- There is a growing concern that floods cause large-scale damage to crops, cattle, property and even human lives, and this trend is increasing over time. As per the estimates of the Central Water Commission (CWC), the cumulative damage from floods during the period 2000-2013, converted at 2014-15 constant prices, stood at a whopping Rs 2,63,848 crore.
- Most of the floods in India occur in the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Barak basin as the distance between the world’s highest peaks in the Himalayas and the outlet at the Bay of Bengal is short and the contributing tributaries like Kosi, Gandak, Ghaghara and others disgorge large volumes and devastate the fertile plains of eastern Uttar Pradesh, northern Bihar, West Bengal and Assam.
- For these states, flood control is a developmental as well as humanitarian issue. The options are limited but need to be given a fair trial with adequate resources.
How best can the problem of floods and droughts be addressed so that the losses are minimal and the system becomes more resilient?
- India gets “too much” water (about 75 per cent of annual precipitation) during 120 days of the monsoon season (June to September) and “too little” for the remaining 245 days. This skewed water availability has to be managed and regulated for its consumption throughout the year.
- Number of large multi-purpose river valley projects such as Bhakra-Nangal, Hirakud, Nagarjuna Sagar, Rihand etc to store water for smoothening its supplies throughout the year.
- But, unfortunately, they lost interest in further developing such river valley projects very soon, partly due to changed priorities towards heavy industrialisation since 1956 and partly due to widespread inefficiencies and corruption in large irrigation projects.
- Later on, the issue of resettlement of displaced people became a rallying point for many NGOs to oppose these projects, leading to drying up of funds from the World Bank.
- India is way below in storing water when it falls in abundance, resulting in floods during monsoons and deficiency of water later. This also lowers cropping intensity (less than 140), meaning less than 40 per cent of India’s farm land is double cropped.
What are the policy options now?
- De-silting of the Ganga and removal of the Farakka barrage, as it was causing accumulation of silt flowing from the Himalayan rivers and making the flood situation in Bihar grim.
- “Buffer stocking of water” during the monsoon months and releasing it during lean seasons. This “buffer stocking of water” can be done over ground through dams, or underground, by recharging aquifers.
- Recent studies by the World Bank indicate that about 18 per cent of the peak flood volumes can be safely stored in the existing and planned dams along the Indo-Nepal border.
- A holistic approach at basin level, encompassing credible resettlement policy for displaced people, and supported by pro-active hydro-diplomacy amongst riparian countries can render rich dividends.
- Ripe to crank up the Ganges Water Machine through Underground Taming of Floods for Irrigation (UTFI), where surplus flood water is directed to aquifers through well-designed structures placed in ponds and other depression areas and evacuated through large-scale pump irrigation during the dry season.
- Flood control strategies also need to include the use of smart geo-spatial techniques for flood forecasting and construction and strengthening of embankments at critical locations.
- Inter-linking of rivers.
- Promote flood-tolerant “scuba rice”, sugarcane, jute and high-value aquatic crops in this region; access to affordable crop, livestock and asset insurance products; and education and preparedness to live with the floods.
- With increasing urbanisation, agriculture will have to shed its current share of 78 per cent in water to, say, 70 per cent by 2030. This calls for focus on “more crop per drop”.
- Cascading check dams, drips and sprinkler irrigation can help. PM’s Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY)