Maharashtra floods: Probe panel could emerge with vital lessons for India | Opinion
On Friday, August 23, the Maharashtra government appointed a 10-member committee to investigate into the causes of the recent floods in Sangli and Kolhapur districts and give recommendations for better flood management in the future.
This committee headed by former state irrigation secretary Nandkumar Wadnere, is well constituted with a body of experts which includes officials from the state water regulatory authority, water resources department, central water commission, India Meteorological Department, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and IIT, Mumbai.
Its mandate is not just to investigate into the causes of the devastating floods and waterlogging in Satara, Sangli and Kolhapur districts in the first week of August, 2019, but also recommend measures for better monitoring of weather conditions, mechanism for release of water from the dams, an early warning system and preventive steps for widespread flooding and waterlogging.
This is as comprehensive a mandate as one would want and the government has given three months for completion and submission of the report by November 30.
The appointment of this panel comes amidst a growing clamour that there had been considerable negligence on the part of the Maharashtra irrigation department with regards to the release of the waters from the Koyna, Radhanagari and Warna dams which had filled to capacity by the end of July itself.
On August 21, former BJP MP Nana Patole and Mumbai-based social activist Sanjay Lakhe Patil wrote to chief justice Pradeep Nandrajog of the Bombay High Court demanding the setting up of an expert committee by the court to look into the floods.
Describing the floods as “a man-made disaster” caused by inaction and delayed response, Patole sought the court’s intervention to set up an experts’ committee to establish the truth and also to suggest preventive measures for the future.
Such is the public anger over what has happened in Maharashtra that around the same time, another intervention was sought from the very same court by two flood-affected residents of Kolhapur.
The petitioners, Raosaheb alias Narsappa Annappa Alase and Rajendra Shivgonda Patil, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) pleading for fixing of responsibility and action against officials responsible for “dereliction of duty.” The petitioners have charged that the ‘Guidelines for Preparing Operation and Maintenance Manual for Dams’ issued by the Central Water Commission (CWC) were not followed by central and state officials leading to the disaster.
There is near unanimity among independent irrigation experts in Maharashtra that the first blunder committed by irrigation officials was to allow the large dams to fill to capacity in the first two months of the monsoon itself, leaving the dam operators with no option but to release the water once the incessant, above-average rainfall began in the week preceding the floods.
Experts from the South Asian Networks on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) were among the first to raise questions over dam management while pointing out that the floods coincided with the dams getting full by August 5.
Presenting rainfall data and dam discharge statistics, they pointed out that waters from the dam should have been released in the last week of July itself when the Koyna and Warna dams were up to 80% full and Radhanagari was close to 80% full by July 25 itself.
The August, 2019 floods are far worse than what was experienced by the same region in July 2005. The preliminary findings of a public fact-finding team led by the water expert, late Mukund Ghare then, were very similar to the preliminary findings today: that, this was not a natural disaster entirely and there was negligence and mismanagement with regards to dam management.
Clearly, no lessons were learnt from the 2005 floods and the price paid by the common man in the region was far heavier.
There is deep anger in the public over this state of affairs and the appointment of the probe committee is therefore reassuring.
Hopefully, this will throw up fresh light and lead to a better understanding of the vagaries of the monsoon; better management and control of dam discharge, and better flood control and preventive measures for the future.
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