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Thoughtscope: Kashmir’s winter woes

Lessons in how not to be prepared for the worst

By: Khurshid Ahmed Ganai

Frozen water non-supply

The other day there was a discussion on DD Kashir’s Halat-e-Hazira programme about the ongoing acute water supply problems in Srinagar due to freezing in the pipes and taps during Chillai Kalan (the coldest part of winter as per Kashmir tradition extending from December 22 to January 31). The two engineers from the PHE department, now Jal Shakti department, were explaining at length what the householders should have done at the start of winter to prevent freezing in the pipes during sub zero temperatures. They were advising wrapping of the pipes with insulating material well before December. While this was fine, what confounded me was why the department did not undertake a serious campaign in November to advise the householders to do this wrapping well in advance of December and January when freezing in the pipes is common due to sub zero night temperature. Even if they did, it does not seem to have had the desired impact or the message does not seem to have reached most households. A clear case of lack of or poor two way communication between the service provider and the customers.

Preparations by the households for long cold winter has been part of the tradition in Kashmir for centuries. However, many changes have taken place during the last few decades. People now seek information about weather forecast, snow clearance arrangements, traffic regulations, electricity and water supply schedules and emergent interruptions, supply of gas and fuel etc and health advisories including pre-winter advisories on flu vaccine and dos and don’ts for children, elderly and the sick. It has therefore become necessary that both the government authorities and the citizens think ahead to take whatever advance action is needed before the onset of winter. While most government departments do make their contingency plans for winter, a few may still miss on these, wholly or partly which then creates avoidable problems like the one discussed above. It is no point becoming wiser after the event.

Shopian’s lament about concrete monsters as new homes

On 31st January, Greater Kashmir carried a story on the problems being faced in far away Shopian which recorded minimum night temperature of about minus 13 degrees centigrade. It also quoted the inhabitants lamenting the new generation house construction methods and styles where cement concrete and steel have replaced the good old mud and wood that used to keep homes warm in winter. Now this malaise of ‘concrete monstrosities’ afflicting the residential house construction practices in Kashmir can be ignored only at our own peril and if not addressed, will continue to constitute a serious threat to our safety, comfort and environment apart from being a high cost option. Kashmir being located in seismic zone IV, the concrete residential structures are automatically unsafe during severe earthquakes and the size and elaborateness makes them costly and veritable cold storages in winter in electricity deficient Kashmir.

It is therefore a matter of serious concern. Even our own Vice Chancellor of Kashmir university Prof. Talat Ahmed, who is a geologist and has taught geology, red flagged this type of construction of houses and buildings in Kashmir and warned of serious threat to life and property in the event of a severe earthquake hitting the valley.

I vaguely recall there used to be a Building Centre in Regional Engineering College, Srinagar (now NIT ) during late 1970s or 1980s under the supervision of the then HOD Civil Engineering Department Prof. Wakhloo who later became the Principal, tasked to come up with alternate and appropriate designs and materials for construction of buildings and houses in Kashmir. That centre no longer exists, but a similar kind needs to be revived either in Kashmir University’s Engineering College or the NIT. The young engineers and entrepreneurs in Kashmir also need to focus on this and come up with suitable solutions to buck the ‘concrete’ trend. Some enterprising young men or women from Shopian could lead the way.

Winter economy and possibilities for the local entrepreneurs

In an earlier column of Thoughtscope, I talked about winter economy of Kashmir and suggested that the government could have a winter sub-plan under some selected departmental annual plans and incentivize specific sectors of economy of Kashmir to get the people engaged in productive and income generating activities during cold winter months. For example, the government and the entrepreneurs could look at winter tourism, handicrafts and handlooms, small scale and cottage manufacturing, green house agriculture, home made spices and foods including dried foods, solar energy etc. The electronics and IT sectors also offer many opportunities for technocrats and individual enterprise if the basic infrastructure and connectivity is provided seamlessly. That winter in Kashmir can be made a period of incessant economic activity instead of comparative indolence is something we all should consider seriously. Better late than never.

(Khurshid Ahmed Ganai, Retd. IAS, is former Advisor to Governor, J&K and Former Chief Information Commissioner, J&K)

 

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