Return of the great deluge

Updated - December 03, 2021 12:46 pm IST

Published - August 01, 2016 01:18 am IST

Once again, a vigorous monsoon so vital to India’s economic fortunes has left some States in a shambles. From >Assam to >Karnataka , heavy rainfall in a short span of time has created paralysing floods that have taken a heavy toll of life, wiped out crops and destroyed hard-earned assets. When the waters recede, a familiar cycle of assessment of damage by Central teams, preparation of loss estimates and expensive restoration work such as repairs to river embankments, will follow. In Assam, where 31 deaths have been recorded already, there are projects to strengthen the embankments of the heavily silted Brahmaputra; the Flood Control Department as well as the disaster relief force have well-funded budgets. Yet, the hundreds of crores of rupees periodically spent on flood preparation, relief and mitigation research in the State have not yielded a protocol that reduces the impact of heavy rain. The swollen river invariably dissolves the weak earthen embankments overnight. Now that another furious season is providing fresh insight into the causes, effects and impact of rain and floods in northeastern India and elsewhere, it is time the Centre took a coordinated view in tackling the crisis. To begin with, it has to review the efficacy of the flood forecasts issued by nearly 180 specialised stations now in operation, and the pattern of responses of the 19 States and Union Territories that receive these alerts.

Urban India is no less traumatised by floods, but city governments have not learnt too many lessons from devastation and losses. The scenes of >gridlock and frustration in Gurgaon , Bengaluru and Delhi last week travelled around the world, just months after the >disaster in Chennai . Can there be a surgical solution to sclerotic urban planning? Bengaluru is the epitome of >governmental indifference to wetlands , most of which have been severely encroached upon or polluted. Being able to live with floods in today’s dense cities requires that these lakes be desilted and restored on a war footing. New artificial wetlands may have to be created to compensate for those that have already been built over. The spectacle of flooding and destruction should convince the Environment Ministry that it is retrograde to sanction large real estate projects without an environmental impact assessment. Some real estate companies have been slapped with penalties by the National Green Tribunal for encroaching upon lakes, but urban planning agencies are equally responsible and must also be called to account for tacitly sanctioning the violations. Provision of relief to those affected by the latest floods has to go beyond patronage politics, and meet the actual needs of the people, particularly those who have suffered extreme losses.

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