Floods and Dam Management
In News: In June, the Central govt. had approved the proposal for introduction of the Dam Safety Bill, 2018 which aims to develop uniform countrywide procedures for ensuring the safety of dams. Kerala which witnessed its worst floods since 1924 is home to 53 large dams. As rain poured unabated and rivers overflowed, at least 35 of these dams were thrown open releasing water on to the already flooded areas downstream.
Current issue surrounding Dams:
Dams are considered to be a vital element for the economic and energy growth. In our country, over the years, dams have played a lay role in fostering rapid and sustained agricultural and rural growth, and a substantial investment has been done in building dams and related infrastructure.
The failure of 36 dams in the past have proved that a poorly maintained, unsafe dam can be a hazard to both human life and environment.
Let’s talk in numbers:
India has more than 5000 large dams –
- 75 percent of these are more than 25 year old
- About 164 dams are more than 100 year old.
Is Kerala merely the latest victim of poor dam management?
There is a very strong correlation behind the Kerala floods and in the way these dams were being managed by the authorities, particularly in the state of Kerala where we have what is called an urban truly continuum – where the city ends and where the village begins.
Reasons behind the calamity:
- Increase in the sand mining areas
- Unplanned development, particularly in construction and quarrying
- The Western Ghats, an eco-sensitive mountain range, is prone to degradation.
- Depletion of the forest cover has amplified the flow
- The construction boom in recent years has taken a toll on the state’s wetlands and river valleys. With farming becoming uneconomic, paddy fields have been turned into real estate and released for construction. This has reduced the area available for rain and flood waters to spread.
- Large tracts of land in Kerala are actually below sea level so flooding is a very serious problem
The floods in Kerala have brought the focus back on an almost forgotten 2011 report on the Western Ghats that had made a set of recommendations for preserving the ecology and biodiversity of the fragile region along the Arabian Sea coast. The 2011 report had recommended the zoning off of ecologically fragile areas, with no developmental activity allowed in areas classified as falling under zone 1. But it was vigorously opposed in Kerala, with detractors saying that it was impractical to do so in a densely populated State.
The Way Ahead:
Overall we need to take a look at integrated management of human settlements, rural settlements and dam management flood control – the problem is that we are not looking at all these together. We are looking at each of these in isolation or as individual entities.
There is a need for
- Robust system of information of the inflows, and what is the downstream conditions of the river or reservoir, what are the levels.
- Understanding of the hot spots so we ensure that more settlements do not come up in those hot spots and there are safer areas where we should encourage people to move into
- River dredging so the rivers can carry more water than they’re currently carrying
- Better management of watersheds to reduce the intensity of the floods.
- Better planning and co-ordination in the opening of dams to phase out the release of excess storage from reservoirs, limiting the extent of the floods.
The government may need to revisit the Gadgil Committee report on conservation of the Western Ghats and restrain certain types of environment-unfriendly activities in the hills. The protection of wetlands will also need to be pursued urgently and necessary corrections made in development plans.
Even in the Uttarakhand disaster, uncontrolled construction, large hydropower plants and deforestation were assessed to have aided the scale of destruction. Hence, there is a need to learn lessons from past tragedies, and increase the resilience of disaster-struck areas through sustainable and long-term development that would involve minimal intervention in natural processes.
Proposal for enactment of Dam Safety Bill, 2018:
- The Dam Safety Bill, 2018 address all issues concerning dam safety including regular inspection of dams, Emergency Action Plan, comprehensive dam safety review, adequate repair and maintenance funds for dam safety, Instrumentation and Safety Manuals.
- It lays onus of dam safety on the dam owner and provides for penal provisions for commission and omission of certain acts.
- This shall also help in safeguarding human life, livestock and property.
The proposed Bill –
- The Bill provides for proper surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams in the country to ensure their safe functioning.
- The Bill provides for constitution of a National Committee on Dam Safety which shall evolve dam safety policies and recommend necessary regulations as may be required for the purpose.
- The Bill provides for establishment of National Dam Safety Authority as a regulatory body which shall discharge functions to implement the policy, guidelines and standards for dam safety in the country.
- The Bill provides for constitution of a State Committee on Dam Safety by State Government.