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Floods 2019: Natural calamity or a man-made disaster

Many parts of India, specially northern states, have faced much damage due to the flooding of rivers following heavy rains. While the Centre and state governments are terming the damages as natural calamity and are releasing funds in crores to make up for the loss, the buck doesn’t stop there. The Central and state governments have to own up the blame of not having done much about preserving the environment and maintaining the balance. Mining of sand and stone several feet down the rivers has drastically affected the water carrying capacity of rivers. The situation has been worsened by encroachments along the river for agricultural purposes and construction of homes. The situation is much serious in hill states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where every year a number of persons lose their lives to floods, landslides and collapse of houses caused by incessant rain. The main reason for such damages can be attributed to the uncontrolled growth on the hills at the cost of the environment. One can easily find high-rise building all along the roads in hilly states waiting for a disaster to happen in case of a ‘natural calamity’ like this. The damage also highlights lack of proper management and unpreparedness of the Centre and state governments to handle the situation. And they cannot be allowed to get away with their failure by labelling the situation as a natural calamity…act of God! The recent damages in Northern states where rains have claimed 35 lives so far, highlighted that there is need of proper management and the formation of an environment policy to protect the lives of people and save the environment. Rather than blaming nature, the Centre and state governments have to take upon themselves the responsibility of making proper arrangements and first of all, ensuring that illegal mining and encroachments do not take place. Besides the state governments, the Centre government too has to work fastidiously to protect the environment and lives of people. The reality is that the water carrying capacity of all the rivers Sutlej, Yamuna, Ganga and seasonal rivulets in the region has reduced drastically in the absence of any check. As a result, almost every year during the monsoon there is a flood or a  flood-like situation in the low-lying areas along the rivers. We have to accept that man-made climate change has played the most crucial role in natural calamities. Between 1901 and 2015, there has been a three-fold increase in extreme rainfall incidences across central and northern India – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Odisha, Jharkhand, Assam and parts of Western Ghats – Goa, north Karnataka and South Kerala. The images of the large-scale floods across central India, including the Mumbai floods of 2006 and 2017, still send shivers down the spine. The increasing number of extreme rain events are blamed on an increase in the fluctuations of the monsoon westerly winds, caused by the increased warming in the Arabian Sea. This ends up in occasional surges of moisture from the Arabian Sea to the subcontinent, which further lead to heavy rains lasting 2–3 days spread over a region large enough to cause floods. All the rivers in the region, including Sutlej, Beas and Yamuna, besides the seasonal rivulets are in full spate due to heavy rainfall in the region over the past three days, causing havoc in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh. The government has failed to ensure strict implementation of laws and rules that govern protection of the environment. The rivers and seasonal rivulets in Himachal, Punjab and Haryana are in a pathetic condition. If we talk of Haryana, it has no solution to control the overflow of the Yamuna despite the fact that the discharge of water in the river from the Hathnikund barrage causes much damage in the low-lying areas of Haryana and Delhi. There is no dam in the state or in the upstream in Himachal Pradesh that can store and control the heavy flow of Yamuna. The water level of the Yamuna depends on the inflow of seasonal rivulets and tributaries of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, which converge into the Yamuna at the Hathnikund barrage. It has become imperative to find some solution to control Yamuna water to avoid a flood-like situation in the low-lying areas situated in the state and also in Delhi. The Hathnikund barrage has 18 floodgates to channelise the water. Mini flood is declared in the district if the water level of Yamuna crosses 70,000 cusecs at the barrage, while flood is declared when the water level crosses 3-lakh cusec mark. All water received at the barrage is released into the downstream of the barrage in the Yamuna. It will take around 3 days for this overflow of water reach Delhi, through Yamunanagar, Karnal, Panipat and Sonepat, officials reveal. The need to construct the Hathnikund barrage was felt after September 3, 1978, when the floods in the Yamuna had caused extensive damage to Tajewala Headworks and inundated vast areas of Haryana, UP and Delhi. In Punjab, on the other hand, the Bhakra-Nangal Dam has become the centre point of all concern and attention, with water flowing into it beyond its capacity. Flood On Monday, the water level crossed its permissible limit of 1,680 feet, making the authorities release excess water through spillway gates from routine 19,000 to 41,000 cusecs, officials said. This release from spillway was about 14 per cent of the total capacity of spillway. It is for the first time that the dam, which usually gets filled to its capacity by September, has crossed the permissible limits in the month of August. According to a BBMB official, the water inflow into the reservoir peaked at 3.11 lakh cusecs on Sunday due to incessant rains over the past two-three days and it is almost near the level of 3.18 lakh cusecs that was recorded during the 1988 floods in Punjab. With many people in Punjab blaming the flooding of the downstream areas because of the release of excess water from Bhakra, the dam authorities are not in agreement. In all the rivulets of Punjab having catchment area downstream of the Bhakra dam, there was heavy water inflow of around 2,00,000 cusecs, an official said. “It was due to heavy rainfall in Punjab areas and not due to any release (19,000 cusecs) of water from the Bhakra dam.” The authorities said they are monitoring the situation round-the-clock, while asserting that the situation was under control.

KNOWING BHAKRA DAM

Bhakra Dam is a concrete gravity dam on the Sutlej river in Bilaspur (Himachal Pradesh). The dam forms the Gobind Sagar reservoir. The dam, at 741 ft (226 m), is one of the highest gravity dams in the world. The 166 km Gobindsagar Reservoir is created by this dam which is the third largest reservoir in India – the first being Indira Sagar Dam and second Nagarjunasagar Dam. The river Satluj used to flow through a narrow gorge between two hills, Naina Devi ki dhar and Ramgarh ki dhar, and the site was chosen to dam the river.     Bhakra Dam was part of the larger multipurpose Bhakra Nangal Project whose aims were to prevent floods in the Satluj-Beas river valley, to provide irrigation to adjoining states and also to provide hydro-electricity. It has four spillway gates that are only used when the reservoir exceeds the maximum allowed level. Nangal dam is a barrage dam that is 10 km downstream of Bhakra dam. (Source: Wikipedia) The dam holds excess waters during the monsoon and provides a regulated release during the year. It also prevents damage due to monsoon floods. The dam provides irrigation to 10 million acres of (40,000 km) of fields in Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan. Water flows from Bhakra Dam downstream Nangal dam where it is controlled and released into Nangal Hydel Channel that later becomes Bhakra Main Line after Ganguwal and Kotla power plants. The Bhakra main line is a canal that mostly supplies irrigation water to the state of Haryana. Bhakra Dam has ten power generators with five on each side. The power generated at Bhakra Dam is distributed among partner states of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Chandigarh and Delhi. Three additional power plants are on the two canals Nangal Hydel Channel and Anandpur Sahib Hydel Channel that originate from Nangal dam.

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