Downloaded from, the web-portal of Policy Proposals For India journal

Flood management in India

Floods will continue to havoc disaster in India unless ecological measures to manage them are not taken up on a long-term basis.

By PPFI Team
November 30, 2008

Every year, from the month of June to September, India receives 75 per cent of the total annual rainfall. Hence it is not unusual to see floods wreaking havoc in many parts of the country. Millions of hectares of area get affected by it. India remains perpetually vulnerable to floods as every year, 5 to 6 tropical cyclones occur in the Bay of Bengal and other natural disasters like landslides and earthquake also occour on a regular basis. Every year, millions of people get displaced from their homes and huge damage is caused to crops and other assets. Despite National Flood Control Programme being launched in India in 1954, India has still not managed to evolve a decent flood management system.

Several traditional measures to control floods have been tried so far like building embankments to control the flow of river and constructing reservoirs to ensure release of water at a controlled rate. However experience has shown that these structural measures to control floods are negated by large scale deforestation that has taken place over the years in several parts of the country. Advancement in construction technology has also has had a negative impact on flood control as large scale construction activities have started to take place on the flood plains. Economic factors become more important and those who support the construction activity on the flood plain turn a blind eye to the disastrous impact it can have on the environment.

It has also been argued by some environmentalists that in order to control floods, the level of water in the reservoir of the dam should be kept at minimum level. However in order to generate hydro-electricity and bring more agricultural area under irrigation, the level of the water in the reservoir is kept high which leads to flooding in the upstream areas. Thus the measure that is often touted as a solution to the flood woes itself becomes a cause of it.

Hence it is high time for the government to look for ecological measures that can help in the management of floods on a durable, long-term basis. Afforestation of the flood plains must be encouraged as trees not only absorb rainfall water but also obstruct its flow to the rivers. Construction activities on the flood plains should be stopped altogether. The flood plains, being very fertile, can be used for economic activities like agriculture. Those living in flood plains for these activities should have an efficient early warning mechanism that ensures their evacuation before the calamity strikes. With the advancement in space technology that India has achieved, remote-sensing should be effectively used for prediction of rainfall and floods. It is only with these comprehensive and holistic measures that an efficient management of floods can be ensured in India with least damage to life and property.