North Karnataka and the districts along the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers in Andhra Pradesh have been under water for a few days now. Heavy and persistent rains in some districts of northern Karnataka led to waterflows into the Krishna and its tributaries reaching unprecedented levels. The discharge from the Karnataka reservoirs touched a historic high of over 20 lakh cusecs on Friday-Saturday affecting Andhra Pradesh downstream. At one stage, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K. Rosaiah had to appeal to his Karnataka counterpart B.S. Yediyurappa to stop releasing water from the Almati and Narayanpur dams, as the levels at Nagarjunasagar and Srisailam dams in Andhra had reached alarming levels. Gulbarga, Bijapur, Bellary, and Belgaum in Karnataka, as also Kurnool and Mehboobnagar in Andhra Pradesh were perhaps the worst-affected by last week’s flood fury. The temple town of Mantralayam was also submerged. At least 150 people have died in the floods and several lakhs have been rendered homeless. The Army, the Air Force, and the Navy have been called in to assist the two State governments, but people in many places hit by floods are yet to get relief.
The number of houses destroyed and the extent of damage to infrastructure such as highways, and railway tracks need to be properly assessed. Aside from carrying out immediate relief work, the Centre and the State governments must draw up medium- and long-term plans to mitigate the hardship and havoc caused by such calamities. There is need for a mechanism to coordinate actions such as releasing of surplus water from dams, issuing early warnings, and evacuating people from the vulnerable areas downstream. The Central Water Commission officials in Andhra Pradesh have complained that the State government and the district administration do not heed their early warnings. Given that the country has to contend against drought and floods at the same time, the need for galvanising the inter-State and Centre-State consultation mechanisms can hardly be over-emphasised. During the non-monsoon months, the State governments must make it a point to desilt the network of tributaries and canals and ensure that the dams are fully strengthened to withstand the stress of heavy inflows or discharge. While the State administrations rush to show their concern through high profile visits and promising relief measures on a “war-footing” after a calamity strikes, they have been lackadaisical when it came to taking preventive steps and this has proved very expensive in terms of the human cost.