The monsoon always catches the government unawares

First there was the mounting suspense. All of India awaited with bated breath the arrival of the south west monsoon. Would it arrive? Miraculously, politicians went into intricate calculations: would the bounty be enough to sustain the GDP growth projected in the Tenth Five Year Plan? Then came the rains. Dismay and utter chaos. There were floods. Death and catastrophe. In India, it rains only with vehemence. And -- no surprise -- the Indian government was, once again routinely, completely "caught unawares"

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- FIRST there was the mounting suspense. All of India awaited with bated breath the arrival of the south west monsoon. Would it arrive? Miraculously, politicians went into intricate calculations: would the bounty be enough to sustain the GDP growth projected in the Tenth Five Year Plan? Then came the rains. Dismay and utter chaos. There were floods. Death and catastrophe. In India, it rains only with vehemence. And -- no surprise -- the Indian government was, once again routinely, completely "caught unawares".

Drought is a pleasure. Being endless, it provides enough scope for 'management' money to be lumpenly used. So also with the monsoon. When the clouds pour forth the government preens itself, not unlike the national bird. Without a pause, it moves into 'crisis management' gear. This year a corpus fund of Rs 500 crore was announced with much fanfare, 2 days before floods swamped Orissa and Assam. Results were predictable: lakhs of farmers rendered homeless by the swollen Brahmaputra river in Assam; deaths in Orissa as the Baitarani and Brahmani rivers swept through villages. Could this not have been avoided? No. Government -- as bizarrely usual -- had no money to do the things envisaged under extremely cost intensive flood control schemes.

Years of catastrophe haven't trained policy makers to grasp a basic scientific fact. Embankments are disruptions in the natural drainage system of flood plains. Alternatives are better, such as using floods advantageously through better land use and crop management. But try telling that to administration hell-bent on construction tenders and 'eligible' contractors.

The Delhi government, eloquent on "innovative rainwater harvesting initiatives" to recharge the citiy's parched aquifers, were also caught "completely unawares". The first rains were a brutal -- thankful -- expose. Precious rainwater flowed into dirt-choked storm water drains, couldn't find a way through, so took over the roads. The government forgot to clean drains. It completely forgot the baolis spread across the city space, the most effective natural recharge structures and flood cushions.

Is it the inevitable function of government to avoid basics? How funny is that?

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.