Climate Change

North India Deluge 2023: Yamuna breaches evacuation mark in Delhi; expert calls flood policy ‘absolute failure’

The Yamuna inundates parts of Delhi even with very little rain as it is silted and is not dredged, according to Gourishankar Ghosh

By Zumbish
Published: Tuesday 11 July 2023
The Old Railway Bridge over the Yamuna in Delhi on July 11, 2023. Photo: Vikas Choudhary / CSE

The government’s flood management policy for the Yamuna river was an “absolute failure” a water economist told Down To Earth (DTE) on July 11, 2023, as the Ganga’s longest tributary breached the ‘evacuation mark’ in the national capital due to heavy rains in north India.

Gourishankar Ghosh added that while climatic conditions did compound the situation, “the problem (of Yamuna flood management) is manmade”.

“A system should be in place that assures synchronisation between different sluice gates. Unfortunately, we find that with very little rain, the water level of the Yamuna goes up,” he told DTE.

He added that this was because the Yamuna is heavily silted. Instead of being made deep, the river water drainage is getting shallower.

“That is why the water supplied to and used by the people of Delhi is also going back and mixing with the river water whose level is already up,” Ghosh said.

The river crossed the danger mark of 205.33 metres late on July 10, one day ahead of predictions. On July 11, water levels at the Old Railway Bridge reached 206.34 metres, crossing the evacuation mark.

“Initially, seeing the rain situation on July 10, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) had declared an orange alert in Delhi, warning of moderate rain. Today, on July 11, we have issued a red alert for Uttarakhand and northwestern Uttar Pradesh since we are expecting extremely heavy rainfall in these regions. In case of the national capital, we are expecting only light rainfall for the next 3-4 days so it is not under an orange alert anymore,” Naresh Kumar, IMD spokesperson told DTE on July 11.

Heavy rainfall in the upper catchment of the Yamuna led to widespread inundation across Delhi, including the premises of parks, underpasses, markets and hospitals. This has also led to growing concerns about the city’s drainage infrastructure. 

The alert for water level rise may continue to be sounded as the Yamuna water level is expected to rise further, given continuous heavy rainfall in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, a July 11 New Delhi daily flood situation report, noted.

Shamli district in western Uttar Pradesh could be severely flooded as flood water in the river moves downstream according to the Central Water Commission.

On July 10, an official from the Delhi Jal Board had said: “The reason behind this surge in water level is the release of more water into the Yamuna from the Hathnikund barrage upstream in Haryana. Incessant rainfall has taken place in northwest India over the last three days with many areas in Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan recording heavy to extreme precipitation.”

Meanwhile, the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government has been making repetitive claims of being prepared to handle any eventualities in the current situation.

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