Thursday, September 11, 2014

J&K floods: Why Central Water Commission has no flood forecasting mechanism in place, wonders SANDRP

By Our Representative
South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), a premier Indian non-profit organization focused on the impact of dams and river water projects on people, has asked a pointed question to the Government of India as to why the body controlled by it, Central Water Commission (CWC), does not have any flood forecasting mechanism for Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), which suffered from one of the worst-ever floods. In a recent article it has posted on its site, it has said, “Shockingly, India’s premier water resources body, CWC, responsible for flood forecasting and providing advisory to the states for tackling floods, has no flood forecast for any place in J&K.”
Referring to the CWC’s flood forecast list as on September 6, 2014, when heavy rainfall lashed the state, SANDRP said, the list has “18 level forecasts and eight inflow forecasts, but none of them are from J&K.” It further says, “CWC’s flood forecast site has another option -- which provides hydrographs for various rivers and location. Again, for J&K, the CWC provides no hydrographs.” The SANDRP adds, “The options on CWC’s flood forecast site for list based selection and map based selection again has no information about J&K.”
Calling this as a “shocking omission on the part of the CWC”, which functions directly under the Union Ministry of Water Resources, SANDRP says, this only shows how the top body has failed to update its work despite the past experience of Uttarakhand flood. In fact, the CWC at that time also “completely failed to provide any flood forecast when Uttarakhand faced its worst floods in June 2013.” Asking the CWC to “urgently include flood vulnerable sites of J&K in its flood forecasting”, SANDRP wants the Central body to also explain “to the people of J&K and rest of the country why these sites were not included so far”.
There is no word on this either from the CWC or the Government of India so far on the contentious issue.
Pointing towards how the floods in J&K got accelerated because of “mismanaged hydro projects”, SANDRP said, “The Dulhasti hydropower project on Chenab river opened its flood gates during the worst flood period, which led to further increase in flood levels in the downstream areas.” SANDRP quotes media reports to say how the release of water by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) dam increased the levels of the Chenab massively between Kishtwar and Ramban. “Surged level led to submergence of the highway”, they added.
Insisting that such additional floods could have been avoided if the gates were kept opened in anticipation of floods, SANDRP has said, “Such opening of gates during the floods can lead to catastrophic consequences for the downstream areas as happened in case of Srinagar Hydropower project in Uttarakhand in June 2013.”
SANDRP points towards another disturbing trend. It says, “The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has been clearing hydropower projects in the Chenab basin even without proper social and environment impact assessment.” Saying that this was “evident in case of Sach Khas project most recently”, it adds, “As SANDRP pointed out in a submission to the Expert Appraisal Committee, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and public hearing process of the Sach Khas Hydro Electric Project (HEP) has been fundamentally inadequate and flawed, and yet without even acknowledging the issues raised in this submission the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) has recommended approval of the project.”
Emphasizing that this is bound to be “legally untenable decision”, SANDRP has said, “Such decisions by the EAC and the MoEF are likely to add to the disaster potential in Chanab and other basins in J&K. There is also no cumulative impact assessment of such massive number of big hydropower projects any basins of J&K.” It concludes, “It is well known, as witnessed in case of Uttarakhand in 2013, that hydropower projects hugely add to the disaster potential of the vulnerable areas. We hope the J&K and Cgovernments make this assessment on urgent basis and the Supreme Court does not have to intervene for such assessment, as it had to do through its order of Aug 13, 2013 in case of Uttarakhand.”

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