The jury is still out on whether the 600 per cent above normal rainfall, which led to the widespread floods in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, was due to climate change. No matter what the final verdict is, there’s no denying the fact that the Centre and two state governments have been caught napping once again. The result: more than 300 people have been killed, 1.5 million have been displaced and property worth Rs 16,500 crore has been damaged.
The scale of devastation could turn out to be much more once the relief commissioners release their figures. Along with the loss of lives and property, standing crops of paddy, onion and sugarcane have been damaged. This will push up prices. In the midst of a festive season and a recession-hit year, this is bad news for everyone.
Two issues are evident from the crisis: first, there’s a lack of transparency about how we manage our dams, and second, the communication failure between the two states and the Centre.
The Central Water Commission chairman has already pointed out that Andhra Pradesh was told in 1990 to increase the spillway capacity of the Srisailam dam from 13.5 lakh to 25 lakh cusecs. They sat on the report and when Karnataka released freshwater from Almatti dam to save its own towns, the inflows exceeded 25 lakh cusecs.
Will we ever get to know why, for 19 years, Andhra Pradesh sat on this directive? Or whether there was any communication between Andhra and Karnataka before the latter released water? If there was any, then why was no proactive measure taken to ensure that loss of life and property is minimised? We can be sure that very little of this information will ever be available in the public domain.
Likewise, why is it that there’s no information available to the public on the daily inflow and outflows of the dams or about those who are responsible for managing them? Moreover, when a short-term rainfall forecast was available, why wasn’t it taken into account to anticipate the crisis?
Hazards in India get converted to disasters far too easily. These floods are no different. As floodwaters recede, there will be an outbreak of diseases and a drinking water crisis. These need to be tackled on a war footing and as a priority.
However, as long as the answers to the above questions, and more, remain unanswered, we are certain to get caught on the wrong foot again in the future.