Despite huge losses to life and property in floods, only three states and one Union Territory have enforced the law for floodplain zoning which aims to minimise the damage caused due to deluge. Experts have called for its immediate implementation in the country in view of frequent floods occurring due to climate change.
Floodplain zoning measures aim at demarcating zones or areas likely to be affected by floods which hit with different magnitude, frequencies, and probability, and specify the types of permissible developments in these zones, so that whenever floods actually occur, the damage can be minimised.
The model bill for floodplain zoning provides for formation of a floodplain zoning authority by state governments, with a governing body under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister. The authority is supposed to delineate floodplain zones and other measures for keeping flood plains encroachment free.
According to a senior official, only three states and one Union Territory till now have enacted the legislation. These are Manipur, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand, and the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir. Even there, the delineation and demarcation of floodplains is yet to be done, the official said.
Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, and Odisha — all major flood-prone states – have not taken initiative to enact any legislation with regard to Flood Plain Zoning. “We have asked states to reduce any further construction on the floodplains and ensure there is no further encroachment,” the official told PTI.
Experts have warned of “dire consequences” if floodplain zoning is not done at the earliest in view of the rise in the number of floods due to climate change. Last year, the Jal Shakti ministry told Parliament that about 2,000 people lost their lives due to cyclonic storms, heavy rains, and floods and landslides during 2021-22.
According to data shared by the ministry in response to a question in Rajya Sabha, the highest number of lives lost due to cyclonic storms, heavy rains and floods and landslides in 2021-22 were in Maharashtra at 489, followed by Gujarat and UP, each of which lost 162 lives.
Environmental activist and water expert Himanshu Thakkar said even though some states have enacted the legislation, no state in the country has implemented it. “The only state which did a little bit of work on it was Maharashtra, where they assigned ‘red’ and ‘green’ line on floodplains, which meant that no activity within ‘red line’, which was restricted behind the ‘green line.’
“Even that was de-notified. So even Maharashtra is not following it now. No political party is being serious about its implementation and there is no political will,” he said. Thakkar stressed that if floodplains are encroached upon or become a dumping ground then it is an invitation to major trouble.
“In terms of increased floods and more urban footprint the situation is worsening. Also, in the context of climate change, again the flood intensity increases so it is urgent to come out with a floodplain protection plan,” he said.
Shripad Dharmadhikary, environment activist and founder of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, a centre to research, monitor and analyse water and energy issues, said that for flood management there is a need to give space to the river.
“Floodplain zoning is for the river to flow and only when you have proper zoning regulations then you can prevent encroachment on river floodplains which has become a very serious issue. “This is particularly important where rivers flow through urban areas where there is more encroachments. So these areas specially require strict zoning regulations,” he told PTI.
He said not demarcating floodplains can have serious repercussions because construction there leads to rise in the level of floods which can have a very high disaster rate. Dharmadhikary too stressed the role of climate change, which, he said, has caused an increase in frequency of the floods. "So now, it is more important to do floodplain zoning," he added.
In the last parliament session, a standing parliamentary committee also rapped Assam, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar for not taking any initiative to enact the model bill for floodplain zoning despite bearing huge loss of property.
The committee had then asked the Centre to make renewed and concerted efforts to persuade the state governments for enactment of the model bill on flood plain zoning, with a provision that allowed the states to modify or customize the bill in line with their socio-economic realities. “Further, the Ministry of Jal Shakti should also consider providing financial assistance to those states that are willing to implement floodplain zoning,” it had said.
National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) too has repeatedly asked states in the Ganga basin for demarcation, delineation, and notification of river floodplains and removal of encroachment from river bed/floodplains of Ganga and its tributaries in adherence to the River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Authorities Order, 2016.
(With PTI inputs)