Admin lapse, poor weather forecast to be blamed

karnataka floods

Army personnel carry out rescue operation in a flood affected area in Belagavi district. PTI

Displacing lakhs of people and snatching their livelihoods, flash floods in the past fortnight have unleashed a trail of devastation across the Northern Plains and parts of Malnad regions of Karnataka.

On an argumentative note, the Krishna river basin (spread across the North Karnataka region) has always been prone to flash floods considering the excess discharge by the upper riparian state, Maharashtra, after heavy rains lash the Konkan region—the catchment of Krishna.

However, the current flood scenario, unprecedented in the Krishna delta at least in recent times, inflicting severe losses and literally wiping out the region’s agrarian economy has put the region back at least by a decade.

While there have been different theories doing rounds attributing the reasons for the mayhem, engineers and water experts have termed the scenario more of an administrative lapse by both the Central and State governments along with a lack of geopolitical relations and inaccurate advance forecast by weather agencies.

Lessons not learnt

Experts like Capt Raja Rao have argued that floods like these are the result of political blinkers spanning several decades rather than going with empirical reports of engineers. Ironically, neither the state governments (Karnataka-Maharashtra-Andhra Pradesh) nor does the Centre has learnt any lesson from the catastrophe like these.

“It’s been almost a decade since the Supreme Court gave its verdict on the sharing of Krishna River water and nothing has been translated into reality. Further, it has been five to six years since the review petition was dismissed and the Centre has failed to issue a gazette notification constituting a river management authority that could have overlooked the affairs of the Krishna basin. In the absence of a proper notification, the issue was rather left to states to act as per their own calculations. Water being the state subject, the states evolved policies suiting their needs which all ultimately turned out to be anti-people,” explained Raja Rao, a former managing director of Krishna Bhagya Jala Nigam Limited (KBJNL)—the nodal body that oversees water issues in the state’s Krishna delta.

Experts have put forth the point that had there been a river management authority, similar to the one in the Cauvery basin, they would have recorded the rainfall pattern and discharge by the dam.

“The monitoring body could have laid down an integrated reservoir operation assessing the holding capacity of each dam in the basin and accordingly planning for judicious discharge by each of the dams. It could have controlled the increased discharge that has resulted in the present-day mess,” opined another noted expert refusing to be quoted.

What triggered devastation?

Pointing at inaccurate monsoon forecast by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Raja Rao said, “The IMD shall also be blamed as the predictions for the monsoon have been proved wrong. While they have been accurate in issuing a red alert, their initial forecast about monsoon issued in May-June has been proved not accurate. As the early forecast of poor monsoon partially turned true in June and July, the dam authorities in both the states resorted to storing more and more water. But when there were sudden rains and inflow they had no way than to open all gates triggering mayhem.”

Commenting on the lack of political will within the state, Raja Rao said, “For years we (Karnataka) have been dragging feet in resolving the affairs of Krishna basin. Had we increased the height of Alamatti reservoir to 524.25 mtrs as laid down by the Supreme Court and the Tribunal, we could have stored an additional 130 TMC of water which is now being released by Maharashtra and thus preventing excess discharge and artificial floods. Rehabilitation and land acquisition have been at the slowest pace and successive governments have failed to take note of this. Adding to woes, irrigation ministers in the past hailing from the North Karnataka region have purely played to the gallery by deferring the decision on increasing the height of the reservoir.”

An expert from Indian Institute of Science revealed, “Every dam would have in place a report on the Dam Break Analysis that will have a detailed account on what relief measures to be taken in case of dam breach or excess discharge. The warning about floods may have come well in advance by 24 to 48 hours and officials may have acted swiftly according to the report which may have suggested safe places for rehabilitating the people and livestock.”

But with the frequent change of guard at the administrative level and volatile political scenario, Karnataka forgot to foresee a disastrous scenario which resulted in witnessing an unprecedented flood situation across North Karnataka.

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