Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Sunday declared “heavy snowfall” as a state-specific natural calamity under the State Disaster Response Force norms, reported Greater Kashmir. The decision was taken to expedite the process for disbursement of relief and ex-gratia for the damage caused by snowfall in the region.

Earlier, “heavy snowfall” was not in the list of “natural calamities” under the SDRF norms, due to which disbursement of relief and ex-gratia process for damage caused by it was not possible for the District Disaster Management Authorities.

In a statement, administration of the Union Territory said that due to the declaration of the “heavy snowfall” as a natural calamity, processing of ex-gratia relief under the SDRF will become faster, thereby providing relief to those affected in snow-bound areas.

Sinha took the decision after chairing a virtual meeting to take stock of the winter management, especially snow clearance efforts of the administration. All district collectors and senior superintendents of police of Kashmir division were present in the meeting.

The lieutenant governor also sought a detailed report on problems faced by the public because of the heavy snowfall as well as the administration’s future course of action to combat these problems. “Be visible and take early measures,” he told the officers. “Need more feet on the ground. Quickly reach out to the people to address their needs and requirements.”

Sinha also directed the officials to provide 4×4 rescue vehicles to snow affected districts with immediate effect. He was informed about the shortage of such vehicles for people requiring medical assistance in remote areas.

The lieutenant governor also took note of media reports, social media posts and grievances received from the public and asked officials to take immediate steps to address the problems.

The Union Territory administration had faced criticism for failing to clear snow from roads, according to NDTV. Life in the Valley had come to a standstill due to heavy snowfall. Many remote areas have remained cut off, even three days after the snowfall had stopped.

Record snowfall over the past week had prevented ambulances from reaching patients, forcing the local residents to carry the dead as well as those in need of medical attention on their shoulders. The local residents were also clearing snow on their own.

“The young and the old had to come out and clear the snow,” a local resident of the Shopian district told NDTV. “We did manually. There was no assistance from the government.”

The same situation unfurled in many areas, including the Union Territory’s summer capital Srinagar.

Officials said that they have already cleared over 80% of lanes and by-lanes in Srinagar, adding that the delay in response was because of the lack of snow-clearing machines.

Meanwhile, fresh traffic was allowed on the Jammu-Srinagar Highway after it was opened on Sunday. The highway, which connects Kashmir to the rest of the country, was cleared on January 9 but then only stranded passengers were allowed to pass. Flight services were also briefly affected on Sunday after some areas of the Valley received light snowfall.