India’s massive Flood problem

Himanshu Upadhyay

The CAG’s latest performance audit of flood control schemes and flood forecasting shows how little is done to manage flood-induced disasters

Of India’s total geographical area of 329 milion hectares, about 45.64 million hectares are stated to be flood-prone, according to estimates in 1980. The Working Group for the Flood Management Programme for the 11th Five Year Plan (December 2006) estimated that, on average, 7.55 million hectares get affected, 1,560 lives are lost and damage worth Rs 1805 crore caused due to floods every year. Yet, if we look at the latest performance audit of flood control schemes and flood forecasting by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, it seems precious little is done about managing flood-induced disasters. The report was tabled in parliament on July 22, even as some states started to report devastating floods.

Scientific assessment: Non-existent

In October 2010, the Working Group on Flood Management and Region Specific Issues had sought a review of the flood-affected areas of respective states. In July 2012, the Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) constituted an expert committee for scientific assessment of flood-prone areas in India. As of August 2016, three meetings of this expert committee had taken place (August 2012, June 2013 and September 2015). In the second meeting, a recommendation was made to constitute regional committees for each state. It was expected that these regional committees would “identify, demarcate and classify Flood Prone Areas based on the prescribed methodology, classification and criteria.” While such regional committees have been constituted in all states and Union Territories, very few states have taken up assessment earnestly. The CAG noticed during the performance audit of schemes for flood control and flood forecasting (Report No. 10 of 2017) that “till July 2016, of the 17 states covered in the audit, only six states – namely Bihar, Haryana, Kerala, Odisha, Punjab and West Bengal – had taken up scientific assessment of Flood Prone Areas.” In the remaining 11 states that were covered in the audit, regional committees had not taken up the assessment. These states are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Manipur, Puducherry, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Audit scrutiny also revealed that in Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, not a single meeting of the regional committees had taken place as of February 2016! As per the timeline decided in the third meeting of the central committee, by February 28, 2016, regional committees were supposed to submit preliminary/interim reports on their assessment.

Flood damage statistics: Non-existent

The CAG’s performance audit of flood control and flood forecasting (Report No 10 of 2017) has criticised the Central Water Commission (CWC) for its failure to comply with recommendations of the National Flood Commission (1980). Audit scrutiny revealed that “the CWC had not compiled data related to flood damages after 2003 in the manner as recommended by National Flood Commission.” The latter had desired that detailed figures of flood damages should be collected under the following heads:

A: Floods (i) unprotected areas flooded (ii) protected areas flooded due to failure of protection works and (iii) areas between the embankment and the river which are left unprotected.

B: Drainage Congestion (i) in unprotected areas (ii) behind embankments

C: The extent of area affected by drainage congestion should be compiled separately for protected and unprotected areas.

Flood forecasting: Inadequate

Uptil 2006-07, the CWC had established 175 flood forecasting stations and the number remained stagnant until 2014-15. At present, the CWC’s network of 184 stations caters to 19 states and two UTs. It has failed to establish a single station in Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Punjab, Rajasthan and Sikkim as well as in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep and Puducherry.

While the Plan envisaged installation of 219 telemetry stations, 310 base stations and 100 flood forecasting stations, only 56 telemetry stations had been installed as of August 2016. Out of 375 telemetry stations in the country, audit scrutiny found that 222 were non-functional after installation. Most of the telemetry stations installed during the 11th Plan were non-functional due to which real-time data was unavailable. The CAG auditors also pointed out that there was an insufficient number of flood forecasting stations and rain gauge stations to meet realistic flood forecasting requirements in Jammu and Kashmir and the Lower Brahmaputra division in West Bengal.

While J&K has four rivers prone to floods every year, the state accounts for only one flood forecasting station (at Rammunshi Bagh on the Jhelum) which was established in 2015 following the devastating floods in September 2014. The Working Group on Flood Management (2014-15) had strongly recommended undertaking a comprehensive study of floods in J&K within six months and directed the CWC to initiate urgent steps to set up a central flood forecasting mechanism with 19 additional modernised stations. However, two years on, only seven sites (level forecasting stations) were established, and no automatic telemetry equipment was installed.

Rehabilitation of natural drainage system: Not done

The parliamentary standing committee on water resources stated in its 21st report (February 2014) that the Ministry / CWC should in consultation with all the basin states chalk out a time-bound implementable programme of action to identify drainage systems needing immediate rehabilitation and adopt all measures necessary for repair and restoration. The CAG auditors observed that the CWC had not taken any action to identify drainage systems needing immediate rehabilitation. Out of 17 states selected for audit, they found that only Tamil Nadu and Odisha had prepared measures for rehabilitation of natural drainage systems.

Only 7% of big dams have Emergency Action Plans

The CAG auditors found that as of March 2016, out of 4,862 large dams, Emergency Action Plans were prepared for only 349 (i.e. a mere 7%). What is even more shocking is the revelation that a whopping 95% of our large dams are maintained without operating procedures / manuals! While it is important for dam authorities to carry out pre- and post-monsoon inspection of all these large dams, the CAG auditors noticed that out of the 17 selected states, only two carried out such inspections; three had carried out inspections partially and the remaining 12 had not even bothered to give inspections a thought.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: SEPTEMBER 2017