In 1975, the Union Water Resources Ministry circulated a model Bill for Flood Plain Zoning that provided for regulating the land use in flood plains to contain the damage caused by the natural calamity. The Bill called for zoning the river in a manner that loss of life and destruction to buildings and installations, in the event of flooding, could be prevented or minimised. Only two States — Rajasthan and Manipur — adopted the legislation.

“The response from the rest of the States was not encouraging,” said a file noting that pushed the Bill out of sight.

The basic concept is to ensure that no residential areas are built in vulnerable zones and dwellings in low-lying areas are replaced with parks, playgrounds or fields so that the vulnerability to life and property can be reduced.

This essentially means that governments will have to show political will and free flood plains from encroachments. The Bill gathered dust till 1996 when again an attempt was made to get the States to accept it. But the response still was poor. Now, as the Ministry is setting upon a reforms agenda, another look was taken at the Bill in February this year and it was made the topic of discussion at a Parliamentary Consultative Committee meeting in Guwahati.

Ironically, the Uttarakhand government became the third State to adopt the Bill last December, albeit with modifications to suit local interests. By all accounts, none of the three States has even begun to implement the legislation in right earnest. Had steps been taken, probably such heavy loss of life and property as seen in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh could have been minimised.

“Nothing happens in our country before a disaster and after a disaster,” said Anil Joshi, Director of the Himalayan Environment Studies and Conservation Organisation, who has been campaigning for an ‘environment audit’ in the country to assess whether as much is returned to nature as is being plundered.

“We have never seen the Ganga in such a devastating form. Clearly this is the result of our indiscriminate tinkering with nature. Without a thought we carry out unplanned developmental activity in fragile ecosystems, like we construct huge hydro-electric projects and build roads but no drainage system,” he told The Hindu over telephone from Dehradun.

Water Resources Secretary S.K. Sarkar said the government had circulated the model Bill. “There is a need for modernising flood forecasting network linked to rain forecasting. It was the heavy rainfall on two days that resulted in flash floods. In the 12th Plan it is also proposed to have inundation forecasting for which digital elevation maps and bathymetric surveys will be done for flood-vulnerable areas in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.”

The Bill, drafted by the Central Water Commission, envisages establishment of a Flood Plain Authority in each State, which will be empowered to plan, demarcate areas and enforce the law with regard to limiting indiscriminate development of both protected and unprotected areas in a river basin.

It proposes removal of buildings and structures obstructing the natural drainage lines. The plinth level of future buildings should be at least two feet above the drainage and flood submergence lines. All buildings should be double or multistoreyed. The roof levels of the buildings should be above 100-year flood levels.

More In: National | News