Sunday, September 24, 2017

Narmada canals "caused" massive North Gujarat floods in July, were constructed without eco-assessment

By Our Representative
Even two months after massive floods hit North Gujarat, especially Banaskantha and Patan districts, killing about 220 people, with the Gujarat government subsequently announcing a Rs 1,500 crore package, virtually "no effort" has been made to scientifically assess the reasons responsible for what appears to be a natural disaster, or to reach out to the most needy sections, who have suffered the most.
A civil society discussion on the floods, based on a fact-finding team's visit to the area, suggested that, though the flooding happend due to massive rains on July 21-25 in Rajasthan and Gujarat, there has been "little attempt" to understand how the way the Narmada canal and its branches have been structured would have led to a sharp rise in the intensity of the floods.
Giving details of the disaster to the gathering of the annual meeting of Janpath, a network of Gujarat-based NGOs, senior activist Pankti Jog said, "It is appalling that no study appears been prepared, nor are their plans, to understand the disaster. A report, we have been told, has been prepared by the Bhaskaracharya Institute of Space Applications and Geoinformatics (BISAG), a state government body. However, it has been kept a closely guarded secret for unknown reasons."
She added, "We were told by local people that the course of the canal was changed under the influence of some well-connected people. We were also told that a much bigger flooding in 1973 did not lead to waters remaining in the villages for months together, and that the canals' structure which stopped the natural flow of water led to such massive flooding. Will the authorities find out what the reality is?"
Said Harinesh Pandya, converer of Janpath and part of the fact-finding team, "There hasn't been any visible effort to understand how Narmada canals became the cause of the disaster. A 2013 report by the Gujarat Engineering Research Institute (GERI), which carried out a complete social audit of the state's dams and the canal networks based on these dams, appears to have been summarily ignored by the state officialdom."
Underscoring that "no environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the area" was done before constructing the canals, the civil society meet was told that, with such unprecedented rains -- first in 2015 and then this year -- in an area which is considered arid and drought prone, there is a need to do a new round of EIA of the canals and their structures.
"The size of the Narmada canal siphons, which carry canal waters from beneath the rivers in the area, proved to be too small. The gushing waters from the canal moved over them. Apparently, the carrying capacity of the siphons was not properly assessed while designing them", Jog said.
Then, she added, there is a 550-page disaster management plan of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, released this year. It is not known why what is mentioned in the report has at all been taken into account for diasaster preparedness, including the infrastructure which should be ready ahead of the monsoon.
Pandya and Jog particularly regretted the manner in which rehabilitation of the villagers was sought to be carried out. Though one option being offered to the villagers is to shift out, they are reluctant, as, if they do so, they would lose their agricultural land, their main source of livelihood.
Then, those who had lost cattle have to depend on post mortem, though many just couldn't trace their livestock, which just washed away in the floods. Worse, the goat owners were being paid just Rs 3,000 as against Rs 40,000 offered to those who owned cattle. "Only influential sections in the villages are able to corner rehabilitation package", the meet was told.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

BISAG indulges in lot of data fudging.