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Issue 15
July , 2009
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* INTERVIEW

"Our flood policy has converted a welcome flood into a deluge and that has created employment for disaster managers"

Source: Toxics Alert, Date: July , 2009

  • Why do floods occur?

 

Excessive rain fall, spilling of the banks of the rivers, drainage congestion, breaches in the embankments, roads, canals and other such structures lead to flooding. Floods are also caused because of cyclones and tsunamis etc. Indo- Gangetic plains and the Brahmaputra Basin is the most affected flood basin within India because of its geographical location. Flash floods are also known to strike in flashes like Nagpur, Bhopal, Hoshangabad, Jallundhar, Surat, Bangalore, Nashik, Jaypur, Alwar, Bharatpur and Barmer etc. 

 
 
 
  • What kinds of flood control measures have been undertaken by the government?

 

After adopting the first Flood Control Policy in 1954, Government of India through various state ‘s Water Resources or Irrigation Departments proceeded to construct 33928.642 kilometers length of embankments along its rivers, 38809.857 kilometers length of drainage channels dug to drain unwanted floodwaters and protect 2458 towns against floods and raise 4716villages above the maximum observed flood level till 2006 Constructing embankments along the rivers has been the major intervention to provide protection against floods. Raising the villages above the maximum flood level has been abandoned after its failure but the other works are continuing. Some dams like the ones of the Damodar Valley Corporation and the Hirakud Dam in Orissa is said to have some flood cushion.

  • Under whose jurisdiction state or central does flood control fall?

Flood control is state’s subject and the state’s Irrigation or Water Resources Departments take care of flood control.

  • In recent past where have been the deadliest flood in India?

Uttar Pradesh (1998 and 2002), Bihar (1998, 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2008), West Bengal (2002), Orissa (2002 and 2008) and Assam almost every year figures in news for floods. Floods are quiet usual in these states but unexpected floods have occurred at places mentioned earlier.

Last year’s flood in the Kosi following a breach at Kusaha has revived the flood debate and accountability of the state in maintaining the structures that were built to combat floods.

 

The Union Ministry of Water Resources claim that the irrigation potential created and utilized has been increasing every year. However, according to SANDPR study published in 2007 the net area irrigated by big irrigation projects have in fact dropped between 2004 and 2009.In the light of this please evaluate the UPA performance over the last decade.

 

Irrigation performance has been questioned from time to time and that has led to the constitution of various committees and commissions to look into the non-performance of irrigation establishment. Over rated targets, poor maintenance and lack of accountability of the irrigation bureaucracy are the reasons behind such dismal performance. It has got little to do with who is ruling where. Irrigation is a state subject and the center only has an advisory, monitoring and funding role. Rest every thing is taken care of by states. In Bihar, for example, the actual irrigated area in 1989 was to the tune of 21.5 lakh hectares and it came down and stayed on to nearly 16 lakh hectares during 1990-2000. Between 1990 and 2000 (when the state was bifurcated into Bihar and Jharkhand), there was additional potential irrigation of 113,000 hectares created but actual irrigation fell by 653,000 hectares. There has been no recovery on that front so far. I think lack of resources may be a problem to some extent but it is mainly a result of lethargy, and not having any accountability to the farmers.

  • Please give us an overview of Union govt’s Inter Linking of River (ILR) project.

SANDRAP did an excellent job by exposing the failure of the irrigation set up within the country and let me tell you that the flood prone area of the country, as per the first Five Year Plan document, was only 25 m ha at the beginning of the plan period. It rose to 33.516 m ha. when Rashtriya Barh Ayog assessed its extent in 1980. Of late, the Working Group on Flood Control Programme set up by the Planning Commission for the 10th Five Year Plan has estimated the flood prone areas as 45.64 Mha., out of which an area of 16.457 m. ha. was estimated to be protected to the end of March 2004. Central Water Commission suggests that the state has protected 18.222 million hectares of land against flooding till March 2006 which leaves a balance of 27.418 m ha yet to be provided with any kind of flood protection implying that the flood control measures adopted so far have not yielded any result. The area yet to be protected is more than what was the total flood prone area of the country in 1950s. Obviously, the investment in the flood control sector in the country is doing more harm than good and the flood spread area is on the rise.

 

The government must evaluate its performance before embarking upon such an ambitious program. The irrigated area is coming down and the flood prone area is on the rise and if that is the achievement of the past 62 years, the nation should think twice before handing over the ILR to the same set up.

  • Compared to other flood countries how does India fare in controlling the deluge

It makes no sense to compare because the local geographical, social and political conditions are different but there are possibilities of learning from other countries if some good work has been done there. When it comes to adopting those things in our country, one needs to be very careful. Fake success stories of flood control in the Hwang Ho and the Mississippi basin were circulated to tame the Kosi River. We all know what happened to Damodar Valley Corporation that was said to be the replica of Tennessee Valley Authority. The establishment is hell bent on proving the manmade floods everywhere as disaster and treats, say, Barmer in Rajasthan with Supaul in Bihar on equal footing without ever realizing that the conditions there are poles apart. Unless we diagnose the problem rightly, we will always write wrong prescriptions. Our flood policy has converted a welcome flood into a deluge and that has created employment for disaster managers. Correct the policies and their implementation, deluge will disappear.


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