Homeland Security

Floods in India: A challenge for governance and diplomacy
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 22 Aug , 2017

World Resource Institute (WRI), a global research organization, has developed an online tool for analyzing the population affected by flood each year in a country. India leads the list of 163 countries followed by Bangladesh and China. The potential threat to the GDP of India due to flood every year is $ 140 Billion. This year floods hit Assam, North Bengal, Bihar, Gujarat and Rajasthan. The unfailing regularity with which the floods cause devastation in India, makes it monotonous and unworthy of mainstream media attention and as a result very little news precipitates about the floods. We have virtually stopped even discussing floods.

Presently NDMA is a nondescript and an inconsequential body as far the disaster management in India is concerned.

The factors related to floods like drainage and embankment are included in the State List of the Constitution. The implementation of all flood control related schemes are the responsibility of the States. The role of Centre is mostly advisory in nature. In the year 2005, the Government of India brought a legislation under Concurrent List (Entry 23, Social Security) in Parliament and created a toothless white elephant called National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister. But for all practical purposes it was under Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), much to the dislike of NDMA Members.

The NDMA was parked with 9 (nine) retired IAS, IPS and Army Generals as Vice Chairman and Members with the status of Cabinet Minister and MoS of Govt of India. Their total contribution was to hire their friends and loyalists as Consultants/ Experts and produce thick guidelines including that on flood management which nobody cared to read. They got locked horns with MHA and finally got pruned and made even more powerless in the year 2014 by the NDA Government. The number of NDMA Members were reduced to three and the status of MoS was withdrawn. Presently NDMA is a nondescript and an inconsequential body as far the disaster management in India is concerned. Thus the first meaningful central legislative intervention turned futile because of infighting and unquenchable lust of power even by the retired officials.

Now when nearly half of the Bihar is drowned in flood, the rival political camps are holding rallies for their show of strength. This is a case in point that the official and political attitude towards the annual floods in various parts of the country is that of apathy and total indifference. First of all, there is a very little direction and planning as what has to be done. Even if there is a direction, nobody cares to implement.

For example, the recent Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report says that Rashtriya Barh Aayog (RBA) constituted to identify flood prone areas to reduce the annual damage, sent its recommendation to States in 1981. But till 2016, even after the lapse of 25 years, only 02 out of 17 States have been able to identify the flood prone area. The Central Water Commission (CWC) circulated a model in 1975 for enactment of Flood Plain Zoning that demarcate the areas likely to be affected by floods of different intensities and frequencies.

The CAG report also says that only less than 10 per cent of dams have emergency plans to meet the flood situation. Only 349 dams out of 4862 completed dams in the country have emergency disaster management plans.

In last 42 years only three States have identified and legislated on Flood Plain Zoning. Further, National Water Policy of 2012 had stipulated morphological studies of 301 rivers of 11 States of Ganga Basin to understand the rainfall intensity and soil erosion. But so far only 08 rivers have been studied.

The CAG report also says that only less than 10 per cent of dams have emergency plans to meet the flood situation. Only 349 dams out of 4862 completed dams in the country have emergency disaster management plans. The completion status of the projects under the River Management Activities and Works related to Border Areas (RMABA) is even more pathetic. The projects such as Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project (with Nepal), Kosi High Dam Multipurpose Project, Naumure Hydroelectric Project and Kamla Projects are running deep into time and cost overrun and are still incomplete.

The recent Bihar floods affecting 74 lac people of 12 districts is basically a result of the failure of flood control management by the government particularly that of Kosi Project. The cost of project has gone up from 12 cr to 67 cr without any progress. The local resistance has been cited as the main reason for the delay. The Kosi Project too has its own set of problems. It lies within the territory of Nepal. India is supposed to provide compensation for the land acquired in Nepal as well as all damages done in the course of the construction of the barrage. The design, construction and operation of the project was too India responsibility.

Nepal believes that 1954 agreement was skewed in terms of the benefits that accrued to the two countries. In terms of irrigation, for instance, only 29,000 acres in Nepal benefited whereas the barrage had the capacity to irrigate 1.5 million acres. Some right groups in Nepal express their displeasure at the submergence of territory and the resultant displacement of people and claim that nobody received any compensation. India’s control and management of the barrage is also considered as an infringement on Nepal’s territorial sovereignty.

This is a huge test for the Indian diplomacy to ensure the completion of this project. In fact the flood situations of North East States, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh cannot be brought under the control without the support of Nepal and China. This year Assam has been flooded again affecting lacs of hectares of land and killing 76 people. The proposed Zangmu Dam on the upstream of the Brahmaputra river in Tibet has the potential of submerging the entire Assam. This is a serious worry for all concerned and requires negotiations with Chinese authorities. India needs of a mature diplomatic skill and interventions to protect the country’s interest vis-à-vis Nepal and China.

The NGOs have to think beyond protesting against the construction of the dams or seeking rehabilitation of the displaced population.

Indian floods are basically for two reasons. First heavy rainfall in the catchment area in the upstream of rivers originating from China and Nepal and secondly cloud burst and heavy downpour on the hills and countryside within the mainland. The heavily silted river bases are not in a position to hold the extra water into their channels and overflow. The unregulated construction of concrete structures all across the country near the river catchment area does not allow water to seep underground. The check dams are of the poorest qualities and they breach on a slight pressure and inundate villages after villages.

Then comes the naked display of large scale corruption in the distribution of relief. As the audit on the other end of recipient is impossible, hundred of crores of rupees are siphoned off by corrupt political bureaucratic and supplier nexus by over invoicing and showing many times larger number of relief beneficiaries than the actual. The corrupt officials wait for floods and pressurize their State Government to seek funds in the name of relief from the Centre.

The Flood Management has to be an enlightened citizen’s responsibility that can be joined and supported by the well meaning NGOs. The control of the life and future of the people affected by flood have to be taken over by the same people themselves. The NGOs have to think beyond protesting against the construction of the dams or seeking rehabilitation of the displaced population. They will have to be actively involved in the planning and execution and monitoring of the projects that affect millions of lives. The self help rescue and relief groups can be created. We cannot leave ourselves at the mercy of the Government and its machinery.

And finally, no matter how it sounds and how much politically sensitive it might look, we have to seriously think in terms of linking the rivers so that at the time of floods excess water from one river basin is moved to another basin. We will have to think beyond our narrow regional and State concerns. As APJ Abul Kalam had said that this is a challenge for the future generation to implement the river linking project and stand together for the nation building. Till such time the floods will continue to devastate us every year.

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Floods in India: A challenge for governance and diplomacy, 4.2 out of 5 based on 6 ratings
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Rakesh Kr Sinha

Former DIG and is associate member of Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA). Presently Special Advisor to the Chief Minister, Govt of NCT of Delhi.

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