Is India equipped to tackle floods?

Flood management in India

Flood management in India

Flood control as a subject is not included in any of the legislative lists of India be it the Union List, the State List or the Concurrent List. However, embankment and drainage are mentioned specifically in Entry 17 of List II or the State List. Thus, it can basically be said that it is the state’s responsibility to deal with the floods. In fact, several states have already created laws that have the necessary provisions to deal with these issues, while the national government, in these cases, mainly plays the roles of an advisor, promoter, and catalyst.

Flood Management Mechanisms in India at Present

The flood management mechanisms that exist in India at the moment is operational at two levels – central level and state level. The state level mechanism is made up of the water resource department, the Flood Control Board, and State Technical Advisory Committee. The central level mechanism is made up of bodies such as the Central Water Commission (CWC), the Farakka Barrage Project Authority, the Ganga Flood Control Commission, the National Disaster Management Authority, and the Brahmaputra Board. Over the years, the Indian Government has also taken the following initiatives in order to deal with floods:

  • Policy Statement 1954
  • National Flood Commission (Rashtriya Barh Ayog) 1980
  • High Level Committee on Floods – 1957
  • Expert Committee to Review the Implementation of the Recommendations of National Flood Commission – 2003 (R Rangachari Committee)
  • Policy Statement of 1958
  • National Water Policy (1987/2002/2012)

In general, the flood management measures that are being used in India can be broadly classified into engineering or structural measures and administrative or non-structural measures. The engineering measures comprise the following:

  • Reservoirs
  • Drainage improvement
  • Embankments
  • Diversion of flood waters
  • Channelization of rivers
  • Watershed management
  • Channel improvement

The administrative measures can be broken up into flood plain zoning and flood proofing. The CWC also performs the responsibility of forecasting floods through the CWC National Flood Forecasting Network.

Guidelines for Flood Control and River Management Works

The work of the various agencies, which are part of the central mechanism to manage floods in India, tends to differ from one another considering the unique challenges they face within their jurisdictions. The main responsibility of the Farakka Barrage Project Authority is to protect the river bank and make sure it is not eroded. Its area of jurisdiction is the area near the barrage.

On the other hand, the Central Water Commission, set up in 1945 by the national government, works toward developing more and better flood control measures, using, and conserving water resources, and promoting them as well. It also caters to areas like using water beneficially, in irrigation, and generating hydropower, apart from river conservation and flood management.

The Brahmaputra Board regularly investigates and surveys the Barak and the Brahmaputra valleys and prepares master plans to control floods and bank erosion. The Ganga Flood Control Commission prepares comprehensive plans for controlling floods in the Ganga Basin area. It also looks into implementation of flood control programmes in states located on the Ganga Basin. The National Disaster Management Authority deals with flood-related disasters as part of its overall responsibility.

Flood Safety Tips

The first step that should be taken before a flood occurs is to avoid staying at a place that is known to get flooded. People should also erect levees, floodwalls, beams, or other barriers to stop floodwater from getting into the house. Waterproofing compounds can also be used to seal basements so that there is no seepage. They should also keep their eyes and ears open for flood-related warnings in the area.

Before a flood is about to happen, it is important to stay prepared and pack the absolutely important things in a packet or any other encasement. One should include medicines as well. If people are asked to empty their houses, then they should do so immediately and without fail. If a flash flood is about to happen, people should move to higher ground. One can also move essential items and furniture to higher ground if possible.

When there is a flood, one should not try to wade through the moving water. It takes only around 6 inches of moving water to make someone fall and injure him or herself. If people need to walk at all, they should do so when the water is still or when it has receded. Even in that case it is advisable to use something to check how firm the ground is.

When flood is over, one should look out for news reports to see whether the water supply in the community is fit for drinking or not. People should not consume floodwater since it may be polluted. They should also steer clear of moving water and avoid driving in areas where floodwaters have reduced since the ground may not be strong enough.

How to Minimize the Impact of Floods?

The civic bodies have a major role to play when it comes to minimizing the effect of floods, especially in areas that are known to be vulnerable to flooding. The first thing that needs to be done is to identify how often floods take place in the area and based on that flood risks are either done away with or lessened to the highest extent possible. Proper assessment needs to be done while giving town planning permits so that limits can be placed for making the area less vulnerable to flooding. This is especially applicable when land is being developed or redeveloped in areas that are prone to floods. Infrastructure such as retarding basins and storm water drains need to be developed and updated on a consistent basis in order to deal with the after effects of floods in a better way.

There should be proper models for assessing possibilities of rise in water level and good coastal development programmes. These need to be assessed on a regular basis as well. There should be river level and rainfall gauges that can help in predicting major floods. The authorities also need to carry out awareness and education programmes so that people in flood-prone areas can be in a better situation if and when a flood happens. The local councils can play a major role in this regard.

Most Devastating Floods in India

Following are the most devastating floods to have taken place in India till date:

Name of Flood Year of Occurrence Areas Affected Extent of Devastation Caused
Gujarat floods 30th June-11th July 2005 Whole of Gujarat
  • Losses amounted to at least INR 8000 crore.
  • At least 123 people died and 250,000 people had to be evacuated.
  • Train services, communications and roads were damaged.
  • National government had to defer the filing of income tax.
Brahmaputra floods July 2012 Kaziranga National Park and other areas in Assam
  • 540 animals including 13 rhinos passed away.
Ladakh flash floods 6th August 2010 Leh and Ladakh
  • Around 300 people died.
  • Total losses were estimated at INR 133 crores.
South Asian floods 2007 South India along with Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan
  • At least 2000 people died.
  • 30 million people were affected.
  • Damages estimated at INR 50 crores.
Bihar flood 1987 Areas near Kosi River
  • 1400 people and 5000 animals passed away.
  • At least 29 million people were affected in various ways.
  • Losses estimated at INR 68561.86 lakh.
Morvi Dam Failure 11th August 1979 Rajkot, Gujarat
  • 15000 people reported to be dead and missing.
Maharashtra flood 26th July 2005 Mumbai, Kalyan, Chiplun, Ratnagiri, Khed, and Raigad
  • 5000 people died.
Bihar flood 2004 Areas near Gandak, Bagmati, Kosi, Budhi, Mahananda, and Ganga
  • At least 883 people and 3000 animals passed away.
  • Damages were estimated at INR 103049.60 lakhs.
Indian flood 2009 Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra, and Kerala
  • At least 299 people died.
Bihar flood 2008 India-Nepal border, Supaul, Saharsa, Araria, Champaran, Madhepura, and Purnea
  • At least 2 million people were affected.
  • In North Bihar only 434 people died.
Uttarakhand floods 2013 Uttarakhand
  • Almost 1000 people were confirmed to be dead and 5700 were presumably dead.
Jammu and Kashmir floods 2014 Jammu and Kashmir
  • Almost 138 people died.
  • 11,000 people had to be evacuated.
  • Vaishno Devi Yatra had to be canceled.


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