Every year, millions of people around the world are affected by natural or human-made disasters. With the advancement of science and technology, and better management, the number of deaths due to natural disasters are decreasing over the years. However, disasters like earthquake, cyclone, drought and flood are posing serious threats (Below, 2017; Guo, 2010) to mankind. In fact, earthquakes, cyclones and floods and other related natural events are the leading cause of death in recent years.


The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme events, coupled with poor governance and lack of awareness, cause severe damage in many parts of the world. The impact, in terms of loss of life, livelihoods, and displacement of population, is particularly high in developing nations. The rescue and rehabilitation needs of the community affected by any disaster depends on both the intensity of the disaster and the efficiency o the governance mechanisms in place.


We are fortunate that in the present day agencies around the world are constantly observing the occurrences of disasters across the globe, and analyzing their pattern, origin and the damages caused. These determinations are frequently shared among scientific bodies for better preparation of upcoming events and the learnings from similar events are also shared freely. Finding reliable and accurate data is crucial. It plays a vital role not only in disaster preparedness, but also in post-disaster management. As such, domestic capability gaps can often by ridged to a large extent by establishing good networks and communications systems with such global entities.


The efforts of the European Space Agency (ESA) is a good case in point. When a disaster strikes, a group of international space agencies, pool their resources and expertise to support relief efforts on the ground (ESA, 2017). Also, several organizations across the globe work on specific disasters, some of which even offer data about the natural disasters in the open domain to promote more scientific research. International centres are sharing datasets for particular disasters – for example, the global earthquake model (GEM) holds a global historical earthquake catalogue from the year 1000 to date.


India is home to 1.3 million people (UN, 2018) which accounts for almost 17.74 per cent of the world’s population. The growing frequency and intensity of extreme events, combined with uncontrolled, rapid urbanization and poor governance makes the country extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. In India, about 60 per cent of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of various intensities; over 40 million hectares is prone to floods; close to 5,700 km long coastline out of the 7,516 km, is prone to cyclones; about 68 per cent of the cultivable area is susceptible to drought (NDMA 2018). The Andaman & Nicobar Islands, the East and part of West coast are vulnerable to Tsunami. The deciduous/dry-deciduous forests in different parts of the country experience forest fires. The Himalayan region and the Western Ghats are prone to landslides (ISRO, 2017).


India has an institutional framework in place for dealing with disasters which is rapidly growing in capability. The nodal agencies for disaster management in India are the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) and International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). These agencies, along with state disaster management authorities are responsible for disaster management. Research institutes like the Indian national Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), national Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF) and Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) are continually conducting scientific research and providing data to disaster management authorities.


The key to preventing or minimizing the scale of disasters we face lies in these agencies being able to deploy the latest scientific tools and knowledge available, nationally or internationally, in a timely and systemic manner to predict the likelihood of extreme events and translate this knowledge into response action needed by the administrative set up. Neither the lack of data or knowledge nor the lack of coordination among various agencies responsible for timely response action can any longer be an acceptable excuse for avoidable high losses, particularly in terms of lives lost.


Prime Minister Modi had declared that “In India, we are committed to walk the talk on the implementation of Sendai Framework” during the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in New Delhi, in November 2016 (PIB, 2016). India has all the technical capabilities it requires to ensure that we are indeed able to walk the talk, and build/strengthen any gaps that may exist. Modern technologies like satellite imaging (for imaging the extent of impact), Internet of things (IOT) (informed decisions), unmanned aerial systems (UAS) (surveillance and rescue), Decision Support Systems (timely decision), GIS technologies (spatial enabled decision), crowdsourcing (disaster management and rescue) and artificial intelligence (inference and learning and decision making)–all of which can contribute to better disaster preparedness–are available in India.


The need of the hour is for the government to strengthen the institutional framework for disaster management by requiring every state to have a disaster preparedness and response network comprising (i) Academic and research organizations that could model vulnerabilities to relevant extreme events in a state bearing in mind the underlying socio-ecological contexts therein (ii) Weather forecasting agencies that have the capability and must take responsibility, for forecasts at relevant time and geographical scales (iii) Large infrastructure service providers that are themselves vulnerable or can add to vulnerability (iv) municipal and state functionaries who would need to lead preparedness, and enforce it, on the basis of precautionary principles, and finally (v) the agencies that would be involved in relief and rescue operations such a network would need to be coordinated by a small empowered committee and chaired by a professional in the rank of a minister. Cross-border coordination must be ensured by the chairmen of the empowered state committees. The onl remaining barrier to a more effective mitigation of disaster consequences is one of application.



The past two decades in India have been witness to recurrent episodes of urban floods. Extreme weather events, coupled with the intensified phase of urbanization in 2001-11, which has contributed to spatial expansion of urban extents, has greatly increased their frequency (AMRUT, 2017). One can recall the floods that occurred at the beginning of the 21st century, in the month of August 2000 in Hyderabad. Following the floods in Hyderabad, urban floods were recurrently reported across the cities of Delhi in 2002 and 2003, Mumbai in 2005, Surat in 2006, Kolkata in 2007, Jamshedpur in 2008 and Guwahati in 2010. The most recent urban floods were recorded in Srinagar in 2014 and Chennai in 2015 (AMRUT, 2017). During the 2014 floods in Srinagar, over 200 people lost their lives and water reportedly stood at a depth of 12 feet in low-lying areas. In 2015, floods in Chennai brought the entire city to a standstill, with a death toll of 280 (Iyengar, 2015).


Urban flooding is fast becoming one of the most frequently occurring human induced disasters. The problems posed by urban floods can range from localized or contained incidents, where the damage to life and property is minimal to far reaching that cause widespread inundation and brings life to a standstill. This leads to temporary relocation, threats of outbreak of epidemics, loss of livelihoods and impacts civic infrastructure adversely. Urban floods are likely to be more severe as compared to those occurring in rural areas, as urbanization can increase the risk of flooding by up to three times (Rafiq et al., 2016). Dense population clusters in cities impact a larger number of people and severe losses are incurred by industrial and commercial establishments.


Urban Floods: The Causes and Effects

Floods are defined as the submergence of a usually dry area by a large amount of water that comes from sudden and excessive rainfall, overflowing of river or lake, melting of snow or overflowing of river of lake, melting of snow or exceptionally high tide (AMRUT, 2016). When occurring in urban areas, the effects of floods increase manifold, causing massive damage to life and property–crippling commerce and basic civic facilities.


By their very nature, urban floods can be categorized as human induced disaster, caused by constant meddling with natural streams, watercourses, encroachment of water bodies, and unchecked urbanization (NDMA, 2010). Factoring in climate change, the effects of urban floods are likely to be exacerbated in the near future. Research suggests that climate change will lead to increase in short duration precipitation, cause short bursts of intense rainfall and pose major challenges to storm water design (Ali, Pai and Mishra, 2014). In the years between 1901 and 2010, only four of the total 57 urban areas have shown a significant trend in monsoon maximum rainfall (MMR). However, in the period between 2010 and 2060, MMR is likely to increase significantly at 1 to 3 day durations. The number of urban areas where increased rainfall is likely to occur is far larger than the number of areas that experienced these changes between 1901 and 2010 (ibid). The current practices of urbanization in India are not conducive to prevent or mitigate urban floods.


The relatively flat terrain on either side of the river channel that get submerged during floods–the floodplains, are areas where a variety of riverine features are built by sediments which are derived from the upper reaches of the drainage basin and deposited further downstream. Floodplains are also responsible for groundwater recharge. Unchecked construction of buildings, temples and highways has transformed the natural soil cover into concrete surfaces, considerably reducing groundwater recharge. This in turn creates impervious surfaces that obstruct natural floodways and increases the rate and volume of runoff (Raymahashay and Sinha, 2016). Increased frequency of floods is a direct consequence of fields or woodlands turned into roads and parking lots–concretized surfaces do not have the capacity to absorb rainfall. Conversion of water bodies to residential layouts has intensified this problem by removing the interconnectivities of water terrain.


A case study in the city of Bengaluru has noted that the lack of planning and unchecked urbanization has caused the filling up of floodplains, reduction in catchment area and narrowing of waterways (Ramachandra, Aitha and Kumar, 2012). This has subsequently caused recent flooding in areas that do not show any earlier records of being flooded. Further, lakes in the city have been appropriated for developmental activities, disrupting the natural movement of water between different areas of the city. Analyses of drainage networks between Ulsoor and Bellandur, for instance, revealed that after the Challaghatta Lake was converted into a golf course, the drainage network between these two localities had been lost (ibid). In the 19603, 262 lakes existed in the city, but presently, not even 10 are in a healthy state (Sengupta and Sengupta, 2016). Field surveys of lakes in the city have shown that over 66 per cent of them are sewage fed, 14 per cent are surrounded by slums and 72 per cent have shown a significant loss of catchment area (ibid). Last year, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) overlaid maps of the city from 1965 over those from 2017 and found that while earlier there were at least 1,397 km of drains in the City, the figure had been later reduced to 1,105 km (Rao, 2018). While effects have not yet been felt at a large scale in Bengaluru, experts have warned that this unchecked urbanization is likely to have major repercussions. During the recent floods in Karnataka, Kodagu district was ravaged by 1,657 mm (till August 21, 2018) of rainfall (TNN, 2018). On August 17, 2018, the district received 300 mm of rainfall in a single day. If Bengaluru receives even 10 per cent of this rain, it could potentially devastate the city; in fact a mere 30 mm of rainfall of 30 minutes is likely to cause flooding, especially in the low lying areas (Rohith, 2018).


Past experiences strengthen these dire predictions. In July 2005, when Mumbai received > 200mm rainfall (classified as ‘very heavy’ by the Indian Meteorological Department), various parts of the city were inundated to varying degrees and 419 human lives were lost. The underlying causes for the rapid flooding in the city were the erection of slums along places of outfalls and loss of detention ponds to development (Gupta, 2007).


The case of flooding in Chennai in the year 2015, where the death toll was 218 and economic losses computed at INR 15,000 crore serves another example of the dangers of rapid urbanisation (Thangavelu, 2015). The rainfall received by the city in the month of November 2015 was ~48 inches, with mismanaged urban development compounding the effects of an extreme weather event caused by warm seas and long distance effects of the El-Nino (NASA Earth Observatory, 2015). In the years between 2006 and 2016, Chennai has witnessed seven episodes of urban floods (Sengupta and Sengupta, 2016). In 2014, an analysis conducted by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) found that since the 19705, urbanisation in the city increased almost 20 times. Consequently, the city has lost over one-fifth of its greenery (Aithal and Ramachandra, 2015). Green areas were converted to concrete surfaces that increased the runoff and created water logging in the absence of proper drainage. The primary floodwater sink in the city, the Pallikarni marsh, which was around 5,000 hectares (ha) at the time of independence had been reduced to a mere 600 ha by 2011 (Gopalakrishnan, 2016). A complete disconnect between hydrology and urban planning were found in Chennai, which caused steady drop in the water table. Moreover, recharge structures like lakes, tanks, ponds and other wetlands have been disregarded and the natural course of water has been stymied. This has been one of the major causes of flooding in the urban and peri-urban areas (Sengupta, 2015). Speaking with G’nY, Anant Maringanti, Director of Hyderabad Urban Lab, notes, “The problem arises with the unchecked development of real estate in cities and infrastructure creation that does not take into account gradient and topography. Older agricultural practices have disappeared–wetlands serve no economic purpose today and we have been unable to find and alternative use for them. Since it is not possible to bring in older practices into the city, it is pertinent that we develop newer practices that can reinforce recharge and minimise risk.”


Legal framework

There is an urgent need to preserve city catchments to curb incidents of urban flooding. Corrective measures need to be taken immediately else urban floods are likely to become a norm rather than an exception (Bhushan, 2016). The first step to check incidents of urban flooding is the preservation of urban lakes and catchments, which needs a robust legal framework. At present, no such framework exists to challenge encroachment of lakes, floodplains, or other catchments in urban areas, despite the fact that this issue has been raised by the Supreme Court, most significantly in the case of Vasundhm Pathak Masoodi vs Union of India, where it was observed that massive encroachments and erection of many structures and hotels have led to the reduction in the size of lakes in Srinagar. The River Regulation Zone, conceptualised on the lines of Coastal Regulation Zone in 2012, is still to see the light of the day. There have been numerous judicial interventions where the Courts have ordered to declare a no development zone in floodplains and riverbeds. In July 2017, the national Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered that an area of 100m from the edge of the Ganga between Haridwar and Unnao was to be a no development zone. Dumping of waste within 500m of the river and into the river was prohibited and nay violators were to be fined INR 50,000 (NGT, 2017). Despite this ruling, the practice continues uninhibitedly–over 1.3 billion litres of waste flows into the river everyday (Jadhav, 2018).


But examples of courts noting the importance of floodplains and wetlands are not recent. In 1992, a proposal for the construction of World Trade Centre was challenged in the Calcutta High Court (HC). It was held that bheris–as wetlands are termed in Bengal–are important for maintaining ecological equilibrium and the state government was directed to stop all encroachment occurring in wetlands in order to preserve their nature and character (Calcutta HC, 1992). Judicial orders, however, can only intervene in individual incidents of encroachment. To put an absolute check on encroachment of floodplains and wetlands, a legal framework needs to be put into place. But the law alone will not suffice. “We also need a change in our institutional framework to ensure preservation of wetlands. Certainly, a low needs to be developed to set up this framework, but this will be only the first step. We need to rethink our culture of governance and institutions, which, in their present state are completely incapable of dealing with the problems. Take the example of accountability for wetlands–there is no one institution from whom this can be sought. The irrigation department is responsible for drainage in the city, the revenue department maintains land records and there are similar bodies that are assigned different functions. This practice needs to change,” Maringanti adds.



It is therefore safe to conclude that the central problem, as far as urban floods are concerned, is the rapid disappearance of wetlands and catchments. Urbanization and development, which includes the setting up of concrete structures and buildings, paying no heed to the spaces in cities responsible for maintaining ecological equilibrium, needs to be challenged. New practices, including that in governance and city planning need to be developed. In the absence of these, as extreme events occur due to climate, the occurrence of urban floods is bound to increase.









Flooding occurs most commonly form heavy rainfall, when natural watercourses lack the capacity to convey excess water. It can also result from other phenomena, particularly in coastal areas, by a storm surge associated with a tropical cyclone, a tsunami or a high tide. Dam failure, triggered by an earthquake, for instance, will lead to flooding of the downstream area, even in dry weather conditions (UN-SPIDER, 2014). Various climatic and non-climatic processes can result in different types of floods: riverine-, flash-, urban-, glacial lake outburst- and coastal floods (UNISDR, 2017). In addition to inland rivers, a few originating from neighbouring countries–Kosi in Nepal are also adding to the flood risk in states such as Bihar.


Urban vulnerability to hazards is high given the rapid growth. That is characterized by concentrated economic activity, unplanned development, and growing slum populations. High population densities, not only in urban areas but also along large rivers and coasts has compounded the vulnerabilities. Rampant and unplanned urbanization has added to the risk of flood hazard and the situation has slipped out of the control of local government.


An analysis conducted using the aqueduct flood tool, developed by the World Resources Institute shows that India leads the list of 15 countries that account for 80 per cent of total population affected by annual floods–over 4.84 million lives are affected in India each year (Luo et al., 2015). India also tops the list of countries with highest GDP per cent exposed to floods–approximately 14.3 billion USD, with Bangladesh as a distant second at 5.4 billion USD (ibid). It is estimated that INR 1,805 crore is lost each year to floods, computed as damage caused to crops, public utilities, houses, not to mention the loss of lives. In fact, about 7.55 million hectares of land is annually affected (CAG, 2017).


The 4th assessment report of the Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that the incidence and intensity of flood, drought and cyclone events are going to increase throughout the world in the future. The report highlights some key trends for India, notably a general increase in temperature with high seasonal variations in rainfall pattern (IPCC, 2007). Recent (2015) unprecedented floods in Banaskhanata District (Gujarat) and Chennai (Tamil Nadu), followed by the Kerala deluge over a very short span of time seems to confirm the IPCC predictions.


Techno-Legal Arrangement for Flood Management

Disaster management in India is the responsibility of respective state governments. The central government’s role is to provide technical and financial aid to lower governmental units. Central agencies do not step in and take over a situation–they stay in the background, provide general guidance, financial support, technical assistance, and coordination across governmental units.


The National Government issues policies and guidelines from time to time for streamlining and strengthening disaster preparedness at all levels. A partial list of guidelines issued by the Union Government on flood management includes:


  • National Disaster Management Act, 2005
  • National Guidelines on Flood Management, 2008
  • National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009
  • National Guidelines on Urban Flood Management, 2010
  • National Water Policy (1987, 2002, 2012)
  • National Disaster Management Plan, 2016
  • A report on 21st Century Institutional


Architecture for India’s Water Reforms (2016). The Guideline on Flood issued by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in the year 2008 were the first comprehensive document to provide direction for planning and developing flood mitigation capacities at various levels. This included recommendations on structural and non-structural measures, including strengthening/revising flood forecasting and early warning systems, flood proofing of new developmental projects, building knowledge-skill-abilities (KSA) through awareness, education and training, improving compliance regime and flood emergency response capabilities at various levels (NDMA, 2008).


NDMA delinked urban flooding from the subject of (riverine) floods and channelized its efforts to come up with separate guidelines for it, as they understood that strategies on flood disaster management largely focused on riverine floods, which were specific to rural areas. The National Guidelines on Urban Flood Management, issued in 2010, provides a comprehensive elaboration on the steps to be taken by various stakeholders for enhancing national urban flood resilience. The national guidelines precisely define the respective roles of key players including Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), the national guidelines precisely define the respective roles of key players including Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and the Central Water Commission (CWC) (NDMA, 2010).


CWC and MoUD are charged with responsibilities associated with flood management in general and urban flood in particular. CWC holds the general responsibility of initiating, coordinating and furthering consultation with state governments and initiating schemes for the control, conservation and mutilation of water resources in the respective state for the purpose of flood risk management, irrigation, drinking water supply and water power generation (CGWB, 2016).


In addition to its other responsibilities, MoUD is also mandated to be the nodal agency for flood management, tasked with establishing the urban flood cell I the ministry; state nodal departments and ULBs and facilitate urban flood risk assessment, forecasting and warning both at the national level and state/UT levels through the required mechanisms (NDMA, 2008).


IMD’s role has been extremely vital, both in rural and urban flood management. The agency is responsible for establishing and managing automatic rainfall gauges (ARGs) for real time monitoring, with a density of 1 in every 4 sq km in all 2325 class I, II and III and towns; deployment of the Doppler Weather Radar Network to cover all areas for enhanced ‘local-scale forecasting capabilities’ with maximum possible lead-time, development of a protocol for watershed based sub-development of a protocol for watershed based sub-division of urban areas and issue watershed delineated rainfall forecast. Local-scale forecasting has become more relevant in the current scenario with extreme variability in rainfall within small geographical areas (ibid).


India did not have a National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP) until 2015. NDMP addresses how the nation, at all levels, will develop, employ, and coordinate core mitigation capabilities to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. Mitigation actions include all structural and non-structural risk treatments appropriate to hazards, and leverage or incorporate new, existing and developing disaster risk reduction programmes.


Disaster Management System in Kerala: Floods 2018

Kerala is one of the few states in India that has an established institutional system with qualified and trained human resources. As mandated in the National Act, the State has a State Disaster Management Plan (SDMP) and District Disaster Management Plan (DDMP) developed on the basis of the risk foot prints. In addition, the State had taken multiple initiatives for flood mitigation, such as Operation Anantha led by the chief secretary (PTI, 2016). Kerala is also a unique example in planning and establishing a well equipped State Emergency Operation Centre (SEOC). But the quantum of losses inflicted by the recent floods put a question mark on the State’s disaster preparedness and its effectiveness. A closer look at the floods shows that there was gradual onset–not an event akin to a flashflood, where there is no time to issue an alert. Following the incessant rainfall, the State was forced to open the gates of 35 dams to release the flood runoff. For the first time in 26 years, all five flood barriers of the Idukki were opened (CWC, 2018). This caused a cascading effect, aggravating the flood situation. The NDRF and army were deployed and relief teams pulled in for rescue, as flooded hospitals struggled to provide care to the injured and sick.



The river basin area and houses in Kerala were submerged with incessant rains, combined with water released from reservoirs. Any release of water from dams/reservoirs would aggravate flood situation in the command area downstream of the dam site but under unusual conditions releasing water is the only way to reduce pressure to prevent ‘dam ‘failure’. As per the standard practice, dam authorities follow, the rule curve for maintaining water level in reservoirs at the onset of monsoon. Keeping minimal permissible level as per the rule curve will provide flexibility to the operator for using the reservoir space for flood moderation. A very tight collaboration between IMD, CWC and dam authorities is essential for effective water and flood management. A holistic review of the situation suggests that an absence of integrated and transparent mechanism connecting IMD forecasts, CWC’s predictions of daily inflow into reservoirs and Dam management plan resulted in a situation where the dam authority was forced to release a huge quantum of water. The situation worsened in the absence of effective alert and warning system in vulnerable areas. National agencies, along with dam authorities responsible for performing their specific role in implementing flood disaster mitigation measures failed to a great extent in Kerala.


With most of the land in the state inundated and service infrastructures non-functional, response (search, rescue and relief – SRAR) operation was a humongous task for the Union and State agencies in the aftermath of Kerala flood. Standard flood disaster response plan did not work in an unanticipated scenario with widespread flood occurrence (at the same time) in majority of districts in the State. Lacunae and shortcomings become obvious when the joint response team are put into an unknown situation with an unexercised and untested incident action plan in their hands.



Urbanization and Disasters: Unprecedented challenges faced by the administration for water management, including urban floods, would need to be addressed, keeping rapid urbanization in consideration. At the current pace, the number of people living in urban areas is expected to increase to twice the current figures, and reach 800 million by 2050 (United Nations, 2014). City and town land use planning need to be revised based on these estimates and climate change effects on temperature and rainfall variability.


Aggradations of Rivers and Reservoirs:

Reducing capacity of rivers, reservoirs and dams by excessive aggradations leads to inaccurate flood forecasts and adds to flood vulnerabilities. The majority of the Indian rivers and reservoirs need a reassessment of their existing capacity for planning and implementation of dredging operations.


Inter State Flood Riske: State need to work together to prepare, mitigate, respond and recover from common hazards and risks that may affect them jointly or independently. The Union Government should plan and establish an inter-states hazard profiling and mitigation management mechanism to address cross border hazards, including river and dam management for controlling floods.


Science and Technology (S&T) in Disaster Management: S&T plays an important role in flood risk monitoring, measurement, analysis and forecasting. New Internet of Things (IoT) based solutions, connected with simulation models, are required to be planned and designed for supporting flood risk mitigation objectives.



Flood Mitigation Funding: India has a well established funding mechanism (NDRF/SDRF) for disaster response and relief assistance operations. However, a National Disaster Mitigation Fund (NDFMF) is yet to be established. As an out-of-box solution, this NDFMF scheme should be planned and established in the country for reducing flood risk and vulnerabilities in time bound manner.


Flood Risk Mapping: The central government should undertake the responsibility for developing and disseminating integrated flood hazard maps for the whole country covering all floods and secondary hazards associated with it. NDMA, in close collaboration with ministries and departments in the Indian government, state and local level agencies should develop and update flood risk map both for rural and urban areas in the country. separate risk mapping should be done for interstate and cross border flood hazard.


Risk Transfer: A national flood risk map should form the basis for planning mitigation measures including risk transfer. The common citizen should be taken as the base criteria for risk transfer insurance at the domestic level. All public infrastructures in risk zones should be integrated with a ‘selective risk insurance mechanism’ (government insuring its public finance and public and private assets etc.) to provide cover from impacts due to calamities.


Core Capabilities: The national disaster management system should re-define preparedness standards for core capabilities including hazard identification, institution, infrastructure, logistics, training and education, alert and warning etc., along with providing measurable key performance indicator (KPI). Sendai framework (2015-2030) provides a good basis for identification of core capabilities and performance indicators for countries where core capabilities and performance indicators have not been defined so far (UNISDR, 2015).


Accountability and Audit: As per the CAG report on Schemes for Flood Control and Flood Forecasting, against a target for the 12th Five Year Plan for installation of 219 telemetry stations, 310 base stations and 100 flood forecasting stations, only 56 telemetry stations had been installed as of August 2016 by CWC (CAG, 2017). Most of the telemetry stations installed during the 11th Five Year Plan period were non-functional, owing to which real time data was not available at these stations. It has become necessary for the central government to plan and establish standard mechanism for “accountability and audit” of investments on disaster preparedness. Funds utilization/performance audit should be made mandatory for disaster risk management activities to ensure responsible utilization of funds and to measure accomplishments or performance.



A lot has been written about the Kerala floods already and most of the blame has been put on exceptionally heavy rainfall, that higher than normal between June 1 and August, 19, 2018 (Devasia and Menon, 2018). Why this excess rainfall was not predicted despite tall claims of having state of the art facilities in the country and why the state did not predicted despite tall claims of having state of the art facilities in the country and why the state did not prepare for this are still open questions for which no satisfactory answers have been forthcoming so far. However, we may leave this debate for now. There is no doubt that extreme rainfall was the triggering factor for this unprecedented flood but the impacts could have been minimized had the rivers flowing through Kerala been taken care of in terms of developing a process-based understanding. The Kerala flood is a classic example of long term ignorance of several important factors in river management–river dynamics, sediments and ill-planned interventions. This article highlights these issues. While the article chooses to argue for the river, it does so from a human perspective.


Crossing of ‘threshold’

Kerala is dotted with 44 rivers out of which 41 are west flowing (Kerala Irrigation Department, 2017). Most of these small and seasonal rivers have high to moderate slopes and short length from source to sea. This results in flash discharge, bringing significant amounts of sediments from the fragile Western Ghats. The rivers are extremely dynamic and even a subtle change in slope due to sediment accumulation can change the direction of the flow. A river maintains its natural course as long as the longitudinal (down valley) slope is higher than the lateral (cross valley) slope, but the moment the lateral slope becomes higher than the longitudinal slope, it leads to a ‘gradient advantage’ (Mackay and Bridge, 1995) and the river will switch its course, a process termed as ‘avulsion’. The phenomenon is known as ‘crossing of thresholds’ in technical terms and rivers such as the ones in Kerala have very low thresholds that can be crossed very easily and suddenly. The addition of excessive sediments from extreme events and landslides adds to the problem and triggers the switch. During the 2018 Kerala floods, such incidences were documented in several rivers such as Chaliyar (Mudur, 2018) and Karuvannur (Ramavarman, 2018) that led the river to go haywire, resulting in large scale inundation occurring in areas way beyond the normal course of the river. Heavy rains, coupled with release of water form overfilled dams added to the problem. it is important to note that such threshold crossing can produce enormous changes in river morphology and can change the course of the river permanently. In the long run, a river may adjust to a new equilibrium, but may never revert to its original condition unless through engineering interventions.


The August 2008 floods in the Kosi river, draining through Nepal and north Bihar, may be cited here. Excessive sediment influx and confinement of the river within embankments and obstructions, caused by the barrage raised the bed level of the river through time. This led to the breaching of the river through time. This led to the breaching of emvankment and large scale inundation (Sinha, 2009a). Interestingly, this flood occurred at a discharge of 144,000 cusecs, which was much lower than the design capacity of 950,000 cusecs for the Kosi barrage (Sinha, 2009b). The river sin Kerala are much smaller than the Kosi and presumably have a much lower threshold, so they are likely to be more prone to such dynamics. Such process-based understanding is unfortunately missing in designing river management strategies in our country and rivers in Kerala are no exception.


Engineering interventions and drainage congestion

Given the large number of rivers draining through Kerala, the spatial distribution, and the unique profile of the flows and gradients of these rivers, it is important to understand and link these with engineering interventions to explain the causative factors of the recent floods. Apart from their unique hydrology, the rivers in Kerala are also witness to unprecedented interventions in the form of dams and hydroelectric projects. The Mullaperiyar dam was constructed way back in 1895 (Ghosal, 2018) but a series of hydroelectric projects started in 1933, the first of which was the Pallivasal project (Kerala State Electricity Board, 2015). A total of 33 hydroelectric projects, 57 dams and the associated infrastructures on and around the Kerala rivers call for a much stricter reservoir operation policy for efficient discharge of flood runoff. In a single district of Idukki, that lies in the Western Ghats, there are eight reservoirs–Mullaperiyar, Idukki arch dam, Ponmudi dam, Anayirangal, Mattupetty, Kundala, Idamalayar and Bhoothathankettu. It has been argued that given the amount of rainfall and the live storage available, it was essential to make releases from the reservoir (CWC, 2018) but perhaps this could have been done in a more efficient and controlled manner and with sufficient warning to the local people. Further, the infrastructure developed over the years have significantly damaged the fragile ecosystem of the Western Ghats. This is reflected in decreasing forest cover and instability of the mountain slopes. The overall forest cover loss in Western Ghats has been estimated to be 35.3 per cent of the total forest cover in Kerala between 1920 and 2013 (Reddy, 2016). The damage has been so severe that the Supreme Court had to intervene and pronounce a ruling against the felling of trees in 1996. Deforestation and development of associated infrastructures to support these projects have led to rampant and unplanned construction activities resulting in modification of slopes, excavations and quarrying (Sangmola, 2018). It is easily understandable how disastrous these activities have been in terms of the destabilization of natural slopes caused by removal of vegetation cover, culminating in failures and landslides. During heavy rains such as the one in 2018, sections of these slopes washed way, adding a large sediment flux in the rivers.


Apart from causing slope instability, many structures such as roads and bridges downstream tend to either block the natural pathway or reduce the width of the river and act as a ‘barrier’ to the flow of water and sediments. This creates severe ‘drainage congestion’ as more often than not, there is not enough width to allow for safe passage of flood waters. With time, the aggravation of channels with sediments adds to the problem and the situation worsens leading to disasters like the one we have witnessed in Kerala in July-August 2018.


Encroaching the ‘river space’


The physical form of a river primarily consists of its channel and floodplain that has also been used to define ‘river space’–the space required by the river to perform its myriad functions, which include channel migration, sediment/nutrient transport, and support to riparian vegetation and ecosystem. Most developed countries have consciously committed to preserve river spaces through several measures such as defining the desirable land use in this zone (also called river corridors) and promulgating legislations to protect this space. Amongst several benefits such as providing fertile land for seasonal farming and supporting riparian fauna and flora, this measure provides for reducing the flood risk by (a) accommodating a large part of food waters during high flows including groundwater recharge, and (b) not allowing people to build settlements very close to the river. As with many other places across the country, haphazard and ill planned development in Kerala has seen significant encroachment of the river space through rapid urbanization gradually converting the fertile and permeable floodplains into human settlements. This has not only reduced infiltration of flood waters for groundwater recharge and accommodation of excess rainfall, but has also put a large population and infrastructure at a huge risk. Kerala has an extremely varied terrain that offers limited potential for urban expansion and therefore a delicate balance must be maintained between human need and riverine ecosystem protection.


Although this idea has been proposed in the Indian context as well through research papers and reports submitted to the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India, there are no serious efforts underway to implement it. Any ecosystem based approach for river management must implement ideas that have multiple benefits including risk reduction of flood disasters that have recently occurred-Indus floods (2010), Uttarakhand floods (2013) and Jammu floods (2014). Such incidents keep reminding us that river management in this country requires a paradigm shift.


Impact assessment and way forward


While the rivers of Kerala continue to ravage different parts of the State during the monsoons, there is a huge task ahead to repair the physical, social and economic damages that have incurred during the 2018 event. While a lot of planning in terms of rebuilding the infrastructures may be going on already, it is pertinent to reflect upon the long term impacts on the rivers and the measures that may need to be taken to avoid such disasters in the future.


Given the diversity of rivers across the Kerala state and the fact that 13 out of 14 districts of Kerala were affected by 2018 floods, the impact of these floods are not difficult to visualize. The topmost scientific priority of the water resources department of the Kerala state should be the development of basin-specific flood forecasting and flood management plan and its dissemination. This task is easier said than done, but a concerted effort must start.


As mentioned before, several rivers may have undergone significant morphological changes during this event and some of them may now be more prone to flood risk than ever before. Therefore, complete morphological evaluation of these rivers in terms of their morphodynamics must be undertaken and immediately followed up by necessary measures to restore their equilibrium. A few stretches of the rivers have moved to new courses and it may be worthwhile to examine the flood risk in these stretches. Apart from focusing on the downstream reaches of the river, it is equally important to look into the fundamental causes of the problems that are likely to be different in different regions and then plan a remedial measure. The use of modern technology such as repetitive satellite images and drones can provide insights for these investigations.


Another area of concern is examining the efficiency of hydraulic structures and in particular their role in aggravating the flood risk in this particular event, if any. The identification of specific bridges, barrages, embankments and other infrastructures that hindered the safe passage of flood waters must be identified and suitable measures must be taken up to avoid such problems in the future. Sediment management and channel improvement around these structures and other stretches could be one of the important steps that need to be undertaken during the lean flow period apart from an extensive rehabilitation programme. Restoration of hydrologic connectivity of channels disrupted by ill-planned structures should be one of the long terms strategies for the state government in the coming years.



This event should also be taken as a stark reminder that the river space must be clearly demarcated for all rivers and the existing land use in this zone identified. The Kerala government must consider the protection of the river space through a scientifically designed plan rather than randomly selecting a buffer zone on both sides of the river as has been proposed in some states recently (1 km wide buffer zone along the Ganga in Uttarakhand as per NGT directive dated Nov, 5, 2015). There are similar rules prohibiting constructions near water bodies in other states in India too, but there is no uniformity and there are no considerations of river diversity across the states. Such regulations could be either unproductive or counter-productive depending upon the situation. While the rehabilitation programmes are being planned in Kerala, there may be an opportunity to revisit such regulations to restrict the permanent settlements in the ‘river space’. This might require designing a scientific and possibly a legislative framework as well.






The 2018 World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR), edited by Mycle Schneider, provides a detailed and summative description of the significant changes underway in the nuclear industry across the globe. The report emphasizes the issues of nuclear power generation throughout the world and provides a robust data series on specific countries. According to the Report, at present 31 countries generate power using nuclear reactors of which, five (China, Iran, Russia, Hungary and Pakistan) have achieved their greatest ever nuclear production for the year 2017.the total nuclear energy generated throughout the world in 2017 is estimated to be 2,503 net terawatt hours (TWh) which is one per cent more than the previous year but 4 per cent below the historic peak in 2006. In the first half of the year 2018, four more reactors were started in the world, of which three units were connected to the grid in China, which included EPR (Taishan-1) and the first AP1000 (Sanmen-1). The other two reactors Leningrad 2-1, and Rostov-4 were started in Russia.


The Report also throws light on India’s rising inclination towards hamessing atomic energy for meeting its energy demands. There are 22 active nuclear power reactors in India with a net generating capacity of 6.2 GW in 2017. However, two nuclear reactors Kakrapar 1 and 2 have been put under the long term operation (LTO) category and Rajasthan-1 has been permanently shutdown. The remaining reactors generated 34.9 TWh in 2017. In the first half of 2018, no new nuclear was commissioned in India. However, the construction of two new reactors, the third and fourth units of Kudankulam, was officially started in the later part of 2017. Along with the Kudankulam units there are five more reactors under construction in India which hold a total net capacity of 4.8 GW. Apart from this, India is also seeking to import reactors from the United States and France. A recent agreement was signed by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) and Electricite de France (EDF) for the implementation of six EPR nuclear power reators units at Jaitapur, Maharashtra. Also, the visit of US Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, in April 2018 was an attempt to revive the stalled nuclear project between India and USA’s Westighouse Electric Co. that plans to deliver the six nuclear reactors to India.


However, there are concerns that nuclear reactors are not entirely environment friendly and pose serious threats to health as well as the ecosystem. As per the Report, six AP1000s from Westinghouse proposed for the Mithi Virdi site in Gujarat faced a strong opposition from the local farmers, which eventually led to relocation of the site to Kovvada in south eastern India. Speaking with G’nY, S P Udaykumar, an anti-nuclear activist and writer from Tamil Nadu, stated that with the installation of so many nuclear reactors across the country, radioactive waste disposal will be a daunting task, as the half-life of this waste is around 24,000 years. He further stated that the government has not yet devised effective plans for the disposal of nuclear waste and therefore in case of Kundankulam reactors, the Supreme Court has extended the deadline of for the construction of dumping ground and storage facility for spent fuel waste to April 2022 from the earlier period of May 2018 (Singh, 2018). Apart from issues of radioactive waste disposal there is the probability of a nuclear accidents. “The tragic nuclear accidents of Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl, the consequences of which have not been completely dealt with, are still fresh in our memories. Nuclear accident, brings forth a damage so massive that generations ahead would need to contain radioactive emissions in a vicinity of 30 or more kms. We may thus needs to exercise caution with nuclear energy,” says Kumar Sundaram, and anti-nuclear activist, during a live show with G’nY. “We absolutely cannot compromise the health of our future generations to meet the present day electricity problem,” adds Udaykumar. “Therefore, there must be stricter and robust rules to ensure the proper disposal of the hazardous radioactive waste generated from nuclear reactors.”


There are two critical take-aways from this Report. First being the fact that the nuclear power predicted (22.5 GW) to be generated by the year 2031 in India, is much less than the 63 target proposed by the Indian government at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change for the year 2032. Secondly, the Indian government doesn’t seem to be working towards reducing the risks to life and the environment surrounding the nuclear reactors

Ideas about large scale disasters have gone through various phases, from being attributed to ‘supernatural’ to being seen as ‘acts of nature’ to finally being recognized as the action of man. Disasters are a compels phenomenon with the term ‘disaster’ often misused in common parlance in cases ranging from car accidents, space shuttle failure, train mishaps, war, conflict, terrorism, to failure in even matters of the heart. However, for functional purposes, disasters have been divided into ‘natural’ and ‘manmade’. The former includes earthquakes, droughts, floods, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and forest fires while the latter chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear disasters. This ‘naturalness’ of so-called natural disasters is now being questioned. ‘Natural disaster’ is a convenient misnomer–focusing primarily on the physical or geographical context while ignoring socio-economic and political factors. Natural phenomena are events in nature that are recurrent, like storms, earthquakes, cyclones etc. However, they become disasters only when there is a human interface. We need to understand how natural disasters turn malefic–it is only because communities living in risk prone areas become vulnerable. There is a critical link between disaster and development, which needs to be understood from a new perspective.


Defining Disasters

Attempts at defining disasters have either unnecessarily broadened its scope or narrowed it down to a bare minimum. The sociologist Quarantelli (2005) while attempting to define disaster in his voluminous book, argues that no single universally accepted definition can be evolved. The nature of a disaster is fundamentally evolved. The nature of a disaster is fundamentally a social construct, and some physical event or a combination of the two. Unless we obtain consensus about its defining features, we will continue to shout over one another, debating the characteristics, conditions and consequences of disasters. The other reason for the lack of a fixed definition is that most concepts associated with natural disasters emerge from varied practitioners over some 30 different academic disciplines, with diverse objectives and perceptions.


The United Nations promoted its working definition for disasters as a serious disruption of the functioning of society, causing widespread human, material or environmental losses, which exceed the ability of the affected people to cope using its own resources. However, in the Indian context, according to Disaster Management Act 2005, ‘disasters’ mean a catastrophe, mishap, calamity, or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or manmade causes, or by accident or negligence, which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, or degradation of, environment and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area (Ahmed and Sagar, 2017).)


Much time and intellectual capital is being spent in defining the phenomenon, rather than in researching important and fundamental concerns. The question we should be asking is not what disasters are but what is our vulnerability (and resilience) to environmental threats and extreme events.


Blaikie et al. (1994) describe how we live in a world where risk is everywhere and every individual faces it daily. However, some groups and communities are more vulnerable, given their geographical position–living in low lying areas, marshy lands, coastal regions, river beds, mountains and valleys.


India, with its geographically diverse landscape is prone to many disasters. The National Disaster Management Authority website reports that around 58.6 per cent of India’s landmass is prone to earthquakes, 12 per cent is prone to floods, around 5,700 km coastline is prone to cyclones and tsunamis and 68 per cent cultivable land to droughts (NDMA, 2018). Apart from these, there is always the threat of human induced disasters–chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN).


Disasters as Social Phenomenon

Disasters are undoubtedly a social phenomenon and call for social science perspectives. Systematic and extensive sociological studies on disasters have been ongoing for the past five decades. This shift from ‘supernatural’ to ‘natural’ to ‘manmade’ or ‘anthropogenic’ brings to the fore the concepts of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘risk’. Often concepts like ‘hazard’, ‘disaster’, and ‘catastrophe’ are interchangeably used, offering little clarity. However, Blaikie et al. (1994) provide some lucidity on these concepts. A disaster consists of three interrelated factors; hazard (H), vulnerability (V) and risk (R). These three factors are related y the equation R=H+V, which then comes to define disaster. Hazard is the physical agent in a disaster. Hazard is the physical agent in a disaster. A hazard can be forecast–there is a statistical likelihood of a given hazard to occur. But forecasts say little about the actual level of vulnerability a given society or population is subjected to. Risk is a compound function of this complex natural hazard and the number of people characterized by their varying degrees of vulnerability, spatial and temporal exposure to extreme events.


As social phenomena, disasters lead to immense loss of life and infrastructure often adversely affecting development and slowing down economic growth, and thereby amplifying poverty and inequality. Disasters cause severe social disruption and adversely affect people’s lives and livelihoods, with profound immediate and long-term impact on society.


Half a century ago, a field study focused on individual and group behaviour. Smith and Hoffman (1999) called upon researchers from the developing world to rethink disasters from a political-economic perspective, based on a high correlation between disaster proneness, chronic malnutrition, low income, and family potential, which led to the understanding that the root cause of disasters lay more in society than in nature. Blaikie et al. (1994) developed an interdisciplinary, applied approach to disaster research, a conceptual tool and methods for social scientists and disaster practitioners. According to them, disasters are a product of social, political and economic environment (different from natural environment) because of the way it structures the lives of different groups of people. It is dangerous to treat disasters as something peculiar, as events which deserve their own special focus.


Anthropologists Hoffman and Smith (2002) write that disasters are defined when culturally reacted to and are often created through human agency. Disasters cause a huge amount of social and economic disruption. The effects are far-reaching and the rehabilitation process often aggravates the situation further. Cross cultural and longitudinal research in social sciences can bring out patterns of response and rehabilitation post disasters.


Post-Asian tsunami 2004, the rehabilitation process raised many pertinent issues. In her book, Klein (2007) writes that the development agenda hitherto resisted is pushed in when the community is in a state of shock, be it war, conflict or disaster. Post-tsunami, in Srilanka the tourism agenda took control of the coastal areas. The empirical studies done across countries by social scientists (Reddy, 2013) showcase the unintended consequences of aid for communities. Aid come in like another tsunami accompanied by top down interventions, leading to cultural and social disruptions undermining the inherent resilience of the community. Flash floods like the one in Uttarakhand and urban floods that were witnessed in Mumbai. Kashmir, Chennai and recently in Kerala, draws our attention to indiscriminate development in urban areas. The impunity with which the concrete structures are made, flouting all building by-law, adds to the vulnerability. Despite facing disasters each year, there is barely any lesson learned. We return to our everyday business until the next disaster. Media and public attention on disasters are short lived and focus only on the ‘event’ and the ‘rescue and relief’. Long term rehabilitation takes years, yet is soon forgotten, as disaster survivors struggle to revive their lives and livelihoods.


Despite the 2013 flash floods and massive destruction in Uttarakhand, within a year the tourism industry opened up precarious routes for pilgrims, constructing roads on perilous slopes and unsafe buildings along river banks. The indiscriminate development of these fragile geographical areas and ecosystems puts people at risk with impending disasters looming large.



According to Blaikie et al. (1994), catastrophes can be mitigated if we reduce vulnerability by promoting sustainable development and by instituting measures to increase the community’s resilience to casualties. With the kind of economic losses and development setbacks the country faces year after year, the focus of disaster management needs to urgently shift to a developmental perspective. Despite several institutional structures for disaster management at national, state and district levels and despite having passed the Disaster Management Act 2005, the affairs at ground are still relief centric. A paradigm shift from being not just response centric, but also preventive and rehabilitative is compensatory.


Efforts by administration, local and international organizations to reduce vulnerabilities and involve academia to develop perspectives from social sciences are still at a very nascent stage. Spatial research with a strong anthropological backdrop, a theoretical base and a methodological rigour to comprehend the sensitivities of local cultures and people’s experience can contribute to better management of disasters. It can also help in ecologically sensitive rehabilitation processes that are socially and culturally acceptable.


DP CHAUHAN, a tribal rights activist based in Chhattisgarh, is a little perturbed, but undaunted. Three days after the arrest of five human rights activists by the Maharashtra police in six states on August 28, Chauhan’s name emerged in the investigation. A letter allegedly written by another Chhattisgarh-based tribal rights activist Sudha Bahradwaj to one “Comrade Prakash” credits Chauhan for completing a “project” in Raigarh and mentions compensating him for the same.


Chauhan says he read the letter on the social media, though the police have not contacted him yet. “Last year I filed about 100 land encroachment cases under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, and the companies are trying to get back at me,” says Chauhan, who has spent more than a decade in Raigarh filing cases against companies.


Apart from the five arrested activists–Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Arun Fereira and Venon Gonsalves–names of many others working at the grass-roots level have emerged in the investigations. “Even my name is there. While no proceeding have started, there is an atmosphere of fear”, says Nihal Singh Rathore, an advocate and director of the Nagpur Chapter of Human Rights Law Network that provides legal aid to the underprivileged.


The relationship between the government and activists has been deteriorating since 2011, when Anna Hazare launched an anti-corruption campaign during the Unities Progressive Alliance (UPA) government (see ‘Meltdown’, Down To Earth, 16-31 July, 2011). The government passed the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Rules (FCRR) in 2011 to ban organizations of “political nature” and electronic media from receiving foreign funding without government permission. The law was invoked by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2015 to cancel FCRR license of non-profits like Green-peace India and Sabrang Trust.


“Both UPA and NDA governments have had the same approach towards civil society. But the attacks have increased under NDA,” says Vijendra Aznabi, a Chhattisgarh-based activist. This is also corroborated by government data. In a reply to Rajya Sabha 2016, the Minister of State, Home Affairs, kiren Rijiju said that in 2012 the registration of 4,138 non-profits was cancelled for FCRR violations but the number for 2015 was 10,117. What has aggravated this confrontation?


“The waning of relations between non-profits and the government has been happening since liberalization,” says T K Oommen, professor emeritus at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. “With liberalization, the dynamics between the state, the market and the civil society changed. In a market-led economy, only a few are in control, and welfare schemes related to health and education are increasingly privatized. This happens at the cost of the rights of citizens and civil society,” he says. Data compiled from news reports show that in the last two years, 27 attacks have taken place on activists working in the fields of the Right To Information, land rights and environmental protection (see ‘Bearing the brunt”).


“The government’s desperation to give land to industries is also to blame,” says Stan Swamy, a human rights activist, whose house in Ranchi, Jharkhand, was raided on August 28. “The government is taking tribal land to create a ‘land bank’ for industries, bypassing laws like Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996, and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA), 2006,” he adds.


Laws like PESA and FRA empower people, and non-profits help them realize their rights. This puts them in direct conflict with companies that vie for the same resources. “In Chhattisgarh, earlier a non-profit could be critical of the government on one issue and collaborate with it on another. But that doesn’t happen anymore,” says Aznabi.


It is this framework of marketed growth and development that has turned non-profit a nuisance in the eyes of the government.

The Cauvery river basin has been the focal point of one of the most contentious river water sharing dispute in the history of independent India. The dispute, primarily between riparian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, is nearly 150 years old. As demand outstripped supply in the basin due to rise in population, coupled with economic growth, the water sharing dispute has been entangled in courts for over three decades.


But on February 16, 2018, the Supreme Court gave the final verdict. Along with the verdict, the apex court directed the Union government to frame a scheme within six weeks, under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956, to give effect to its final verdict.


The delay in implementation of the scheme has raised suspicions within the country that politics in India can trump over anything even at the cost of the collapse of the nation-state and federalism. The fact that the scheme was framed only after the intervention of the highest courts gives us a glimpse of what may lie in store in the future.


Schism to the scheme

The present scheme isn’t basin organization integrated with land management, drought or flood management activities in the Cauvery basin. Rather, it focuses only on the dispute resolution over water sharing. The scheme consists of two levels of authorities. The Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) at the highest level comprising temporary and permanent members of all the basin states and the Union government. It is headed by an eminent engineer or a member of the Indian Administrative Service. As its technical arm, another authority below CWMA, namely the Cauvery Water Regulation committee (CWRC), has been constituted to verify the factual positions–of reservoir storage, cropping patterns in the basin, inflows and outflows of reservoirs–so as to aid and advise CWMA to take appropriate decision on distress sharing formula and water sharing every year.


CWRC consists of engineers drawn from all riparian states and representatives from the Union government. It is headed by an engineer appointed by the Union government. As per the scheme, the decision of CWMA is binding on all the four basin states.


But the scheme has no authority in the Cauvery basin! For example: this scheme has no control over the dams, the reservoir inflows, outflows and their storage position in the Cauvery basin. Rather, it is dependent on states for data/information and has to act in accordance with the information provided by the basin states on inflows and outflows of 11 reservoirs. It has no mechanism to verify the data/information for its authenticity due to which the dispute can resurrect any time. This is a major deficiency and the drawback of the scheme. Against this backdrop, the “keys of reservoir sluice gates” have been handed over to the respective four riparian states of the basin. As the reservoirs and the storages are firmly under the control of riparian states, the authority and independence of CWMA/CWRC have been severely compromised.


The scheme has no scope for environmentalists, ecologists and social scientists. The scheme does not have groundwater specialists and it has no authority to restrict programmes that divert the water through the recharge of groundwater. So another opportunity has been lost to create multi-disciplinary basin organization. In fact, the engineering fraternity should have told the legal fraternity to create an institution in line with what has been declared in the national water policies. But this did not happen.


Further, the headquarters of the CWMA is in New Delhi. To take a decision on water sharing in the basin in compliance with the highest court, the entire team of CWMA consisting of members from Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry has to travel about 2,500 km. This is nothing but undermining the concept of basin management envisaged I successive national water policies. Ideally, the authority could have been located in cities that are close to the Cauvery basin–Bengaluru, which is located in the Cauvery basin, or even Chennai, though it is not in the Cauvery basin. The fact that New Delhi has been chosen as the headquarters of CWMA raises doubts as to where the country’s much-hyped basin management and integrated water resources management is headed to.


The Cauvery scheme does not define “eminence” for the posts of the chairperson and other members of these agencies, except using vague term “wide experience” in identified areas such as water resources management, inter-state issues, construction and maintenance of irrigation project. The scheme doesn’t seek details of scholarship of an engineer or a scientist in the area of resolution of water conflicts, water disputes, basin management, hydrology and hydraulics. The scheme doesn’t have place for academics or groundwater specialists or environmentalists. Indeed, the scheme should have had stringent criteria of scholarship for all its members for finding an innovative solution to one of the contentious water dispute of India.


India’s root cause of the maladies in the water sector is its weak, outdated silo-based water organizations with little or no scholarship. The present format of CWMA/CWRC under the Cauvery scheme also follows a similar pattern of a weak institution and it hasn’t inculcated the best model of a basin organization. Worse, its authority is limited. There is no place and scope for research in this scheme to evolve any new methods for dispute resolution as the eminence does not include scholarship for its members.


The scheme will, at best, serve as a parking place for retired engineers and bureaucrats rather than serve as an expert organization. During a normal or above normal rainfall year, as is the case in the current year, there would be no need for this scheme. But the real test of the scheme would lie in a rainfall deficient year–when a distress sharing formula would require much more than just techno-bureaucrats. Therefore, the scheme is poised for failure, leading to a repeat of the cycles of dispute witnessed in the past 150 years. If the scheme isn’t revamped, it may threaten the very federal fabric of the nation.


There were cheers of jubilation among the international community in January this year when US space agency NASA reported a decline in ozone-depleting substances (ODS), specifically chlorine, since 2005. “We see very clearly that chlorine from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCS) is going down in the ozone hole, and that less ozone depletion is occurring because of it,” said NASA. CFCS are chemical compounds that eventually rise into the stratosphere and stay there for a long time before being broken apart by the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation and releasing chlorine atoms that go on to destroy ozone molecules. Stratospheric ozone protects life on the planet by absorbing these ultraviolet radiation, which can cause skin cancer and cataracts, suppress immune systems and damage plants. The success was attributed to the Montreal Protocol, a global treaty signed in 1987, to protect the ozone layer from depletion. Under it, the production and consumption of all CFCS officially ended in developed countries in 1996 and in developing countries by 2010 (see ‘On the path…” on next page).


But the euphoria did not last long. Within a few months, in May, research published in scientific journal Nature found a significant rise of 25 per cent in the emissions of a banned ODS, CFC-11 or trichlorofluoromethane, between 2012 and 2016. CFC-11 not only has high potential for ozone depletion, it is also considered 4,750 times more potent than carbon dioxide in causing global warming.


China, the defaulter

While there can be multiple reasons behind the rising emissions of CFC-11, the Nature study prompted the UK-based non-profit, Environmental Investigation Agency (.), to probe into the matter. In July, it found that China’s foam making industry was illegally using CFC-11 as a blowing agent. Since CFC-11 is cheap, compared to other alternatives, the industry uses it to manufacture polyurethane foam or PU foam, which is widely used as an insulation material in buildings as well as in refrigerators, freezers, coolers and heaters.


For over four decades, the ozone hole has steadily appeared every year. However, at a time when it is finally beginning to show signs of healing. EIA’S probe has startled the international community.


The sudden peak in emissions over the four-year period, despite the ban of CFCS, shows laxity in environmental regulations in China, home to over one-third of the global foam industry. According to the Executive Committee of the Montreal Protocol’s multilateral Fund, there are over 3,500 foam-manufacturing units in China.


As part of its probe, the EIA surveyed 21 Chinese foam manufacturers and found that 18 were using CFC-11 illegally to save on the higher cost of alternatives, such as hydrochloro-fluorocarbons like HCFC-141b, which is to be phased out in China by 2026.


This is not the first time China has been implicated in illegal production, consumption and trade of banned ODS. Earlier, investigations by EIA and the United Nations Environment Programme between 2009 and 2013 found that ODS constituted the 12th largest global black market, accounting for US$67.7 million in 2011. Since then, trends in gases being illegally produced and smuggled have changed as the world enters the phase-out period for HCFCS. A 2016 update by EIA on illegal smuggling networks found that while illicit trade of CFCS had reduced, it was replaced in the black market by HCFCS. In 2014, a discrepancy of nearly 30 per cent existed in the supply chain of HCFC-22 or chlorodifluoromethane as compared to the export quantities reported by China. The country is responsible for about 70 per cent of the global HCFC production and more than 50 per cent of the consumption.


Remarking on the situation, EIA climate campaign leader, Clare Perry, admits that it is extremely difficult to estimate the extent of illegal ODS trade. “Much more needs to be done by the Parties to address the issue. Current data is inadequate, many don’t report illegal ODS findings and most do not give adequate resources to customs and other enforcement officials for adequate monitoring. I hope that the recent CFC-11 ISSUE will act as a wake up cal to the Parties, who will advocate stronger measures” Perry says (see interview ‘Continued emissions…’ on next page).


China is also the world’s largest consumer of ODS. At its peak in 1998, consumption stood at 167,000 tonnes. By 2013, the figure fell to 15,690 tonnes, according to the UN. By comparison, South Korea, the second-highest consumer of ODS, had an annual consumption of over 2,000 tonnes.


Experts say for an aspiring nation like China balancing the economy and the environment is often a tricky matter. As the Chinese economy flourished in the past three decades, it suffered massive ecological damage. At present, the Asian giant is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and faces multiple challenges n tackling pollution related to air, water and soil. Environmental degradation costs it anywhere between 3 and 10 per cent of its Gross National Income, says American think tank Council on Foreign Relations. Millions of premature deaths and increasing burden of illnesses such as cancer have prompted China to tighten environmental regulations. Since 2015, the country has strengthened its existing environmental protection mechanisms by bringing in new laws.


Rectifying the situation

Amid international scrutiny, China has revamped its Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) to address non-adherence to green regulations. Harsh penalties for environmental degradation and the imposition of taxes on polluting industrial units have been introduced under a 10-year environmental policy. It also pledged biennial inspections of erring industries. Till the beginning of the year, it had penalized over 30,000 companies and 6,000 officials.


For a country trying to rectify its reputation as a serial environmental offender, the latest EIA investigation is nothing short of an embarrassment for the government. To drive home the recent prioritization of environmental protecting, the Chinese government acted swiftly after the EIA revelations. Within days of publication of the EIA report, China announced the creation of a special task force to deal with violators and vowed to track down the source of illegal CFC-11.


A spokesperson of the MEE issued a statement saying that China has always regarded legal enforcement regarding ODS as an important part of its daily enforcement. “This special action is a wide-ranging one in recent years. The purpose is to find and combat illegal activities involving ODS, especially CFC-11, and ensure compliance results.” In this case, additional resources are to be spent on identifying the sources of the illegal gas, the government confirms.


While China promises to make every effort possible to stamp out this latest controversy over the illicit use of CFC-11, the spotlight is back on the Montreal Protocol and its effectiveness in dealing with the prevention of ozone depletion. The Protocol requires sustained political will and increased financial support to developing countries to ensure that they meet the future challenges in eliminating ODS.


The rise in CFC-11 in the atmosphere rattled delegates during the 40th meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol that met in Vienna, just a week after EIA’S investigation became public. The meeting opened with worlds of caution against complacency and a call for renewed vigour in implementing the Protocol. “It is in these moments that the mechanisms of the international community are more valuable than ever. We cannot relax our vigilance for a second. Any illegal consumption and production of CFC-11 demands decisive action,” Executive Secretary of the Ozone Secretariat, Tina Birmpili, said.



















Preservation of the mangrove ecosystem especially in Kutch region is crucial in order to strike a balance in the area’s sandy soil, highly saline water (TDS 3500-55000 mg/L) and strong wind conditions.


Gujarat has 1140 sq. km of mangrove cover, out of which 798 sq. km falls in the district of Kutch alone.


Adani Ports & SEZ Limited (APSEZ) has undertaken a mangrove afforestation and conservation programme at various locations along the Gujarat coat. In addition to conservation of 1254 ha potential mangrove area around the operational areas of port and SEZ at Mundra, APSEZ has also carried out mangrove afforestation in more than 2800 ha area as part of various statutory permissions. This is the largest mangrove afforestation carried out by any corporate in India. As per recent study carried out by National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (an MoEF & CC organization) the mangrove cover in and around APSEZ area at Mundra has increased from 2094 ha (in 2011) to 2340 ha (in 2017-18) – an overall increase of 246 ha (11.7%) which is expected to grow further. It shows balance between development and ecology.


The Horticulture Department of APSEZ Mundra, the Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology (GUIDE), Gandhinagar along with a few other organizations were roped in for specialized coordination and implementation of the entire endeavour. Majority of the mangrove afforestation efforts are carried out by involving CBOs (Community Based Organizations) through a PPP (Public – Private Partnership) model.


The GUIDE, Bhuj and the Centre for Environment education (CEE), Ahmadabad were appointed to monitor the progress and render appropriate technical input to achieve the targeted survival rate and growth.


Between 2015 and 2018, Kutch has gained a 12 sq. km mangrove cover contributing to Gujarat’s 33 sq. km of gain. Although A. marina is the most dominant species in Gujarat, there are a few rare ones among the 15 species endemic to the state. The results are encouraging for our future.


Collection of fodders and grazing of camels are two major needs that were drawing villagers to the revenue as well as reserve mangrove areas. Around 700 tons of mangrove leaves and 15 tons of seeds used to be collected every year by locals. As an various initiatives are implemented by Adani Foundation.


  • Supplying free of cost fodder to cattle in nearby villages. In addition to the same, Adani Foundation has started to implement sustainable fodder management programmes on pilot scale. Through these programmes, villagers are involved in cultivation of fodder so that they can be self-reliant completely.
  • Adani Foundation is helping the locals get LPG cylinders for cooking. As a result locals are now not dependent on mangrove forests for fodder. They are also happily getting used to the cleaner option for fuel.


  • Local groups have also been formed in the villages and knowing the importance of mangroves for the society in reducing coastal soil erosion, increase I fishes and crabs population etc. have become a part of life now.


  • Awareness about mangrove conservation, roping in local role models and creating income generation by involving locals in the overall conservation and afforestation activities are bringing results.