Interview: Yousuf Tarigami

‘The whole country must respond’

Print edition : October 17, 2014

Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, CPI(M) MLA. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

Interview with Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA from Kulgam, Jammu and Kashmir.

LIKE most parts of southern Kashmir, which is bordered by the Pir Panjal range, Kulgam district was badly affected by the flooding of the Vaishow nullah. Dredging and desilting of the canals as part of flood-management techniques has been a major concern across the State for some time now, but it has long been ignored by successive State governments. Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a three-time legislator from Kulgam, spoke to Frontline on the immediate priorities in the flood-hit State. Floods, he says, are not new to Kashmir but this episode was unprecedented. He also cautioned against the “politicisation” of the humanitarian tragedy. Excerpts from the conversation.

Do you think a disaster of this scale was avoidable and could have been mitigated by human intervention?

The reality is that all of us got virtually caught by surprise. We never expected a disaster of this scale. There have been some changes in the environmental domain, globally, too, and that could have been responsible for the kind of rain we witnessed. As far as Kashmir is concerned, we don’t have an effective disaster-management system. I am not saying the floods could have been avoided, but certain interventions were possible. We have been experiencing the effects of climate change for some time now as have some other parts of the world. And floods have occurred in Kashmir before. The unusual part was the intensity. What we experienced recently was unprecedented. As far as my memory goes, I do not remember such floods. It was a huge shock and everything was paralysed, including political and administrative life. How helpless all of us felt in the initial days cannot be described.

How would you describe the rescue operations? There have been complaints, some reported in the media, about the affected not getting help?

Apart from the Army as an institution, equipped as it is with better resources, there were several ordinary people who also, despite being affected themselves, volunteered to help. There was a tremendous sentiment of helping each other. This was one of the major features of this disaster. The role of disaster management is to manage calamities in a better manner. There was no effective system. Some nullahs and rivers are flood-prone. The Vaishow nullah in Kulgam district is at least 50 kilometres long and when flooded, it becomes ferocious. Much of Kashmir has water, and we irrigate our crops, but the irrigation canals have also got flooded. The destruction to life is bad enough, but land, orchards have all got washed away. I don’t think the response has been adequate, either from the State or from the Centre. Even after so many days, parts of Srinagar are still under water. It is not a question of a blame game, but there has to be a plan for the future. Rajouri, too, has been badly affected.

Has the relief operation by the Army and the Centre been politicised by various sections? There were reports of relief being distributed on communal lines. The Chief Minister also recently said that the State’s demand for more chlorine tablets was not met.

The tragedy is huge. There has to be a national response and effort. It requires a whole lot of effort from the entire country. It is beyond the capacity of the State government. Unfortunately, everything gets politicised. This is a huge tragedy. We must not divide people on the basis of their political orientation. On the other hand, suffering should unite people. The Army played a good role. Ordinary people, too, did a lot on their own. We must not politicise it. That is why I say we need a national effort.

Were the rescue efforts being interpreted by the media and others to suggest that Kashmiris ought to be grateful to the Indian Army and to the Central government?

People have appreciated the efforts of the Central government. Why should it be a question of being grateful? The Indian Army is one of the important institutions of the country. They are discharging their duty towards the citizens of the country. How best we can pick up the threads and help mitigate the suffering of Kashmiris is the question.

Do you think the expectations of the State government and the Kashmiris for more relief from the Centre are realistic?

Winter is coming. The pace of providing relief and rehabilitation is not adequate. It is quite slow. The administration was not prepared, and the people had not expected such devastation. We do not have the resources. That is why there is a need for the whole country to respond. It is a realistic demand to expect the Centre to help. I fear that the destruction is far more than what is being discussed so far.