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Approach:

  1. Intro – state of Assam floods.
  2. Mention the reasons why flooding is frequent in Assam.
  3. Mention flaws in flood management.
  4. Mention the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s recommendations.

Recently, over 5.5 million people have been affected in 32 districts of Assam due to the devastating floods. Assam has a vast network of rivers. The flood prone area of India stands at about 10.2% of the total area but the flood prone area of Assam is 39.58 % of the area of the state. Hence, Assam has four times flood prone area than national average. Further, Guwahati’s topography is shaped like a bowl which makes it susceptible to waterlogging. The city has been uniquely shaped by three hills that accumulate water during the monsoon.

Reasons behind frequent floods in Assam:

  • The Bay of Bengal has a major influence on the monsoon in Northeast India. This year there were two coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomena – La Nina in the Pacific Ocean and a Negative Dipole in the tropical Indian Ocean. The two phenomena combined to cause high rainfall in the Bay of Bengal.
  • The rise in global temperatures creates a warmer atmosphere. Warmer air can hold more moisture leading to intense bouts of rain and eventually flooding the region. Further, climate change is intensifying the melting of Himalayan glaciers that can enhance the magnitude of flooding in the northeast.
  • Assam has a vast network of rivers. Assam also receives river water from neighbouring states like Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. The flat topography and large water flow results in inundation of its land.
  • Brahmaputra River is braided and unstable in its entire reach in the Assam Valley. The instability of the river is attributed to high sediment charge and steep slopes. Consequently, it changes course frequently and it’s virtually impossible to contain it within embankments.
  • Assam and other parts of the North-eastern region are prone to frequent earthquakes causing landslides. The landslides send in a lot of debris in the rivers causing the river bed to rise.
  • Another key cause of Assam floods is the unregulated release of water from dams situated uphill.
  • From an estimated 11,000 people in 1901, Guwahati now is home to close to 1.1 million people. Rapid population growth has led to severe encroachments of the wetlands, low lying areas, hills and shrinkage of forest cover. Further poor drainage system is a key reason for water-logging in cities that eventually leads to flooding.

Drawbacks in flood management:  The biggest shortcoming has been lack of implementation of the recommendations of the National Flood Commission. A report by the CAG in 2017 observed that flood-prone States had not identified or demarcated affected areas. Only two of the 17 audited States had verified RBA’s assessment of flood-prone areas.

The National Water Policy 2012, had specified preparation of digital elevation models and frequency-based Flood inundation maps. These have also not been prepared.

The Central Water Commission (CWC) had circulated a Model Bill for Flood Plain Zoning among States in 1975. Flood Plain Zoning demarcates zones or areas likely to be affected by floods of different magnitudes or frequencies the damage can be mitigated. The CAG report observed that only 3 States (Manipur, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand) had enacted Flood Plain Zoning Acts. The CAG Report observed that the damage to life and property in Uttarakhand (2013) and Chennai (2015) floods would have been much lesser, had the recommendations been implemented.

Recommendations of Parliamentary Standing Committee:

  • Most flood protection structures in Assam are over 50-60 years old. These were constructed on the main stem of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries way back in the 1960s and have become weak Hence, strengthening embankments is a top priority measure.
  • Periodic dredging for removal of sediments and debris from the bottom of rivers.
  • Setting up modern weather stations in the upstream catchment of all dams in the North East and install sirens on river banks near dams. This would alert downstream populations in the event of floods.
  • The Government should consider inclusion of river erosion in the admissible list of calamities for availing assistance under the National Disaster Response Fund/State Disaster Response Fund.
  • The Brahmaputra Board, functional since 1982, does not have enough manpower. The Report had asked the Board to fill up all vacant posts on a priority basis.
  • Major flood-prone states such as UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha etc. have not taken the initiative to enact the Flood Plain Zoning Bill. The Law must be enacted to regulate activities in the floodplains, eventually mitigating the damage to life and property.
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