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Punjab Floods – Down the memory lane – by KS Chawla

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The Punjab state has been hit hard by the floods after almost two decades.

The unprecedented and worst type of floods hit the state in September 1988. It was on September 22 that it started having very rain and this rain continued for three days without any break. The rivers and the streams were flooded with the heaviest rains.

It was on September 25, 1988 that the Bhakra Beas Management Board had to open the spillway gate (floodgates) as the Gobindsagar reservoir of Bhakra dam had crossed the maximum water level limit of 1680 ft. The BBMB was forced to open the flood gates and water was released which added to the fury of already flooded rivers and streams.

The river Sutlej passed through districts of Ropar, Jalandhar and Ludhiana were already facing the floods but with the addition of water released by the BBMB added to woes of the people. The discharge of water in Sutlej was so heavy and fast that it over flowed its banks (Dhusi bandh) and many villages along the river were marooned.

At Phillaur Railway Bridge where the sign board giving the danger mark of the river was also covered with the water. The discharge at Phillaur railway bridge touched the highest level of 4.5 lakh cusecs. The Dhusi Bandh could bear only upto 2.20 lakh cusecs. Thus the areas around Ropar, Jalandhar and Ludhiana were badly affected. The authorities of these districts were caught unprepared.

As this writer who was the senior staffer with The Tribune team reached near the Tiger Safari which had not come up yet, there was another breach in the national highway. Thus two breaches were caused in period of five minutes and Ludhiana town was cut off from Jalandhar.

The low lying areas of Ludhiana town were flooded and the Budha Nulla which is known as Budha Darya was also submerged in the flood. The areas like Haibowal which is very heavily populated now had to be got evacuated. Relief camps were setup in Ludhiana town and about 20,000 people were given shelter in the relief camps which were setup in the schools and colleges of the city. These camps continued to serve the people for almost two months.

It was not over at Ludhiana only as the river Sutlej flowed upto Ferozepur the border district, on its way there was confluence of Sutlej and river Beas at Harike head works with the result, the water discharge further increased. By the time river touched Ferozepur, the discharge was the highest level of 6.5 lakh cusecs. This brought unprecedented misery to the residents of Ferozepur city and Ferozepur cantonement. Huge population from villages had to be evacuated brought in the relief camps.

For the state administration it was a stupendous task to look after the people in the camps. Punjab was under the President’s rule and at the same time, it was in the grip of strong militancy. The state administration had to fight on two fronts.

Besides, the havoc caused by river Sutlej and Beas in these areas, the entire Punjab state had been hit hard by the floods caused by the unprecedented heavy rain.

The state was not only hit by the floods, an tragic incident marred the Punjab’s scene as the militants gunned down the Chairman of the Bhakra Beas Management Board as he came put of his house to leave for this office. The Chairman BM Kumar was a competent officer and the militants had killed him for opening the flood gates of the Bhakra Dam. Earlier, the militants had killed one Superintending Engineer of the Irrigation Department of Punjab for the construction of SYL canal.

KS ChawlaThe floods had caused damage not only to the standing crops, but the state infrastructure as the Punjab State Electricity Board which is known as the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited as thousands of electric poled were uprooted and thousands of the transformers were damaged. It took months to bring the situation back to normal. The road transport system also received big setback due to the breaches in the national highway and other state highways.

The vehicular traffic between Ludhiana and Jalandhar remained suspended for two months and the only mode of transport was the railways.

The traffic could be resumed after two months when the army authorities built make shift bridges between Ludhiana and Jalandhar at Ludhiana and Ladowal.

After 1988 floods, the state witnessed floods in 1993 in which Jalandhar district was hit hard and some towns but it was not to level of 1988. After 1993, the Punjab state has remained almost free from floods. The Punjab state had elected governments after 1993 and the SAD-BJP coalition government ruled the state from 1997 to 2017 with one term by the Congress under the leadership of Amarinder Singh from 2002 to 2007.

From 2007 to 2017, the SAD-BJP was in the power for ten years and during this period, the coalition government did not pay much attention to strengthen the banks of the rivers. The Irrigation Department of Punjab had been getting funds and where those funds were spent was a matter of high level enquiry. The Akali Dal was now blaming the Congress government of Amarinder Singh which was a political black mail.

Captain Amarinder Singh should order an high level enquiry into siphoning of funds during the past ten years.

K S Chawla is a senior journalist based at Ludhiana.
Can be reached at : [email protected]
Mobile : 99886-44244

Published on August 21, 2019.

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