Every monsoon in India results in yet another man-made disaster that could have been averted. Could it have been avoided through planning?
I have always been a votary of proper planning and implementation — something that successive governments in India – whether central or state – have never focussed on.
This flood-a-year phenomenon has been very punctual: 2018- Kerala and Karnataka; 2017- Gujarat; 2016- Assam; 2015- Chennai; 2014- Kashmir; 2013- Uttaranchal and so on.
Floods hitherto used to affect only the rural areas and those urban centres which were closer to a river. While these are still prone to floods, the newer trend in this century has been the inundation of cities not even close to flood-prone rivers. Mumbai, Chennai, and Gurugram (whenever it rains- high or low) are stark examples of cities affected by floods due to cloud-bursts or excessive rains.
The issues concerning these cities are many:
This is the story of so many cities (not just in India, but worldwide)
But wait! Why only cities?
The trend in the previous century showed floods (many due to the rivers Brahmaputra and Kosi) in states like Assam and Bihar. The river Kosi has been temporarily protected but can change its course and create havoc again. By the way, China’s ‘river of sorrow’ the Huang Ho (Yellow River), has been adequately managed. Apparently, the havoc caused by Kosi and Brahmaputra was ascribed primarily to the rampant deforestation carried out in the region. This reason is the key contributor to the recent floods in Kerala in 2018.
Kerala flood is a mix of all the parameters mentioned above – plus the quarrying, mining, illegal repurposing of forests, and high-rise building constructions. However, there is a curious element which is believed to have also been a key suspect. The jury is still out on the delayed opening of the gates of the Mullaperiyar, Idukki and Idamalayar dam gates. The authorities waited till the water reached the maximum level before they opened the gates.
Dams in Kerala were supposed to be rehabilitated under a World Bank funded Programme since 2011. There have been obvious delays in implementation. But another reason for the delayed opening of the gates could also be a ploy to keep the water within the state to help irrigation requirements of the State’s farmers. While this reason is not been raised right now, it could be an ostensible reason for the flash floods. It has happened many years back in the man-made floods in Punjab back in 1993.
To stop these man-made and natural floods, it is crucial to plan in advance, plan for a bigger network (the cost is prohibitive but is smaller than the annual damage done by these havoc-wrecking floods). Also, strict implementation of urban guidelines and a no-nonsense policy as far as encroachments are concerned.
After all our ancient texts also point towards better planning and ecological balance:
The river valley civilizations that developed amazing townships along Indian rivers also perished, as per many experts, due to sustainability issues!