Flood trend and its impact in India
Experts are noticing a peculiar trend in floods in India in recent years. The floods come early, stay longer and are not commensurate with rainfall in the region. Whats worse, the Asian Development Bank says floods account for over 50 per cent of all climate related disasters in India and the havoc they wreak are devastating. Last year the Ministry for Jal Shakti told Rajya Sabha that the losses in the 2018 floods was 2.6 times higher then the previous year. The coming years are unlikely to buck the trend.
For the Centre, all this is Greek going by the response of the Jal Shakti Ministry and its technical wing, the Central Water Commission, before Parliament's Committee on Petitions. In a stinging report tabled in the Rajya Sabha, the committee headed by the BJD's Prassana Acharya has pointed to the business of passing the buck between the states and the CWC when it comes to predicting floods.
"There is confusion between the Union Government & Governments of various States on who is responsible for providing flood warning to populations threatened by floods. State Governments think it is the responsibility of the Central Water Commission. The Commission on the other hand says that the responsibility lies with the States. As in the case of J&K floods, 2014, CWC washed its hands from the responsibility of issuing warning by saying that it was not the job of the Commission to do so. No other authority except CWC maintains or operates a flood forecasting network. If CWC is not responsible then what is the function of such network," the Committee has said in what is likely to leave red faces in the ministry, headed by Rajasthan political heavy weight Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who is also a close confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Committee points out, "An appraisal report of the flood forecasting & warning network of CWC for2008, published in 2010, is full of praises for the network. However, the technology used, procedures and methods applied are outdated and faulty, rendering the entire network virtually useless. The accuracy of forecasts is very poor."
The Committee goes on to say, the "CWC's forecasts have limited use, almost next to nothing; the methodology used is outdated and obsolete; CWC is not responsible for failure to provide warnings; CWC does not provide forecasts for operations of reservoirs; The CWC and the State Governments have been very efficient in passing bucks." For instance, the Committee points out this cavalier attitude can have disastrous consequences. For instance, "With so many reservoirs being built, for example in Ganges in Uttarakhand, and each reservoir is owned and operated by a private operator, then it is natural for an operator to fill his reservoir to its maximum possible capacity. If a reservoir downstream is full and the upstream reservoir suddenly releases a flood wave then the down stream reservoir will not be able to accommodate the flood wave and that will be a disaster."
Claims by the Secretary, Ministry for Jal Shakti, that flood forecasting by the CWC has an accuracy of 95%-98%, did not cut much ice. "The Committee is of the view that its effectiveness should also be appraised by an outside expert/agency having expertise and efficacy in the matter. The Committee, therefore, recommends that the country's entire flood forecasting network and its overall efficacy should be evaluated by an independent, third party expert."
A startling finding of the committee is that the CWC is collaborating with Google to disseminate inundation on real time-basis. The reason for this dependency on Google is the lack of technology and public outreach. Indigenous technologies is the need of the hour to overcome reliance on foreign agencies, the Committee has said.
Curiously, the committee in May 2016 chose to go to Ooty in the Nilgiris in order to understand flooding and get "valuable inputs" from state authorities.