Flood Management in India: An Overview

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There has been a demand to declare Kerala floods as ‘national disaster’

Kerala Flood- Case Study

Causes of the Flood:

  1. Higher than normal rainfall: According to the IMD, the cumulative rainfall in Kerala the from southwest monsoon between 1st June and 15th August 2018 was 2,087.67 mm, a departure of nearly 30% from the normal 1,606.05 mm rainfall. Such high intensity rainfall has been attributed to climate change.
  2. Release of water from dams: Most of the dams in Kerala were opened since the water level rose close to overflow level due to heavy rainfall. The opening of the Idduki dam caused rapid swelling of Periyar River that flows through Idukki and Ernakulam districts and led to inundation of places downstream. Dam experts claimed that the authorities waited till the dams reached its capacity. Had the gates been opened earlier, floods would have been of lesser extent.
  3. Anthropogenic factors:
  • According to environmentalists, Illegal constructions on river beds, unauthorised stone quarrying and high levels of deforestation contributed to the flood and landslides.

For example: Idduki and Wayanad show a 30% and 11% decrease in forest cover respectively between 2011 and 2017. Environmentalists assert that this has made the districts more vulnerable to flash flooding

  • Ecologist Madhav Gadgil asserted that the disaster could have been negated had his committee’s recommendations on Western Ghats were followed. Most of the regions in Kerala impacted flood were once classified as ecologically-sensitive zones (ESZs) by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) headed by Gadgil.

Impact and Extent of the Disaster:

  • More than 350 deaths and lakh of people displaced.
  • Floods destroyed roughly 906,000 hectares of crops.
  • Cost of the disaster has been estimated to be around 19,000 crore

Flood Management in India

Institutional mechanism

Structural and Non-Structural Measures for Flood Protection in India

Structural measures

  • Dams & Reservoirs – Flood Cushion/ storage of flood waters
  • Embankments, Sea Walls – restricting flow of water
  • Natural Detention Basins – retarding & absorbing flood waters
  • Channel Improvement – increasing flood carrying capacity of rivers
  • Drainage Improvement
  • Flood Ways/ Spill Channels – diversion of flood water from one channel to another


Non-structural measures

  • Flood Forecasting & Warning, temporary evacuation
  • Flood Plain Zoning/ management – regulation of land use
  • Flood Proofing & removal of flood prone structures
  • Public Awareness campaigns & people participation drills
  • Financial Mechanism – Disaster Relief, Rehabilitation & Flood Insurance

Government Initiatives:

National Flood Risk Mitigation Project (NFRMP):

  • It aims at ensuring that arrangements are in place to mobilise the resources and capability for relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and recovery from disasters besides creating awareness among vulnerable communities.

Flood Management Programme:

  • The scheme provides financial assistance to the state governments for undertaking flood management works in critical areas.

NDMA Recommendations:

  1. Need for effective data collection on existing flood control works, flood damages etc.
  2. The states should undertake legislation to prevent unauthorised riverbed cultivation and encroachments into drains etc.
  3. Flood plain management measures should be undertaken by the states
  4. Develop a special flood prone area programme similar to the drought prone area programme
  5. Afforestation and soil conservation measures should be taken up
  6. The central government should prepare a model bill dealing with all aspects of flood control to serve as a guide for the state governments.

Issues with Flood Management in India

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. Delays in completion of projects under the flood management programmes primarily due to shortfall of Centre’s assistance
  2. Flood management works are not taken up in an integrated manner.
  3. 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
  4. Key recommendations of Rashtriya Barh Ayog such as scientific assessment of flood prone areas and enactment of Flood Plain Zoning Act are not materialised
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  7. Flood damage assessments not done adequately.

Way Ahead:

  1. There is an urgent need of extension of flood forecasting network
  2. Lead-time for flood forecasting should be improved through the use of hydraulic and hydrologic models which are linked to the weather forecasting system, the real time data acquisition system, and the reservoir operation system.
  3. There should proper flood-risk mapping for better formulation of plans and measures
  4. Pre and post monsoon inspection of dams is important. Further, the draft Dam Safety Bill, 2018 should be enacted and emergency/ disaster management plans should be prepared by concerned authorities of large dams.
  5. With increasing effects of climate change, there should be focus on development of community resilience in flood-prone areas.

Note: Resilience is as a set of capacities that can be fostered through interventions and policies, which in turn help build and enhance a community’s ability to respond and recover from disasters

6. Activities which damage the environment increases the vulnerability to floods should be checked.

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