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India Flooded & Submerged: WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT WATER, By Poonam I Kaushish, 2 August, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 2 August 2016

India Flooded & Submerged


By Poonam I Kaushish


Ok, fellow countrymen let lose the volley of expletives, curse all you want. Of how rotten the State of Denmark is and the rain Gods for nature’s fury. Add to this, our good-for-nothing polity for multiplying our piling miseries. Alas, if only curses could put an end to our miseries one would have no regrets. But year after year, our annoyance falls on deaf ears. Whoever said when it rains miseries, it pours, was dead on!

Take the on-going flood fury which has engulfed the entire country. Andhra, Assam, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Orissa, Karnataka, Bihar are submerged under the deluge of torrential rain. Standing mute testimony to a callous and selfish polity and administration bereft of cure and consolation. The aam aadmi, after all, translates into sterile statistics to be manipulated at will. All cursing the Government!

Alas, it’s like water off a duck’s back. The Modi Government has grand designs to build 100 futuristic ‘smart’ cities in India, but as this week’s devastating flooding in India’s Millennium City Gurgaon and IT Capital Bengaluru shows, fixing today’s flood-prone metropolises appears to be the more pressing task.

Distressingly, Gurgaon resembles a disaster zone as people are stranded for over 20 hours on the national highway connecting the Union Capital. Roads are gridlocked and water-logged. Worse, nobody knows how much it rained as the city’s only rain gauge is not working.

Schools remain shut, over 250 Fortune 500 MNC’s have asked employees to stay home. Succinctly, a living nightmare.  Haryana Chief Minister Khattar’s response? Impose Section 144 which disallows a gathering of more than four persons!

Scandalously, as the aam aadmi battles to bring about a semblance of normality trust our I-me-and-myself leaders to simply shrug there shoulder, indulge in a blame game and walk away. Trust, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal post his tu-tu-mein-mein with Khattar to walk away from the crisis for a ten day Vipasana course in Nagpur. And Karnataka’s Siddaramiah had to rush to Brussels to visit his ailing son.

Raising a basic question: Does anyone really care? Not at all. Everything is kaam chalao. If lakhs die ki faraak painda hai in our billion plus population? As the people grapple with floods, our netas go through the ritual political circus. All lament the deaths. But their screams are gagged by their ambitions.

The Prime Minister makes an aerial survey. The Government sets up a crisis management team. The State Government seeks Central relief. Babudom analyses the flood situation and its aftermath over official lunches. Everyone is satisfied that they have done their bit for the nation. This is our India.

See the absurdity—food grains and fodder arrive at their destination days after the calamity has struck, thanks to cumbersome bureaucratic procedures. Rations are air dropped. Never mind if half land in water and the remaining spark off food riot and killings.

Sadly, why do our netagan prioritise floods only at crises time? Why is so little done to develop a long-term response to what is an annual predictable problem in various States? Wherein many die, lakhs are rendered homeless and property worth crores is lost.

Primarily because flood policies are based on the assumption that flood disasters result from nature's actions and are not man-made. Whereas, in actual fact the damage and misery are mostly caused by human error. Mainly, poor land management and myopic flood-control strategies.

In fact, a cursory glance at the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report on Disaster Management shows that over 67.4 per cent area of the country is vulnerable to natural disasters like floods, cyclonic winds and storms. Yet the Government’s approach is one of criminal casualness.

Experts aver that thanks to global warming more frequent and intense extreme weather events means India must improve their planning and reduce the potential impact of disasters before they occur. Added another, “The only way to tackle the growing menace of floods is to control deforestation, denudation and soil erosion in the watersheds of rivers.”

Till date our leaders have remained oblivious to hydrological concerns of cities, busy as they are enlarging their respective “relief empires” and pointing accusing fingers at each other. Their ideas and remedies as water-logged as the floods under discussion.

Moreover, why do politicians feel that mere sanctioning of hundreds of crores will solve the problem? Little do they realize that funds doled out from the Calamity Relief Fund instead of helping the people, are used by most State Governments for purposes other than disaster management.

Shockingly, in a nation natured on short cuts and quick-fix solutions, none is willing to learn the ABC of disaster management or finding lasting solutions.  It’s not that they have to look far. If there are trees, plants and open areas around, rain water will be absorbed by the Earth, but if we continue to build concrete jungles, flooding should not surprise one.

The powers-that-be need to emphasis on national priorities, take into account local realities and involve experts and environmentalists who would evaluate the ecological problems, study its context and be involved in decision and policy-making.

With special emphasis on problems created by burgeoning population and its impact on the local eco-system, growth of hap-hazard housing, environmental  insanitation and decay, drainage and  stagnant water bodies.

Various measures have been mooted since Independence only to be put in the deep freeze. Simply because they don’t translate into votes or add to the polity’s coffers. How many are aware that in 1947 when there was the task of constructing the Bhakra-Nangal Dam, another project for river Kosi was also mooted.

In 1950 it was finalized only to be revised in 1953 and divided into two parts. One, construction of a multi-purpose high-level dam. Two, change the course of the river by raising the embankment on both sides to prevent over-flooding. Since then it continues to gather dust in some obscure corner of the Government’s corridors.

Another project in 1957 never saw the light of day, a high dam on the catchment area on Nepal’s side to ensure that Kamala River waters did not flood north Bihar and the adjoining areas. Since many Himalayan rivers in the flood-prone areas originated from China, Nepal and Bhutan, New Delhi should have at least worked out adequate water management arrangements with these countries in the event of rivers overflowing.

Yet this was not done. Had the Centre taken timely measures, India would not only have no flood miseries, but would also have created enough hydel power to meet the country’s requirement.

Where do we go from here? It all depends on our netas. It is high time our leaders pulled up their socks and put an end to their reckless drift on a subject involving basic human requirement. Offering pies in the sky and indulging in zabaani jama khurch is no substitute for much-needed pragmatic competence.

Let us keep our fingers crossed that the waters are not muddied further. Our leaders need to pull up their bootstraps. The time is far gone for the Government to play the pied piper. And aver: Disaster management never heard of it. ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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