Despite their annual nature, floods in India continue to main states, claim hundreds of lives, and ravage valuable resources worth thousands of crore year after year.
This section, analyses few major floods that have taken place in India, and if the government succeeded in implementing different policy measures.
One of the most recent cases of disastrous floods is the 2018 Kerala Floods. More than 36,000 people were displaced across the state and 445 people died. Receiving heavy monsoon rainfall combined with the opening up of dams led to a rise in the water level, thereby, flooding the local low-lying areas.
Further, sudden release of water from other reservoirs simultaneously aggravated the damage. According to the amicus curiae appointed by the High Court of Kerala, absence of proper flood-forecasting system and reduced storage capacity of dams due to siltation only made matters worse.
Dams, which were built with the objective of controlling floods, now seem to be the trigger. The Rule Curve, that is used internationally, is a dam controlling schedule can be applied to India as well.
It regulates when and how a dam should be filled and emptied, ensuring that the dam is full to its capacity only towards the end of monsoon. Following this system, the chances of areas flooding can be reduced. The government could have been better prepared and communicated regularly with district magistrates, forest officials, and the Panchayat. This coordination was needed to handle above normal rainfall in terms of issuing alerts, early warning, training Panchayats, and local leadership.
Effective disaster management is only possible if procedural correctness is followed by the National Disaster Management Act, 2005. When skies rained death & destruction: India suffered Rs 3,78,247.047 cr loss due to floods in 65 years.
It has been found that the Kerala Dam Safety Authority and the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) had a lax attitude when it came to understanding the ecosystem services logic and conducting dam safety demands with an understanding of a holistic and inclusive science. An extremely distasteful statement was made by CN Ramachandran, Chairman Kerala Dam Safety Authority: “Don’t be swayed by the eco-activists or writers, nature should be tamed to reclaim all it had taken away during the catastrophic floods and the interests of the people should prevail over the environmental conservation.”
Further, the Dam Safety regulations assisted by flood inundation maps and Early Action Plan (EAP) were ignored. The government also ailed to provide relief as promised by the Chief Minister as an ex-gratia interim grant to the affected households. With more than 12.5% of the population above 65 years, other vulnerable sections like single women, disabled children who require special care were not provided for. Another disheartening act by the Kerala Government was watching the brutal death and drowning in captivity of their animals whether they were birds in cages, leashed pets at home, stray on the roads, and the pristine wildlife. This went directly against Article 48A48 and Article 51A49 of the Constitution.
The 2013 North India floods was the most recent natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami. Flash floods in Uttarakhand wiped out settlements and destroyed more than 5000 lives. Ecologist Chandra Prakash Kala noted in a report that the approximate cost of damaged bridges and roads was $285 million, dam projects worth $30 million and loss to state tourism worth $195 million. The floods were a combination of both natural causes as well as man-made causes. Due to the unstable slopes and loose rocks/boulders, the heavy monsoons accentuated landslides in the area. Anthropogenic factors like rampant deforestation, slope cutting, blasting of rocks, haphazard disposal of debris, and riverbank constructions also tend to enhance landslides. But it was the indiscriminate building of hydroelectric dams that was the worst culprit. If the sustainable development argument is used, the construction of a dam would be permitted because it is beneficial to present and future generations to generate electricity. Additionally, the construction of a dam would be favoured because electricity can replace the use of coal in industries which causes carbon emission.
However, the flash floods in Uttarakhand is a clear example of why sustainable development isn’t the correct solution because of the gravity of the situation – the environment is unable to withstand development activities of men in the first place. Search, rescue and relief operations were the most difficult operations carried out in the Indian history of disaster management. The State Government was supported by the Government of India when carrying out its evacuation and relief operations by providing support of armed forces and para-military forces, including NDRF. Despite all this, it has been observed that victims from the floods are still pursuing legal battles against the government to seek their dues. Classrooms and training halls are still filled with debris, machines worth millions of rupees and several cars and trucks also languish beneath the muck. As already mentioned above, knowing that the hydroelectric dams were they key factor that led to the devastating floods, the state government has still not slowed its push for more such dams, maintaining that hydropower is an important source of revenue and will bring development to the state. Development of these projects will irreversibly damage the area and would act as a constant danger to human lives. Despite knowing the vulnerability of a state like Uttarakhand to severe weather conditions, latest technology used to assess and predict weather conditions, used in states like Jammu and Kashmir, and Rajasthan, are still not available in Uttarakhand. The objective of NDMA is to lay down policies and guidelines for effective management, risk mitigation and prevention of disasters in the country. The role of NDMA was questioned after it was found that people in Uttarakhand were unaware by the series of flash floods and landslides in the absence of any mitigation measure or early warning despite the state having a history of such disasters. With more than 70,000 people reported missing. Further, the post-disaster relief response had been equally poor. Experts blamed the poor planning of NDMA that led to unfinished projects for flood and landslide mitigation.
The 2017 Mumbai Floods were caused due to heavy rains and rising sea levels coupled with extensive reclamation and faulty zoning regulations, and faulty drainage systems. Besides climate change, the state’s policies and decisions are equally responsible for the floods. Experts have pointed out that poor water governance and lack of an integrated river basin management had added to the floods in western Maharashtra where water from dams were released at the same time as heavy rains. In 2010, the NDMA released guidelines for Management of Urban Flooding.
However, even though the guidelines came up with suggestions and actionable inputs to prevent floods/mitigate damages, but a quick glance even at the Key Action Points is enough to say it talked about the most utopian situation. To prevent such floods in the future, it becomes necessary for the state to mend its ways. Civic authorities should always have the flood risk map of the respective city ready and spread amply awareness about it using mass media amongst citizens, especially the most vulnerable. Even adopting a watershed approach could be the solution. It will help in rainwater harvesting, aquifer recharge and thus help in storm water drainage management.
While NDMA had initiated projects for flood mitigation and landslide mitigation at the national level in 2008, these projects have either been abandoned midway or are being redesigned because of poor planning. It has been failing to achieve its objectives, even though its functional arm NDRF was been appreciated for its work. Further, it has also not been performing several functions as prescribed in the Disaster Management Act. These include recommending provision of funds for the purpose of mitigation and recommending relief in repayment of loans or for grant of fresh loans. There has been no mechanism to ensure that funds sanctioned to states as a disaster response fund were being utilised properly. It neither had information and control over the progress of disaster management work in the states, nor could it successfully implement various projects it had initiated for disaster preparedness and mitigation. The existing policy is ensures prevention to reduce risk from hazards, preparedness for response, effective response when disaster occurs and the ability to recover. Since its establishment in 2005, there have been 3000 deaths in natural calamities across the country. One of they key objectives of NDMA is prevention of loss of life, where it has failed miserably. This shows that good policy does not reflect the ground reality where effectiveness is hindered due to lack of proper implementation.
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