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Rains expose Gujarat's poor disaster management

July 06, 2007 20:29 IST

"The Gujarat State Disaster management Authority is a cruel joke played on the five crore people of Gujarat," says Alpa Unadkat, municipal councillor from Junagadh in Saurashtra, Gujarat.
It's still early days of the south-west monsoon as yet but already in Gujarat 101 people have died, crores of rupees worth of property destroyed, hundreds of people have lost their homes, and as many have lost their livelihood. Plus, endangered animals like black bucks and two lions have also perished in the rains.
And, all this has happened in a state which is a pioneer in industrial and infrastructural development. Gujarat was the first Indian state to set up a Disaster Management Authority.
Once again, like last year's Surat floods, the calamity has exposed the chinks in the governance of a state boasting 10 to 11 per cent economic growth. Gujarat's monsoon is a timely reminder that macro- and micro-development need to be synchronised.
Take the example of Junagadh, where timely preventive action from the DMA could have saved many lives and property.
Visavadar town is situated close to the the Dhrafal dam. On July 2, with the downpour the dam started overflowing by 2.30 pm but nobody alerted the villages downstream to shift to safer places. By 2.30 pm water from the dam had swept away more than 1000 homes; also lost was agricultural produce and fertile mud.

A S Barai, executive engineer based in Junagadh, agrees that an early warning could have saved the situation.

Congress leader Arjun Modhawadia told, "The Disaster Management Authority itself is a disaster. They don't perform their job at all."
Modhawadia said, "Last week in Bhavnagar, Junagadh, Ahmedabad and at many other places a similar mistake was repeated. The irrigation department is opening the gates of dams to release the overflowing water without alerting and shifting people downstream. What kind of government is this which is not taking even elementary action?"
Manoj Jhala, a local from Visavadar says, "Chief Minister Narendra Modi may be the icon of development but so what? Don't you know in India nothing changes in villages and towns?"

When called the Disaster Management Authority its officials were not forthcoming with information about the latest flood situation. The DMA chief Rajesh Kishjore did not answer the phone, or call back.
Manoj, a local from Junagadh, says when 200 families in low-lying areas were facing a danger he tried to alert the DMA. He called Collector Aswini Kumar who reportedly said the huts did not come under his purview.

Next Manoj called Municipal Commissioner R M Sharma on his cell phone but he did not answer the phone, and junior officers were not available due to the heavy rains.

Seven people died in Junagadh in two days of rains.

Compared to the national average Gujarat has registered more than triple the growth in agriculture, but its towns and villages remain the biggest sufferer in the monsoon and other natural calamities.
Alpa Undakat is struggling with the local authority to get emergency help for 200 families whose huts and homes were swept away by the torrential rains three days back.
Saurashtra, north and south Gujarat has witnessed heavy rains since July 1.  
This year's floods have once again reminded the common people of Gujarat that unimaginative and unscientific urban planning is a dangerous thing.
When talked to people and experts in some of the towns of Gujarat the most common complaint was against the reckless urban and semi-urban and town development.
"The questionable permission to build multi-storied buildings in towns and semi-urban areas is causing havoc during heavy rains. The issue is simple, actually. All the rivers have hundreds of small streams. The corrupt politicians and bureaucracy have allowed construction on dried-up stream beds. During the monsoon when rivers overflow, their natural flow was going through these streams but now it's blocked by cement and concrete construction which doesn't allow water to flow away nor does it allow water to percolate underground," said a government engineer in Junagadh.
Jayendra Chauhan of Junagadh said, "Our city is at the foothills, and we received 10 inches of rains in just five hours; all the water came rushing into our town from the slopes. The age-old natural streams have been blocked, and the water flooded all homes in low-lying areas. This is a man-made calamity."

Sanat Mehta, former mayor of Jamnagar, told, "We got 17 inches of rain in just one day. That day I saw many people clinging to trees and many families on rooftops without any help from the government. In 21st century we are spending 24 hours on treetops to save our lives and our children's lives without food and sleep. The villages are not being cleaned since the last four days. Where is the 21st century?"
Many government officers argue that rains cause havoc for 24 to 36 hours and it's not possible to spend crores of rupees for the comfort of a couple of days in a poor country like India.

While politicians know that people have become "habituated" to heavy rains, floods and draught, investing heavy resources in the prevention aspect is not even considered an option.
A similar complaint was made by Naresh Thakkar, resident of Bharuch in south Gujarat.

He says, "In 48 hours we got 19 inches of rain. Ankleshwar city is buzzing  with big business and big money. Not a soul is unemployed here. But city planning is absent. Ankleshwar doesn't have enough avenues to allow rainwater to percolate into the ground or flow into the sea. The government is building six-lane roads in nearby Dahej but nobody has planned how to drain water in heavy monsoon from residential areas."
Four days back, as a result, National Highway 8 connecting Mumbai and New Delhi through Gujarat was under three feet of water for more than 36 hours, causing more than Rs 50 crore of trade loss.
Further down in South Gujarat, Navsari too witnessed heavy rains. Yusuf Sheikh, a resident, told, "Since the last many years I am writing on the havoc caused by floods. It is not at all funny to see that every year during heavy rain certain colonies are shifted to municipal schools. The government provides them free food and lower rank revenue officers give them cash subsidy of Rs 15. I don't know why a permanent solution is not found for them?"
There are some explanations.

In accounting year 2006-07 the Gujarat government spent Rs 597 crore on various relief works after devastating floods and heavy rains. At that time, Minister for Revenue Kaushik Patel informed the state assembly that the central government allocated Rs 442.55 crore as flood assistance, against which the state made a provision of Rs 903.49 crore of which nearly Rs 597 crore was spent on a plethora of relief works in around 8000 affected villages.

A day after the heavy floods this year, cash-rich Gujarat sprang into action. Medicines worth Rs 20 crore was sent to villages to prevent the outbreak of water-borne diseases.

The National Disaster Response Force personnel did help in Shariyad village near Patan. Some 1500 villages had no electricity for some 48 hours, but quick effort was made to resume power supply.
Talking to Patel said, "You should understand the heavy rains in perspective. The intensity of rains is unimaginable. Do you have any idea of the volume of water? What can we do? No planning can work if 50 per cent of rains of the entire season comes down in just two days. Moreover, there are fundamental changes in climate. In Bhuj for decades we were having six to eight inches of rains. Now we are getting seven to eight inches of rains in just a day. Gujarat's highest rains were in Dangs district but now it's among the rain deficit areas. Kutch never needed a water-draining system."
Patel said Gujarat has created some 5000 lakes to retain rainwater and has also made thousands of check-dams to stop rainwater from flowing into the sea. "Floods create problems for just a couple of days," he argued.
But, Rs 1200 crore plus will be spent, again, from the planned and unplanned budget outlay for the havoc caused in a "couple of days". And, not to forget, the problem of a "couple of days" unfortunately also kills 101 people.

Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai