Criss-crossed by several rivers, including the mighty Ganges, West Bengal has traditionally been vulnerable to heavy floods each year. With the Monsoon knocking its door, is the state better prepared this year?
After two years of deficient rains, the India Meteorological Department (Met) has forecast that this year the monsoons would be higher than usual, about 106 of the average. The news was bound to bring cheer to hundreds of millions of farmers around the country whose crops have been ruined for two years running due to scanty or untimely rains. Yet, there would be some trepidation as well, especially in states that are particularly vulnerable to heavy floods even during a year with average rains.
West Bengal is one such state, which has floods even when rest of the country cries out for rains as it happened in 2015 when despite a 14 pc deficit in rains, severe floods in 12 districts of West Bengal affected around 3.7 million people.
West Bengal has 37,660 sq. km flood prone area while the total geographical area of the state is 88,752 sq. km. The flood problems of the state are different in different regions. Along with the Ganges, the rivers Teesta, Torsa, Jaldhaka and Raidak flow through the districts of Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar. They originate either in the neighbouring country of Bhutan or the state of Sikkim and flows down to West Bengal before reaching Bangladesh. While in some places excessive monsoons bring serious flash floods, dam breaks have also caused catastrophic flooding in Bengal. Neutralising flood risks have always been a daunting task for the government in the history, will it deliver this year?
Barely a month after Mamata Banerjee took oath as the Chief Minister for the second time, after having scored a thumping win in the elections; the Met forecasts spread panic in the closed door meetings of the new government. The West Bengal state government alarmed by the onset of monsoon is planning measures to limit floods and its consequent annihilation.
DVC aids flood management
The government formed two dedicated flood control rooms — one in North Bengal and another in the south and two senior officials have been posted at the DVC (Damodar Valley Corporation) headquarters to monitor the situation. The control rooms would ensure that the government is forewarned on the release of water from the dams. Moreover, the top state bureaucrats will be meeting every day at Nabanna (the state secretariat of West Bengal) and monitor the government’s response to heavy monsoons this year.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee blamed DVC for floods in some parts of the state last year. The government had alleged that sudden release of water from DVC dams without proper intimation had caused loss of lives and livestock. However, the Damodar Valley Corporation, this year has assured West Bengal government of support and better co-ordination with regard to release of water from its dams as in heavy monsoon situations which are likely to trigger floods.
Apart from these measures, the irrigation department has identified 145 kilometres of vulnerable river embankments and dams. While the restoration work has already begun, the government is also keeping a close watch on the other river banks especially in the rural areas.
According to sources, the state government is also discussing disaster measures with national and international NGOs such as the Red Cross Society, Bharat Sevashram and St John Ambulance services. The disaster management department has reportedly dispatched teams and relief materials to the flood-prone districts of the state. However, speculations are still lingering about political prejudice and foul play with regard to distribution of flood relief in remote areas.