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Amid the heavy snowfall last week in valley, two bureaucrats’ one from administration and another from the police were running the show as if Kashmir was under the Governor’s rule. The Legitimate reports how government turned the natures blessing into curse for common people.

Scenic view of tourist resort Gulmarg after fresh snowfall. Photo: Zahir Farooq

Scenic view of tourist resort Gulmarg after fresh snowfall. Photo: Zahir Farooq

Asem Mohiuddin

Last week when Meteorological department issued an advisory predicting heavy snowfall in Kashmir and warned state government and people especially those living in the upper parts of Valley to remain alert for the worse. As the alert messages were flashed to all control rooms across Kashmir asking the officials of disaster management to remain prepared for any sort of exigency most of the people didn’t take the MET warning seriously as heavy snowfall had eluded Valley from many years and had become a thing of past in Kashmir.

The prediction about heavy snowfall had come from MET office soon after one of the longest dry spells ended in the Valley when different parts of Kashmir received season’s first snowfall on January 24 and people celebrated the snowfall with sharing pictures on social networking sites and even some anxious residents changed their dp profiles with snow clad mountains and the snow draped forests. In Srinagar, the snow didn’t last for long, the upper parts of Kashmir, however, received good snow fall.One of the world’s finest ski resorts –Gulmarg located in Northern part of Kashmir also received two feet of snow that attracted good number of domestic and foreign tourists towards the tourist resort that had been waiting for the tourists especially after five months long unrest in Kashmir that left almost 90 percent of hotels at the tourist resort empty due to absence of tourists. With timely snow, the tour operators were now waiting for good tourist arrivals up to spring and kept hotels ready to welcome guests.

“For us this snow is life and we are lucky that snowfall took place in the Gulmarg at the right time. Hopefully this snowfall will attract good number of foreigner’s and skiers towards the resort,’’ Manager, Hill Top Hotel Gulmarg told The Legitimate. “After the snowfall most of the hotels that were closed have now opened and are waiting for the tourists. After many years, Gulmarg observed good snowfall at the right time.”

The initial; snowfall brought cheers on faces of farmers and apple growers as well who were grappling with dryspell from past six months and didn’t expect good snowfall this winter as well when half of the days of the harshest winter also known as Chila Kalan (40 days of tough winter) passed without any snow and the night temperature dropped to below subzero temperatures engulfing Kashmir into cold wave. “When December and first half of January passed without snow, alarm bells started ringing among the fruit growers and farmers. After the dry spell ended, the snow has given good lease of life to our orchards as the dry spell was causing harm to our apple trees,’’ Jan Mohammad, a fruit grower said.

A view of Dal Lake during the snowfall. Photo:Zahir Farooq

A view of Dal Lake during the snowfall. Photo: Zahir Farooq

However, the first snowfall on January 5 left the Valley crippled even in summer capital that witnessed just few inches of snow, the district administration was caught off guard even though J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti was also present in the city to observe the first death anniversary of her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who died last year in January at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The water logging, absence of electricity and closure of roads portrayed a messy situation. “It is very sad, the administration that makes tall claims about winter preparation was found missing. It looked as if the administration got buried under few inches of snow,’’ wrote one of the Valley’s prominent journalist after seeing lackadaisical approach of the government.

The tall claims of government fell flat but situation was brought under control as the quantum of snow was very less and didn’t cause any panic infact every citizen started welcoming it some terming the timing of snowfall as a good omen. J&K’s Tourism department also started making preparations to welcome tourism and even issued time table for winter carnivals in the serene white skiing meadows of Gulmarg. And then came the second snowfall on January 24, but the quantum of the snow was beyond one could imagine. Gulmarg recorded more than 10 feet of snow, Gurez in North Kashmir recorded 12 to 15 feet and upper reaches of Kupwara also observed more than 12 feet of snow. Even in the plains of North and South Kashmir as well as in the Central Kashmir – the plain areas and townships recorded more than three feet of snow. The snowfall left the Valley crippled and administration missing from all the spots. Even it took four days for Power Development department to restore electricity in the main towns of North Kashmir and at some places roads are still closed as administration has failed to reach on those spots. The main Srinagar city witnessed only few inches of snow so people in the main city didn’t face much problem. The heavy snow fall triggered massive landslides and avalanches at many places. In the avalanches five civilians and 19 soldiers including some officers lost their lives. The Valley remained cutoff from the rest of the country as both road and air link got disrupted due to the heavy snowfall. When snow didn’t subside and administration was missing from the spot the people who were initially enjoying the snow started cursing their fate. “Snowfall is always a good omen for the people but unfortunately for us it brings miseries as the administration never takes issues seriously in our part of the world,’’ said Mohammad Shafi, a resident of North Kashmir. “I have  been praying to almighty to stop this snow as it is bringing miseries for us and are without electricity from past seven days.’’

A village under snow near tourist spot Gulmarg in north Kashmir.Photo: Zahir Farooq

A village under snow near tourist spot Gulmarg in north Kashmir.Photo: Zahir Farooq

When Kashmir was reeling under cold wave and snowfall blocked routes to all the far off places, the entire machinery was missing, the legislators and ministers who claim themselves as democratically elected representatives and public servants skipped their respective constituencies. The ministers who were supposed to provide solace to the people especially those in need in the snowbound areas were enjoying warm environs of winter capital Jammu. And two bureaucrats one from administration and another from the police were running the show in the Valley as if Kashmir was under the Governor’s rule. The BJP- PDP government has already discarded the winter secretariat where usually some ministers used to remain present during the harsh winter days. “Neither any minister or assembly member is in the Valley they are enjoying in Jammu and they have left five million people at the mercy of few police and district administration officials,’’ said a political analyst.

The snowfall left the highway and air traffic closed and the airfares between Jammu to Srinagar that is not more than few thousand rupees crossed to Rs 35,000 as there was nobody to check the loot by the airlines and tourists who were planning their vacation or skiing on the snow of Gulmarg couldn’t afford to travel to Kashmir. “This is how Tourism is being promoted. The fare between Dubai to Delhi is Rs 12000 and from Delhi to Srinagar it is more than Rs 30,000 who is going to come Kashmir. It seems there is a deliberate ploy to ruin the tourism sector of Kashmir,’’ said Javid Khan a tour operator.

And opposition didn’t miss the opportunity to criticize the government. Like ruling party opposition leaders including former J&K chief minister, Omar Abdullah and J&K Pradesh Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir criticized government for failing people. “The winter is part of our lives and unfortunately this government was never prepared for snowfall as they left it on the shoulders of few officials. In present circumstances most of the places in Kashmir are inaccessible and without electricity,’’ blamed Mir who is also camping in Jammu.Due to official and political apathy the snow has become a curse and now instead of enjoying people have started cursing it and pray almighty to stop it as the snowfall could trigger massive avalanches and slides and could posse threat to civilian population. Even Omar Abdullah went a step ahead by saying that government has failed on all the fronts and couldn’t tackle snow fall.

Photo: Zahir Farooq

Photo: Zahir Farooq

Director MET Sonum Lotus though is optimistic that worst part is over now and termed the snowfall blessing for the Valley. “After 1991, the Valley has received such a heavy snowfall. It will be good for the glaciers especially it will help the water table and prove lifeline to depleting glaciers.’’ Lotus also predicted wet spell in February and Kashmir could witness more rain and snowfall.

Snow is essential part in the lives of people in the Valley Kashmir though it also brings some miseries and the J&K government should always remain prepared to tackle it in a way so that it will not become crisis situation by providing helping hand to the people and extending facilities so that people could enjoy this snow fall, like the Europeans who enjoy flakes of snow and never complain.

From the print edition of Feb 1 to 7, 2017.

 

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