivance with the municipal and local authorities ) on these public drains. As a result flooding takes place every year in many parts of many cities.
Monsoon and other rains will usually come every year, and there has to be a drainage system to take the water out of the city ( as was provided for in Harappa and Mohenjodaro ), but if this is absent or has collapsed there is bound to be flooding. For instance, in Allahabad ( my home town ) almost every year many localities like Allahpur, parts of Mumfordganj, etc get submerged 10 ft, underwater because the drainage system has collapsed.
3. In Harappa and Mohenjodaro the public drains were all covered, but in many cities in India today they are uncovered, spreading diseases through flies, mosquitos, etc. There is total lack of a sense of hygiene and sanitation in our public.Our people throw garbage and rubbish everywhere, as is evident from the mounds of filth and muck lying on roads and lanes everywhere, no doubt causing diseases. Compare this with North American and European countries where people are trained from childhood to throw garbage and rubbish only in the garbage bins set up for this purpose.
The tragedy in J&K is due to this fact. Thousands of illegal constructions were allowed to be made by corrupt government, municipal and other local officials on the banks of the Jhelum river, thus narrowing its river channel. Consequently the river rose very fast due to 3-4 days of incessant rains. The overflowing water from the Jhelum, and also perhaps from the water flowing into the city of Srinagar due to the breach of a barrage, caused the terrible tragedy as the water flooded into the low lying areas submerging them, wholly or partially. The unplanned urbanization and illegal encroachments in many areas is largely responsible for this...
Some further details of the causes for the calamity are as follows :
1. The drainage channels in the city have been blocked for years due to illegal constructions and encroachments on them. Consequently water could not flow out of these channels.
2. Due to heavy encroachments into the Dal and other lakes in Kashmir, their open and catchment areas have been drastically reduced. Thus, the open area of the Dal Lake has been reduced from 24 sq. km. to 12 sq. km., and its average depth reduced to 3 m. due to siltation. This means that these lakes can no longer act as a sponge absorbing the flood water.
3.Many wetlands e.g. Batmalu Nambal, Rekh-e-Gandakshah, Rakh-e-arat and Rakh-e-khan, and streams of the Doodganga and Nalla Mar have been competely lost, while other lakes and wetlands have considerably shrunk. The Mar Nalla was lost to a road, and Doodganga Nalla was converted into residential buildings, shopping malls, etc.
4. Wullar lake has lost 88% of its surface area due to encroachments. Since most streams and drains of the valley discharge into the Wullar, the clogged lake can cause major floods in the Kashmir valley.
5. With rising water in the Doodganga stream, both sides of which were heavily encroached upon, residents at Barzulla broke a bund to allow the water to go into the Jhelum, instead of inundating their residential colony.. This resulted in more water entering the Jhelum, making its water level rise.
6. Illegal constructions have been rampant in Khanbal bridge, Bijbehara, Sangam, Haimula, Kakpora, Samboora, Guru, Padhgampura, etc
All this is the inevitable result of unplanned urbanization and corruption.
I think we have gone backward instead of forwards in 5000 years in this respect. I fear such tragedies will be repeated in other cities in India too if we do not now wake up now.