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Chhattisgarh dams on Mahanadi lead to 'increased intensity' of Odisha floods

By Sudhansu R Das 

It seems Odisha does not have any respite from the natural calamities. After the three consecutive cyclones: Fani, Amphan and Asani, the flood in August this year adds more misery to the state. It happened after the devastating Corona pandemic. Nearly 6.50 lakh people in 2,149 villages in 13 districts are affected by flood. The economic loss seems to be huge. While repairing the damage the state should examine the real cause of flooding in the state.
The intensity of flood in Odisha is increasing every year due to over damming of rivers in the source zone, deforestation, encroachment of the flood plains and the destruction of hills etc. The cutting down of trees loosens the soil and allows the river to carry rocks and soil from the source zone to the river beds in the flood plain zone. As a result, the river beds go up and the rivers lose their water holding capacity. Mindless housing and infrastructure projects on the river beds and on the river banks bring demise to the river system.
Like any other state, the river mismanagement is the main reason why Odisha suffers huge economic loss every year. The 2020 flood in the river Mahanadi had affected 14.32 lakh people in 3256 villages; it killed 17 people, destroyed the animal husbandry sector, damaged houses and other economic assets of people. 
 The 2011 flood in Odisha had damaged crops in 4.78 lakh hectares in 19 districts and the 2014 flood killed 45 people and left more than 300,000 people cut off from basic services. According to the Indo Asia News Agency, the 2008 flood in Odisha had destroyed paddy crops in 400000 hectare and killed 29 people. It’s ironic that a large number of farmers have given up farming due to lack of irrigation facilities in a water rich state.
It is not only the river which causes floods in Odisha, rain also kills people, damages property, gives diseases and sufferings to people. The chief urban centers: Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Puri, Balasore, Rourkela, Sambalpur and Berhampur etc have witnessed rain floods in the last two decades. Mindless urban infrastructure projects, over population due to loss of employment in villages, aggressive realty sector growth and the disappearance of water bodies which once absorbed rain water, are the main reasons of devastating rain flood in Odisha. 
A senior official at the Special Relief Commissioner's office has reportedly said the September 2021 rain has devastated at least 53 blocks spread over 11 districts of the state; it killed three persons and affected over 19.53 lakh people in 11 districts of Odisha. The August 2022 rain has exposed the planning flaw in the smart city Bhubaneswar; it has brought life into standstill and damaged economic assets. In many places, the rain water rose to three to six feet on the roads, choked drains, collapsed old houses and damaged hundreds of vehicles. 
The rain water logged area breeds mosquitoes and spreads gastroenteritis diseases. There is no outlet for the rain water as the open space and ponds which normally absorb water have already been converted into ugly concrete structures. It happened in the pilgrim town Puri and in the historic Cuttack city.
During the rainy season, the residents of the ancient Cuttack city, live with drain water as the water from open drains overflows and enters their houses on the ground floor. The contractors who were paid to close the drains with concrete slabs have disappeared with money. The Jaika (underground sewerage system) which has not been completed even after ten years has converted the city into a stinking hell. 
Roads are dug everywhere for the sewerage system and for laying cables and pipes etc; the roads are left unrepaired. Bad road conditions gives physical suffering and cause huge economic loss to people as it leads to accidents and loss of productive hours. Barring a few areas close to the ring roads the entire Cuttack city gets filled up with drain water during the rainy season. The natives of Cuttack city who have contributed to the growth of culture, business and service sectors continue to suffer.
Wrong urban development projects adversely affect water bodies and open space in the urban centers. The state should identify officials who give wrong advice to the state for building infrastructure projects which cause rain floods and deteriorate the living condition of people. 
Those infrastructure projects which seldom help in inclusive growth are enforced on the cities due to some corrupt officials who have close links with the contractors. The Naveen Pattnaik government should crack down the politico-official-contractor nexus which has brought ruin to the state.
The river Mahanadi is the most revered river of Odisha which is associated with the glorious maritime history, culture and traditions of the state. The river is the lifeline of the state which boosts agriculture production, fishery, pilgrim tourism, trade and inspires artisans to create bewitching artistry on ordinary objects. 
The intensity of flood in the river has increased as reportedly because of the construction eight large, 29 medium, 1860 minor irrigation projects and 371 anicuts on the river Mahanadi in Chhattisgarh. Over damming the rivers in the source zone dries the perennial river during summer in its flood plain zone which spreads over a large part of Odisha. In the rainy season, excess water released from the dams causes devastating floods.
A river in fact belongs to the states through which it flows. Excess construction of dams on rivers for electricity and irrigation benefit one state in the source zone but causes huge economic loss to the states which are at the lower end of the river. The Union Government should take urgent steps to dismantle excess dams on the river Mahanadi so that the agriculture and allied economic activities in Odisha could be saved.
In order to prevent the river flood and rain flood, the state should clean all kinds of construction activities on the river beds and on the flood plains. The infrastructure projects should be reexamined for its utility and usefulness for the people. There is no point in using taxpayers' money for building mindless infrastructure projects and giving relief to people from the same source. 
Special commando force should be raised to protect forest in the source zone, transition zone and in flood plains from the wood smugglers and land mafia. Unless the rivers, forests and water bodies are saved, the fate of Odisha will be doomed in a short period.

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