While Indian Parliament has not met since March 2020 (it is now slated to meet from Sept 14, 2020, though without a number of key features including absence of question hour), Civil Society Groups came together and held a Janta (people’s) Parliament from Aug 16 to 21 Aug 2020, where citizens from across the country from all walks of life enthusiastically participated. On Aug 18 there was a three-hour session on Environment issues[i] (such a session is a rarity in Indian Parliament), as part of which, there was a presentation on Water related issues where SANDRP coordinator was invited to speak. Two water related resolutions were passed among others, by the Janta Parliament, one on Flood Management and another on Urban Water Management. See below for details.Continue reading “Janta Parliament discussion on the state of water in India”
Central Water Commission (CWC) is the only agency in India doing flood forecasting, it becomes very important to understand what CWC does in this regard. The CWC flood forecasting website[i] is the main media through which CWC provides the flood forecasting. CWC has also published on its website, the document giving Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for flood forecasting in 2018[ii]. The Home page of the CWC’s flood forecasting site says that CWC provides Level forecasting for 166 sites and Inflow forecasting for 60 sites. SOP document, however, gives these figures in Table 1, but in Table 2 (as also the full list given in Annexure 1.1 of SOP document), it gives state wise break up for 182 Level forecasting and 93 Inflow forecasting sites. So we can see anomalies in these two sources even about the number of forecasting sites.
Dams and reservoirs make rivers sediment-starved and menacing manifold downstream. While heavy rainfall is also a key factor behind the floods, hungry water had a more pronounced effect, says D. Padmalal, Scientist and Head, Hydrological process group, National Centre for Earth Science Studies.
– “When the sediment transport is interrupted, the potential energy of the hungry water released from dams will scour the river banks downstream, uprooting trees or riparian vegetation and damaging bridges and other engineering structures,” explains Dr. Padmalal. Overloaded with silt and clay from the eroding river banks, the highly turbid and viscous water clogs drainage channels. Subsequent discharge of water from the dam will lead to inundation and waterlogging of large areas.
– Hungry water can also develop in high gradient river channels devoid of adequate quantity of sand and gravel, especially during periods of high rainfall. “Years of uncontrolled sand mining have left most of the rivers in Kerala depleted or exhausted of sand and gravel. This creates a situation similar to the release of hungry water from dams,” notes Dr. Padmalal. When the river channel has adequate supply of sand and gravel, the potential energy of the water is used to transport the mixture. The water does not scour the banks or turn muddy.
Central Water Commission is the only agency doing flood forecasting in India. As per CWC’s Flood Forecasting website[i] the Data Flow Map has information about 226 Flood Forecast Sites in the country comprising of 166 Level Forecast Sites and 60 Inflow Forecast Sites. It also monitors 700 Flood sites, information made available through List Based Exploration and Hydrograph View, but no flood forecasting is done for these sites.
In order to better understand the CWC’s flood monitoring and forecasting work, in this article, we have given an overview of CWC’s flood forecasting and monitoring sites in South India. It includes state wise list of CWC’s Level Forecast, Inflow Forecast and level monitoring sites in South India. Similar report has been published for North India[ii] and North East India[iii] and East India[iv].
Tamil Nadu There are 3 Level Forecasting, 48 Level Monitoring and 14 Inflow Forecasting sites in Tamil Nadu State. Out of total 65 sites, 19 Level Monitoring and 2 Inflow Forecasting sites are inactive. MWL information is given only for 1 Inflow Forecasting site out of 14. IRRUKKANKUDI, Sathanur and Gomukhi sites are repeated with incomplete information. Out of 48, HFL figure and date is not provided for 25 Level Monitoring sites.
Accepting that reservoirs operation and flood management in India lack scientific supports, Madhavan Nair Rajeevan, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, in an interview has revealed that dams and water reservoirs need flood management systems that use scientific methods to understand when the time is right to open the gates.
“As per my understanding, no big reservoir has a decision support system. So we don’t know when to open them, how to open them… I am not attributing the Kerala floods to an individual. There is a common perception that in India most of the flood management systems are not supported by science… I am very sure we don’t have the decision support system and we need it.” https://indianexpress.com/article/india/not-just-kerala-no-scientific-dam-water-management-across-india-madhavan-nair-rajeevan-secy-earth-sciences-5322003/ (24 Aug. 2018)
In another interview he says that while Kerala records among the highest amounts of rainfall in the country, the State did not have a flood warning system in place. He added that while there were several sophisticated tools to anticipate extreme weather events, India still lacked a mechanism to effectively deploy them. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/reservoirs-not-managed-using-a-scientific-decision-support-system-m-rajeevan/article24785253.ece (26 Aug. 2018)
Further in a detailed interview, he pitches for ‘decision support systems’ at dams, acknowledges the challenge of climate change, warn against repercussions of ‘fast-warming’ Indian Ocean. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/kerala-floods-m-rajeevan-ministry-of-earth-sciences-met-department-5324840/ (26 Aug. 2018)
The release of around 1.31 lakh cusecs of water in Yamuna from Hathnikund barrage at 09:00 hours on July 26, 2018, was certainly first surge of flood this monsoon in the river. But no one expected, most are still in the dark that the release would multiply by over five times in just two days! It is almost a month after the Southwest monsoon arrived. By this time the river usually floods couples of times.
Looking at the lack of significant rainfall in the catchment area over past weeks, the flood is unexpected and has taken many by surprise. The Irrigation and Flood Control Department, Delhi Government has issued warning for flood plain farmers and human settlements close to river banks, but the warning does not seem to commensurate with the flood peak that is likely to hit the capital in next day or two.
Yamuna has already crossed warning (204 m) and danger level (204.83) at Old Delhi Railway Bridge (ORB), Delhi. The High Flood Level is 207.49 meters, reached on Sept 6,1978 after around 7 lakh cusecs (cubic feet per second) water was released in Yamuna on 3rd Sept 1978 at 04:00 hrs from Tajewala barrage, that was decommissioned and replaced by Hathnikund barrage in early 1990s. The flood monitoring of River Yamuna began in 1963.
Since then, the river has seen high floods in 1988, 1995, 2010 and 2013. The 2010 and 2013 floods also crossed 207 metres mark but fell short of 1978 level.
Great to see this focus on aquatic biodiversity (unfortunately the article keeps using the word marine biodiversity, not using the word aquatic or freshwater biodiversity even once) along the 120 km long Sindhudurg Coast line, one of the 11 ecologically sensitive habitats identified along India’s coasts.
The FIRST study of local Otter Population by Ela Foundation identified upto 591 Smooth coated otters (strangely article does not mention about existence of small clawed Otters in Sindhudurg), 561 Indo Pacific humpbacked dolphins, among many others. The coast is particularly river rich with some twelve creeks/ rivers including Shanti, Piyali, Naringre, Achra, Gad, Talavade, Otawane and Pithdhaval Rivers.
The biodiversity here is facing multiple threats including rapid urbanisation, tourism onslaught with attendant plastic and sewage disposal, unregulated fishing trawlers, illegal sand mining, and global warming. It also underlines the need to do assessment of any interventions done in the area, of impacts on the aquatic biodiversity. http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/orphans-in-the-wild-what-the-otter-s-trying-to-tell-us-about-our-oceans/story-IfRFFi63Q8nV7UkUK4c16O.html (The Hindustan Times, 14 January 2018)
CAG Review of Flood Control measures in Bihar:
When will the auditors learn about Ecology?
Recently tabled CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) audit report on Bihar contains a performance review of implementation of flood control measures[i] in this most flood prone state. Most of the rivers in North Bihar originate in the Himalayan range in Nepal and cause floods in downstream Bihar with recurrent frequency. 73 percent of geographical area in Bihar is said to be under the threat of flood every year and 16.5 percent of total flood affected areas of India is located in this state.
On reading this performance review, one gets an idea of how CAG audit teams’ knowledge base on flood issue in Bihar relied heavily on Ganga Flood Control Commission (set up by Government of India in April 1972) recommendations, Bihar Flood Management Rules of 2003, Guide on Flood Management Programmes issued by Govt of India etc. However, the performance audit fails to draw upon the numerous writings by Dinesh Mishra of Barh Mukti Abhiyan (Freedom from Floods campaigns) and others. The performance audit also fails to draw upon the recommendations in the civil society fact finding mission following the massive floods due to Kosi embankment breach at Kusaha in Nepal[ii], Kosi Deluge: the Worst is Still to Come.
So when a performance audit report fails to draw upon the writings from ecologists and environmental historians, what recommendation flows from it? The same that would have flowed from the various official Ganga Flood Control Commission (GFCC) reports: build high dams in Nepal to trap the silt, at Barah Kshetra and on the tributaries of the river Kosi, a reservoir with adequate flood cushion at Noonthore on the Bagmati river, three dams over the river Gandak and a multipurpose reservoir at Chisapani on the river Kamla Balan. It is out of this blind faith in looking at high dams as providing flood control and flood cushion solution that CAG audit raised an audit observation that Bihar had failed to prepare even the Detailed Project Report on these proposed dams. The reply that state flood control department filed in November 2012 stated that a Joint Project Office was established at Biratnagar (Nepal) to study the feasibility of proposal of dam on Bagmati, Kamla Balan and Kosi rivers and the DPR of dam at Barah Kshetra was expected to be prepared by February 2013. The audit could have raised the question about the appropriateness of spending money on such futile exercise.
Misplaced faith in structural solutions Dinesh Mishra responds to this fallacy of the auditors stating, “The CAG report repeats what is told to it by the Govt. of Bihar (GoB) as the long term plan that was proposed for the first time in 1937 and nearly eight decades later the proposal is still under ‘active’ consideration of the two governments. Neither the GoB nor the CAG brings out this fact that there is massive resistance to any dam building in Nepal and more so if it is done by India. That is the reason why it has taken 16 years to work on the DPR so far without getting the same ready for any negotiation.” Dinesh Mishra adds, “There is no talking about seismicity, downstream impacts of large dams and strategic defence of the dam itself. We are not sure whether these structures would ever be built, but it is a carrot dangled before the flood victims of the state as if once the dam is built, all the flood problems of the state will be solved” (emphasis added).
No review of reasons for the Kosi disaster of 2008 Also missing from performance review are references to reasons for massive floods in the year 2008 following the breach in Kosi embankment at Kusaha and the pending recommendations by the still ongoing enquiry committee of Kosi High Level Commission. The audit fails to go indepth into how improper maintanance of the embankment lead to this flood disaster, who were responsible for improper maintanance and what system is needed to ensure such blunders are not repeated in future. The audit could have also gone into the role played by GFCC, Kosi High Level Committee and others in the Aug 2008 Kosi flood disaster. The audit continues to display an understanding that looks at more and more embankments straight jacketing the river, or unproved technological remedies such as Intra Linking of Rivers as potential solutions. Hence it raises questions on the non-completion of DPRs on Intra-linking of rivers and on completion of only 61.47 kms embankment against the target of 1535 kms as envisaged in the 11th Five Year plan.
Need to audit CWC’s flood forecasting performance The audit report does however mention those long term non-structural measures, such as flood plains zoning bill and establishment of flood forecasting units at field levels in upstream Nepal that were also recommended in 2004 by GFCC. The audit scrutiny showed that the state water resource dept had failed to enact flood plain zoning bill as well as in establishing flood forecasting units at field levels in all 16 test checked divisions out of 60 flood control divisions. The Audit should have also looked at the quality and use of flood forecasting by the state government and central agency like the Central Water Commisssion. CWC’s flood forecasting and its role in other aspects of flood management in Bihar also need a performance appraisal urgently. The Role played by Farakka Dam in creating backwater effect in Bihar, thus prolonging the flood duration in Bihar and also increasing the height of floods is another aspect that needs scrutiny.
Non implementation of Flood Plain Zoning Bill The flood plain zoning bill would have provided framework for regulation of development activities with the help of flood management maps. In November 2012, replying to this audit observation, department sought to justify its inaction by arguing that flood plain zoning is “impracticable and hindrance in the pace of development of state”. In the wake up of recent disaster in Uttarakhand, Bihar as well as other states would do well to give up on this misconceived tactic of shooting down any advocacy for environmental regulations by terming it as arresting ‘the pace of development’.
Bihar evaluating detention basin DPRs? The audit also pointed out that the suggestion of creating detention basins, i.e. adapting natural depressions/ swamps and lakes for flood moderation was not implemented by the dept as they had neither identified any sites nor released any funds to any divisions to undertake this work during 2007 to 2012. When this was pointed out by CAG auditors, the dept replied in August 2012 claiming that the DPRs of detention basins was under evaluation and final plans would be prepared by December 2012. However, till February 2013, no further progress on this was communicated by dept.
The audit also observed very serious deficiencies in financial management by the department. During the five year period 2007 to 2012, the dept had failed to utilise 11 to 44 percent of the available funds mainly due to delayed/ non-sanctioning of the schemes, delay in land acquisition, opposition by local people and non-passing of bills by the treasuries. Worse still, audit scrutiny showed that the dept had made 30 allotments amounting to Rs 47.47 crore to divisions on the last day of financial year.
Audit scrutiny of flood protection scheme revealed that the contract management of the dept was deficient as was evident from the cases of non-publicity of tender, allotment of works to ineligible contractor, loss to government owing to undue favour extended to a particular contractor and loss of Rs 103 crore due to non-availing of the benefit of competitive bidding in execution of Bagmati extension scheme. Audit also noticed other deficiencies such as non adherence to flood calendar in 44 percent of test-checked works, infructuous expenditure worth Rs 68.50 crore in four test-checked divisions and excess payment of Rs 6.25 crore in two test-checked divisions. Audit also pointed out that dept had incurred an unfruitful expense of Rs 20.21 crore due to abandoning, closure/ postponement of zamindari bandh in two test-checked divisions.
The office of CAG of India has indulged in lot of talk around the idea of environmental auditing. An International Centre for Environment Audit and Sustainable Development was inaugurated at Jaipur in May 2013 and the office of the CAG of India has held a few consultations on environment auditing in recent past. However, performance reviews such as this one clearly points out the need for CAG auditors to equip themselves better in the realm of understanding the ecological aspects around flood, flood plains and flood management; rather than simply drawing up from the reports in official domain such as Ganga Flood Control Commission etc. Will the newly appointed head of India’s Supreme Audit Institution devote his labour to this urgent tak?
(Author is a research scholar at Centre for Studies in Science Policies, JNU, New Delhi.)