NEW DELHI: Over 100 persons have died in the floods in Assam so far while another 147 were killed in lightning strikes in Bihar last month. But with the monsoon season less than half way through, more loss of lives and property are expected if the trend in the past five years is anything to go by.
Take for instance human lives lost. In 2015, a little less than 1,000 persons died of flood and rain-related incidents, but in 2019, nearly 2,500 persons had lost their lives, according to government data. The loss of cattle also increased. While in 2015, less than 30,000 cattle died, in 2019, it was nearly 72,000. (See graphic 1)
To sum up the flood and its impact in the past five years, over 8,700 people were killed, over 2 lakh cattle died and more than 36 lakh houses were destroyed in floods. The cost of damage to property has also shot up in these five years.
While in 2015, the damage suffered totaled Rs 33,257 crore, in 2018, the last year for which data is available, it went up to Rs 95,736 crore. The cost of damage is likely to be more in 2019 as over a dozen states, including Bihar, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and Maharashtra, witnessed large-scale devastation.
Besides the rising damages, the cost to the exchequer towards relief work has also increased. In 2016-17, the Centre released Rs 11,441 cr under the National Disaster Relief Fund while its share under the State Disaster Relief Fund was Rs 8,375 crore. This increased to Rs 14,108 cr and Rs 10,429 cr respectively in 2019-20. (See graphic 2)
The flood’s increasing loss of lives and property appears to make a mockery of all the expert committees, task forces and commissions the government has formed.
In 1972, the Ganga Flood Control Commission was set up in Patna to address the flood problem and erosion in the Ganga basin states. In 1980, the Brahmaputra Board came into existence to address the flood erosion problem in the northeastern states and Sikkim. (See table)
The government also launched a Flood Management Programme in the Eleventh Plan (2007-12) for providing financial assistance to state governments to undertake work related to river management, flood control, anti-erosion, drainage development, flood proofing, among others.
The FMP was continued for three years under the Twelfth Plan from 2017-18 to 2019-20. It has subsequently been included as a component of the Flood Management and Border Areas Programme in the Ministry of Jal Shakti.
But all these appear to have come to a naught as the government’s approach is more reactive than proactive, according to experts. Instead of focusing on the real problem, it was only concerned about relief measures, they said.
They pointed out that the area affected by floods has doubled since 1950. "The flood-affected area in 1950 was 25 million hectare, now it has doubled to nearly 50 million hectare. But, what is surprising is that nobody looks concerned about the real issues. Earlier, only villages used to be affected but now cities are also getting flooded. Chennai and Patna are just examples. I had written to the government in 2015, highlighting the poor drainage system in cities," said former IIT professor Dinesh Kumar Mishra.
Himanshu Thakkar, the coordinator of the South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers and People, said effective management of dams could bring down the damage caused by floods. "We have over 5,000 dams. Every dam can help moderate floods in the downstream area but only if it is operated properly," Thakkar said.
Thakkar raised questions on embankments, saying hardly any cost benefit analysis has been done on this. "We are just mechanically going forward. We are encroaching upon flood plains and river beds and we are doing sand mining. All these add to the floods," he said.
|Committees & commissions||Aim||Work|
|Ganga Flood Control Commission||Flood, erosion in Ganga basin states||Prepared 23 comprehensive master plans|
|Rashtriya Barh Ayog||To evolve coordinated, integrated approach for flood control||Submitted report in 1980 recommending measures Brahmaputra Board|
|Brahmaputra Board||Flood, erosion problems in northeastern states||Prepared 57 master plans for implementation|
|Task Force-2004||Flood management and erosion control||Submitted report in December 2004, recommending short, long term measures|
|Flood Management Programme||To provide financial assistance for river management, flood control, erosion||Other than allocating financial aid, it is involved in flood forecasting|