Nearly 50 people have died in the floods in Western Maharashtra and over five lakh have been displaced in the past few days. What caused this devastation is now a matter of study. A report by the South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) says the widespread damage could have controlled and the government could have done more.
The Chief Minister has blamed climate change and unprecedented rainfall for the widespread damage. "We are setting up an experts committee and we are deciding on the names. This committee will look at how to prevent floods, taking into account the reality of climate change. I just mentioned the figures. It is unimaginable that in six days we get 700 per cent rain and we have to prepare for this in the future," he told reporters.
While these two factors are true, did the administration fail to grasp the enormity of the situation? The backwaters of the Almatti Dam in Karnataka flow into Sangli, Kolhapur and Satara. The authorities started releasing water from there only after Mr Fadnavis spoke to his Karnataka counterpart BS Yeddiyurappa on August 6, which many have pointed out was too late. Former IAS Officer Mahesh Zagade has blamed the state government for the destruction. In a tweet he said if water from Almatti Dam had been released earlier the calamity could have been avoided.
This has nothing to do with flood lines. It's a matter of concern whether the administration had any plan to maintain water level of Almatti below the desired level. If it was done after the disaster, it could have definitely been done prior to flooding & avoided the calamity. https://t.co/akPfOZb4Qv— Mahesh Zagade, IASx (@MaheshZagade07) August 10, 2019
Echoing M. Zagade's views is a report from a an informal network of organizations working on issues with large dams, called South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP). In their report they say, if the water levels had been controlled in the dams earlier the losses would have been less. According to the report the massive flooding happened after water was released from the Koyna, Radhanagri and Warna dams.
By July 25, these dams had more than 50 per cent of storage capacity but there was no decision on releasing water till the dams completely filled up. If water had been released before the flood could have been avoided but the weather department's warning that more heavy rainfall was expected did not convince authorities to release water earlier.
Himanshu Thakkar from South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) told NDTV, "Even if they had filled up, once there was heavy rainfall forecast around the 25th of July, if they had started releasing water then, they could have reduced the flood disaster because they would not have had to reduce so much water while the downstream area was flooded."
Experts add, while the unprecedented rainfall wasn't anticipated what the authorities had was warnings from the weather department about extremely heavy rainfall from August 1. But in a state still recovering from a crippling drought, authorities simply did not release water till the dams filled up fearing water shortage in the future. When the decision to release water from the dams was taken, it was too late to stop the flood.