Lessons in dealing with floods

The Comptroller and Auditor General's (cag's) audit report for Maharashtra tabled on April 18, 2007 scrutinised the post-flood disaster relief expenditure in the year 2005 and 2006. It indicated that preparedness for floods was inadequate, relief assistance was extended without proper identification of affected persons, financial management was deficient, and monitoring of relief and rehabilitation activities was unsatisfactory. This audit also went a step beyond just reporting the financial irregularities. It analysed why floods are turning into disastersthe conclusions ring true, even as large parts of western India are engulfed in water. The audit showed how multi-purposeone of which was said to be flood controlprojects will fail to insure people against flood disasters unless our planners integrate thinking on drainage and upstream-downstream linkages.

Although the model action plan prepared by the Union government in 1981 emphasised on the importance of regular cleaning of drainage passing through residential areas well before the onset of the monsoon, the audit found that administrative departments, district authorities and local bodies did not issue instructions for drainage cleaning in any of the 10 districts audited. Even after the flood disaster of 2005, long-term plans aimed at desiltation of rivers and improvement of drainage systems were not executed in any districts except Mumbai. But even there, the audit found that the claim by Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority of having excavated 12.96 lakh cubic metres of silt/debris/rock from the Mithi river couldnt be proven, as there were no records available on measurement of stack at dumping sites or on the transportation of silt.

Although the state-level disaster management plan had assigned joint responsibility to district authorities and reservoir engineers of the water resources department to monitor water levels in reservoirs and outflows (downstream releases) effectively with enough warning to the people downstream, it was found that water levels in all dams were not monitored during the 2005 monsoon. This includes the Almatti dam in neighbouring Karnataka.

This lack of monitoring led to disastrous consequences. The Central Water Commission and Planning Commission had given permission to raise the full reservoir level (frl) behind the dam to 519.60 metres in 2000, but this was subject to the condition that the water storage level would be monitored to prevent any submergence in Maharashtra. During the 2005 monsoon, the Karnataka government did not pre-deplete the reservoir till July 31, 2005.

Water storage due to heavy rainfall had reached frl on July 26, and the first letter for releasing water from Almatti dam was written on August 3, 2005 to Karnataka, after Sangli was fully flooded. The town remained submerged for seven to eight days, mainly due to the backwater effect of the Almatti dam. This could have been avoided had the conditional clearance to the project been maintained by keeping a watch on water levels in the dam.
That's not all Very high frequency (vhf) sets that can function as a warning system were not in place in Mumbai, Parbhani and Raigad districts and were found out of order in places where they were available during the 2005 floods.

It was observed that 53 of the 69 vhf sets installed in four districts in 1998-99 had not been functioning since 2003-04 for want of maintenance and repairs.

No lessons were learned from the 2005 flood, and the vhf systems in Nanded and Sangli districtsand three talukas of Kolhapur districtwas found non-functional during the subsequent flood disaster of 2006.

While scrutinising the relief expenditure, cag examined cases from 2005 involving Rs 500 crore out of the total of Rs 780 crore spent on relief and found that nearly 43 per cent was spent without proper documents or records. Relief expenditure in 2006 has better performance, with just 19 per cent of amount being wrongfully spent.

One example was found in Kadegaon taluka of Sangli district, where farmers received Rs 5.8 crore as compensation for crop loss due to heavy rains.

According to standards set by the meteorological department, a rain of above 125 mm in a single day is classified as a heavy rain, while Kadegaon town had reported only 75 mm rainfall and neighbouring villages only 65 mm.

Himanshu Upadhyaya is associated with Intercultural Resources, New Delhi