2017 NE floods too are man-made disasters

This year’s flood in Assam and Arunachal has been the severest after 2008. Rampant construction, minimal understanding of river flow, embankment mismanagement and careless operation of dams are to blame

PTI Photo
PTI Photo

Ashlin Mathew

The Northeast of India has been flooding since May 2017; that makes it almost 60 days of land being under water and people being displaced. There’s rampant construction, no understanding of rivers or river flow, embankment mismanagement and thoughtless and careless operation of dams. Floods are likely to happen, but every flood doesn’t have to become a disaster.

This year has been the severest, say many experts. What added to the woes was the sudden release of water from the Ranganadi Hydro-Electrical Power plant in Arunachal Pradesh by North East Electrical Power Corporation (NEEPCO). The release of water without proper management has led to the inundation of four villages that form a river island in north Lakhimpur.

The North-East Dialogue Forum (NEDF) has complained about the sudden release of water from the Ranganadi Hydro Power Plant. NEDF has stated that it was a grave violation of human rights under Article 21 of the Constitution. The government is responsible, it has stated.

“This is the only commissioned dam on the river and it began operations in 2002. Since 2006, they began releasing water downstream and that eventually led to floods. In 2008, the destruction caused due to such untimely release of water was immense and this year too it was bad,” said KK Chatradhara, a social activist from Assam whose work revolves around dams and rivers. Before 2002, natural floods used to occur but the people would know because they had traditional mechanisms to gauge the arrival of floods. “Before 2002, the floods were never of this magnitude,” added Chatradhara.

In addition to this, the embankments are collapsing and ill-maintained. “At the downstream of river Ranganadi downstream, there’s 59-km long embankment, most of which is badly maintained. This year the embankment broke just like how it had in 2008. This year around 3,000 cumecs of water is likely to have been released by the dam authorities, despite the carrying capacity of the river being 1,291 cumecs. The flood in 2008 was caused when more than 1,500 cumecs of water was released,” said Chatradhara.

It is not just water that gets released, it is silt too. In the dam, silt piles up and it has to be flushed out regularly. As the silt is also released, it accumulates by the river bank and that reduces the carrying capacity of the river too. “It is mostly slurry that flows downstream and that is nutrient-deficient soil,” said environmentalist Lakhi Prasad Hazarika, principal of PDUA Mahavidyalaya, Assam.

“The post-flood situation is pathetic. The government and the district magistrate provide a few food packets and that is it. Some social organisations provide temporary support, but there is no long-term mitigation system. There is no attempt to create alternate livelihood for farmers who lose their agricultural fields and produce. This nutrient-deficient soil eventually ends up in farmlands and then what will happen,” questions Hazarika.

“There is no scientific catchment management area in Arunachal Pradesh near the Ranganadi dam. This leads to problems in Upper Assam. This dam has created problems in two rivers; they killed the bio-diversity and the livelihood of people. Due to the inter-basin channelisation between Ranganadi and Dikrong basin, at least 168 cumecs of water is released from Ranganadi to Dikrong every day. Due to this, there’s a flood every evening in the Dikrong basin. This has been the situation for more than 10 years now,” added Hazarika.

The National Disaster Management Authority does not have a timely flooding monitoring system and has been updated only until July 18. Even in these reports, it does not have data from the Northeastern states, except for Assam.

The website is updated only twice in the month; in June, it was updated twice and in July too (July 2 and July 18).

According to the environmentalists at South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), the Central Water Commission has failed in issuing timely flood warning to people in the affected areas. Earlier this week, the website was functional only intermittently. On the website, there was no update for floods in Ranganadi river even last week.

When National Herald reached out to the officials of CWC, many of them were in meetings or rushing to meetings to take stock of the flood situation in the North-East.

Click here to join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines