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8,000 sq-km submerged in a day

The furious river waters sheared for days through farmland and homes, inundating 20 lakh acres every day — Delhi five times over, or 13 cities the size of Mumbai. Praveen Donthi and Chetan Chauhan report.

india Updated: Oct 06, 2009 23:55 IST

The furious river waters sheared for days through farmland and homes, inundating 20 lakh acres every day — Delhi five times over, or 13 cities the size of Mumbai.

The Krishna rushed in from the Almatti dam in Karnataka and submerged 8,000 sq-km of land in a day. It now stands at the gates of the British colonial-era Prakasam Barrage in Andhra Pradesh next door, and a breach here could submerge vast swathes in the state’s rice-rich Krishna and Guntur districts.

The Prakasam barrage is a key passageway for the Krishna, which meanders through Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh on way to the Bay of Bengal.

On Tuesday, hundreds jostled here despite restrictions.

Nearby, on a hillock, is the Kanaka Durga temple. People here believe that the day the idol is submerged, the entire city of Vijaywada will be washed away.

If it does, it would be blamed on tardy cooperation between the two states.

Until Saturday night, Andhra Pradesh did not evacuate people from the catchment of the Nagarjunasagar Dam as the Karnataka government assured that no more water would be released from its Srisalam dam.

But as floodwaters poured in, gates were opened at Srisalam, worsening the situation.

“There appeared to be a breakdown of communication between the two neighbouring states,” said a senior official of the National Disaster Management Authoritry (NDMA), speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.

But technology might soon make up for government delays.

NDMA member NVC Menon said that by 2012, people would be alerted about rising water within minutes of it being tracked by satellites.

Sloth after natural disasters is a annual story in India, a flood prone nation where tackling flooding comes under the states’ domain and New Delhi’s financial assistance since 2007 of Rs 8,000 crore (Rs 80 billion) has shown few results.

Then, there is the lack of accountability.

“There’s no day-to-day basis transparency for the management of India’s dams. We don’t know … who is responsible in case anything goes wrong,” said Himanshu Thakkar of the voluntary group South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People.

“In the last 60 years, not a single engineer has ever been charged or punished for mismanagement of these dams,” he said.

(With inputs from Kumkum Dasgupta)