Srinagar city plan puts residents at risk of floods — officials

Kashmiri children with their belongings sit under an umbrella during rain in Srinagar. (Reuters)
Updated 18 August 2017
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Srinagar city plan puts residents at risk of floods — officials

SRINAGAR, India: A plan for the development of Srinagar city to 2035, put together by the government of Indian-administered Kashmir, ignores lessons from the 2014 floods that hit Srinagar and southern Kashmir, disaster prevention officials have warned.
The large-scale destruction wrought by those floods was widely attributed to haphazard development in Srinagar, Kashmir’s largest city, and other urban areas over decades.
Critics blamed housing and infrastructure construction in former flood basins in the mountainous north Indian state.
The Master Plan for development of the Srinagar Metropolitan Region, which was open for public consultation until mid-August, is due to be finalized by the end of October.
Kashmir’s Chief Town Planner Fayaz Ahmad Khan said the plan does envisage some new infrastructure development in flood-prone areas where homes, shops and government offices have already been built, because of a “pathetic” lack of state-owned land.
The plan proposes solutions for all potential problems, including flooding, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In a letter dated July 27, 2017 and addressed to Khan, the Jammu and Kashmir Irrigation and Flood Control (IFC) department said it had analyzed the plan from the perspective of its own recommendations based on flood scenarios.
Before the plan was drafted, Khan had asked the IFC department to categorize areas as “undevelopable”, “vulnerable” or “suitable for development”, the letter said.
In response, the department advised that some parts of the city should be classified as “undevelopable” and “vulnerable”, said the letter seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
However, those zones have been designated as “low density residential” areas in the plan, which will “encourage and eventually attract more people in these areas” which cannot be protected “by any means” if floods occur, warned the letter.
ADMINISTRATION ‘AT RISK’
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has also questioned a bid to move the secretariat of the Jammu and Kashmir government, which includes ministers’ offices, to a location at risk of flooding.
“(The Master Plan) acknowledges many parts of Srinagar city as highly vulnerable to natural disasters, yet contradictorily gives proposals like shifting the Civil Secretariat to Railway Station Nowgam which, as per the plan, is a highly flood-prone area and a designated flood absorption basin,” said Saleem Beg, INTACH’s regional head.
The IFC letter also argued the plan would allow construction on an important 242-hectare (598-acre) wetland, Narkara, in southern Srinagar, as its 100-meter (328-ft) buffer zone is depicted deep inside the wetland.
The Chief Town Planner said the IFC assessment had categorized “more than half of the city”, which has a population of about 1.3 million, as vulnerable and undevelopable.
“But people already live in these areas, and government and commercial infrastructure also exists there,” he said, noting the lack of alternative space for new development.
The city faces a major land crunch, with as much as 57 percent of its total area of 766 sq km classed as unsuitable for development, including wetlands, water bodies, forests and areas used by the Indian army, said Khan.
“This is why we have proposed some development within the developed urban areas, and also the creation of new townships around the city,” he added.
DISASTER PREVENTION
The Master Plan proposes — for the first time in over four decades of urban planning in Srinagar — a comprehensive disaster management strategy, he noted.
It also includes measures to protect water bodies, he said. “Most significant of these ... is to re-establish their connectivity with one another,” Khan said.
To prevent recurring floods, the plan envisages afforestation and slope stabilization, to retain rainwater in the upper reaches. It also recommends construction of mini-check dams, reservoirs, ponds and canals, and the preservation of natural flood basins, he said.
The plan also suggests that people already settled in flood basins should be relocated in developable areas, rather than backing a proposed multi-billion-dollar flood spill channel.
Experts have said the spill channel could have damaging consequences as it would require the acquisition of vast tracts of agricultural land, potentially harming food security, and could cause large silt deposits in Wular Lake downstream.
Mohammad Sultan Bhat, head of Kashmir University geography department, which carried out a flood hazard study of Srinagar, said the regional government should plan land use in a way that protects residents from disasters like floods and earthquakes, especially in overcrowded Srinagar city.
“The government’s urbanization policy is such that Srinagar city bears the brunt of all the population,” he said. With the main government offices and health and education institutions located in Srinagar, people prefer to live there, he added.
Jammu and Kashmir state has 46 towns, but 65 percent of the urban population is concentrated in its summer capital Srinagar, he noted.
“This is what compels the government to allow construction, even in wetlands, which act as sponges during floods,” he said. “This is unfortunate.”


Harvey Weinstein charged with rape

Updated 5 min 28 sec ago
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Harvey Weinstein charged with rape

  • Seven months after allegations of sexual misconduct destroyed his career and catalyzed the #MeToo movement, the once-powerhouse movie producer turned himself in to face charges.
  • Manhattan Assistant Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon: “This defendant used his position, money and power to lure young women into situations where he was able to violate them sexually.”

NEW YORK: Flinching when he heard himself described as a man who used power to prey on women, Harvey Weinstein was arraigned Friday on rape and other charges in the first criminal prosecution to result from the wave of allegations against him that sparked a national reckoning over sexual misconduct.
Seven months after the allegations destroyed his career and catalyzed the #MeToo movement, the once-powerhouse movie producer turned himself in to face the charges, which stem from encounters with two of the dozens who have accused him of sexual misdeeds ranging from harassment to assault.
“This defendant used his position, money and power to lure young women into situations where he was able to violate them sexually,” Manhattan Assistant Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said in court. Weinstein raised his eyebrows as he heard it.
Weinstein has consistently denied any allegations of nonconsensual sex. His lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, didn’t elaborate further on the denials Friday, saying he wasn’t there “to try the case” at this point.
A judge agreed to release Weinstein on $1 million bail, with constant electronic monitoring and a ban on traveling beyond New York and Connecticut.
A make-or-break Hollywood producer until the allegations destroyed his career last fall, Weinstein, 66, found himself surrounded by lights and cameras in a spectacle he couldn’t control.
“You sorry, Harvey?” came a shout from a throng of media as the once powerful movie mogul walked into a lower Manhattan courthouse in handcuffs, his head bowed. Asked “What can you say?” he mildly shook his head and softly said “No.”
Weinstein was charged with rape and a criminal sex act as well as lower-level sex abuse and sexual misconduct charges.
Weinstein lumbered into a police station early Friday wearing a blazer and carrying books including “Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution,” about the Broadway musical duo of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and “Elia Kazan,” about the famed film director,
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the criminal sex act charge stems from a 2004 encounter between Weinstein and Lucia Evans, a then-aspiring actress who has said the Hollywood mogul forced her to perform oral sex on him in his office. She was among the first women to speak out about the producer.
The rape charge relates to a woman who was not identified. A court complaint says Weinstein raped her in a Manhattan hotel in 2013.
Brafman has previously said that Weinstein has consistently denied any allegations of “nonconsensual sex.”
Evans confirmed to The New Yorker that she was pressing charges.
“At a certain point, you have to think about the greater good of humanity, of womankind,” she told the magazine.
Evans told The New Yorker in a story published in October that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex during a daytime meeting at his New York office in 2004, the summer before her senior year at Middlebury College.
“I said, over and over, ‘I don’t want to do this, stop, don’t,’” she told the magazine. “I tried to get away, but maybe I didn’t try hard enough. I didn’t want to kick him or fight him.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance had been under enormous public pressure to bring a criminal case against Weinstein. Some women’s groups, including the Hollywood activist group Time’s Up, accused the Democrat of being too deferential to Weinstein and too dismissive of his accusers.
A grand jury has been hearing evidence in the case for weeks.
In March, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took the extraordinary step of ordering the state’s attorney general to investigate whether Vance acted properly in 2015 when he decided not to prosecute Weinstein over a previous allegation of unwanted groping, made by an Italian model. That investigation is in its preliminary stages.
More than 75 women have accused Weinstein of wrongdoing around the globe. Several actresses and models accused him of criminal sexual assaults, but many of the encounters happened too long ago for any prosecution. Film actress Rose McGowan said Weinstein raped her in 1997 in Utah, “Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra said he raped her in her New York apartment in 1992 and Norwegian actress Natassia Malthe said he attacked her in a London hotel room in 2008.
McGowan told the AP on Thursday that “the justice system has been something very elusive.”
“I hope in this case, it works. Because it’s all true. None of this was consensual,” she said.
The statute of limitations for rape and certain other sex crimes in New York was eliminated in 2006, but not for attacks that happened prior to 2001.
New York City police detectives said in early November that they were investigating allegations by another accuser, “Boardwalk Empire” actress Paz de la Huerta, who told police in October that Weinstein raped her twice in 2010. She is not one of the victims in the case on Friday; hers was still pending, officials said.
Authorities in California and London also are investigating assault allegations. Britain has no statute of limits on rape cases; some of the allegations under investigation there date to the 1980s.
Harvey and his brother Bob Weinstein started his now-bankrupt company after leaving Miramax, the company they founded in 1979 and which became a powerhouse in ‘90s indie film with hits like “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love.” The Weinstein Co. found success with Oscar winners “The Artist” and “The King’s Speech.”