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Insights into Editorial: What happened to India’s flood management plan?




As floods cause major damage to life and property every year, it is time the central and the state governments prepare a long-term plan that goes beyond piecemeal measures like building embankments and dredging to control floods.

Also, there is a need for an integrated basin management plan that brings all the river-basin sharing countries as well Indian states on board.

At least 43 years after India’s first and last commission on floods was constituted, there is no national-level flood control authority in the country so far.

Rashtriya Barh Ayog (RBA), or the National Flood Commission, was set up by the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation in 1976, to study India’s flood-control measures after the projects launched under the National Flood Control Programme of 1954 failed to achieve much success.


Recently, floods in Assam and other north-eastern states have caused devastation of life and property, which is an annual problem in the region.

However, floods are not restricted to North-eastern India, rather it affects many other areas in the country.

Apart from natural factors like incessant and heavy rainfall during the monsoon, there are man-made factors that contribute to floods in India.

India is highly vulnerable, as most of its geographical area is prone to annual flooding.

The high losses and damages due to floods show the poor adaptation and mitigation status of India and inadequacy in disaster management and preparedness.

Thus, there is a need for an Integrated flood management system.

In 1980, the National Flood Commission made 207 recommendations and four broad observations.

First, it said there was no increase in rainfall in India and, thus, the increase in floods was due to anthropogenic factors such as deforestation, drainage congestion and badly planned development works.

Second, it questioned the effectiveness of the methods adopted to control floods, such as embankments and reservoirs, and suggested that the construction of these structures be halted till their efficacy was assessed.

However, it did say that embankments could be constructed in areas where they were effective.

Third, it said there has to be consolidated efforts among the states and the Centre to take up research and policy initiatives to control floods.

Fourth, it recommended a dynamic strategy to cope with the changing nature of floods. An analysis of the report suggested that the problem began with the methods of estimating flood-prone areas of the country.

An accurate estimate is crucial for framing flood management programmes:

  1. The National Flood Commission estimated that the total area vulnerable to floods in 1980 was around 40 million hectares.
  2. The areas where protection works failed were then subtracted from the total. It is, however, a flawed methodology and National Flood Commission itself acknowledges it.
  3. It is clear that while the maximum area flooded in any one year may broadly indicate the degree of the flood problem in a state, it does not strictly indicate the area liable to floods as different areas may be flooded in different years.
  4. There is another problem. The very definition of flood-prone area does not reflect the effectiveness of the flood management works undertaken.
  5. The National Flood Commission report also recognised the need for timely evaluation of flood management projects.
  6. It entrusted state irrigation and flood control departments, CWC, Ganga Flood Control Commission and the Brahmaputra Board with the task of adopting or discarding them on the basis of their performance. But this has not been the case.
  7. Even when flood management projects are evaluated, the reports are not credible.
  8. Moreover, the evaluation is generally done by departments that undertake flood-control projects. A major problem is the inaction on recommendations of evaluation reports.
  9. For instance, in 1978, RBA asked the programme evaluation organisation of the erstwhile Planning Commission to review the Kosi embankments.
  10. The study, published in 1979, concluded that embankments had, in fact, enhanced the flood problem. But the embankments were raised by two metres in 1987-88, and remain aggravate the flood situation in Bihar.

A call for integrated flood management:

According to the audit report on “Schemes for Flood Control and Flood Forecasting” 2017 by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), the major issues with flood management in India are:

  1. Key recommendations of Rashtriya Barh Ayog such as scientific assessment of flood prone areas and enactment of Flood Plain Zoning Act are not materialised
  2. Poor flood forecasting system: Flood forecasting network of the CWC is not sufficient to cover the country adequately. Further, most of the existing flood forecasting stations are not operational.
  3. Poor flood risk mapping: A task force set up by the Central Water Commission (CWC) in 2006 did not complete the task of flood risk mapping. Further, the Vulnerability Atlas of India has stopped flood zonation. Flood damage assessments not done adequately.
  4. Delays in completion of projects under the flood management programmes primarily due to shortfall of Centre’s assistance.
  5. Flood management works are not taken up in an integrated manner.
  6. Most of the large dams in India do not have disaster management plans– only 7% of total large dams in the country have emergency action plans/disaster management plans.

Indian reservoirs brimming as monsoon advances:

  1. Major reservoirs in India are already brimming and their storage level is much more than what it was this time in 2019, even as the southwest monsoon advances over India.
  2. Reservoirs in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha have already recorded 100 per cent or more departure from normal storage.
  3. This also raises fears of floods caused by these reservoirs if the water levels are not managed efficiently.
  4. Most river basins monitored by CWC also have better-than-normal storage. For instance, live storage of the Ganga, Narmada, Sabarmati, Tapi, Mahanadi and Godavari is over 100 per cent more than the average of the last 10 years.
  5. Rivers in Bihar, where flood alerts have been issued, are flowing in ‘severe situation’, according to the CWC flood forecast and many show a ‘rising’ trend.
  6. The position of some important dams, that have been responsible for inducing floods in the recent past due to mismanagement of water levels, was also worrisome.

Conclusion: Measures to prevent Urban Flooding:

Early Warning System and Communication: Dissemination of flood warnings must be carried out, using a wide range of latest technologies.

This would help in giving real time data where traditional systems fail.

Design and Management of Urban Drainage System: Proper management of drainage system is necessary to ensure that the water does not get stored in one place.

Solid waste increases hydraulic roughness, causes blockage and generally reduces flow capacity. These drains need to be cleaned on a regular basis to permit free flow of water.

Rainwater Harvesting: Due to urbanisation, groundwater recharge has decreased and the peak runoff from rainfall and consequent flooding has increased.

It will serve the twin purposes of lowering the peak runoff and raising the ground water table. Many municipal corporations in India have already made rainwater harvesting compulsory.

Conservation of Water Bodies: Urban water bodies like lakes, tanks and ponds also play a very important role in the management of urban flooding by reducing the stormwater run-off by capturing it.