Punjab floods: Why zoning of flood plains is important

Punjab floods: Why zoning of flood plains is important

Context- Punjab has been reeling under floods for well over a month now. The villages along the rivers Sutlej, Beas, Ravi and Ghaggar, like always have been, at the recieving end of the worst of the deluges.

(Credits- Indian Express)

Most people in these villages farm in the highly fertile but sensitive flood plains, and concrete encroachments in these areas have, in many cases, exacerbated the devastation caused by flooding. This is where zoning comes in.

A look at flood plains and how they are helpful.

  • A river expands and contracts naturally over seasons and in different years. A flood plain is an area adjacent to the river which normally gets flooded when the river swells.
  • Well maintained flood plains, free from wanton construction and concrete, are natural defences against flooding farther inland. They are also useful for recharging groundwater levels and maintaining the water table.
  • Identifying flood plains is thus crucial. Experts do this based on topographical features around rivers.

Zoning of flood plains is done to regulate land use.

  • Zoning involves demarcating areas around rivers likely to be affected by floods of different magnitudes and frequencies, in order to specify the types of permissible developments there. This is done so that whenever floods do actually occur, the damage is minimal
  • As per guidelines on floodplain zoning by the National Disaster Management Authority, defence installations, industries, and public utilities like hospitals, electricity installations, water supply, telephone exchanges, aerodromes, railway stations, commercial centres, etc. should be located such that they are above the levels corresponding to a 100-year frequency or the maximum observed flood levels.

Unfortunately, no zoning in Punjab till now.

  • According to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), there should be no construction within 500 m area from the central lining of a river.
  • However, despite NGT’s directions to the Government of Punjab, the state is yet to carry out flood plain zoning. The NGT even sent directions to the state’s chief secretary to personally monitor progress of zoning and ensure compliance of its directions.
  • Consequently, flood plain areas of Sutlej, Beas, Ravi and Ghaggar have been wantonly encroached upon, making villages along these rivers perenially at risk of floods whenever they swell.
  • According to Hardeep Singh Mehandiratta, chief engineer, draining cum mining and geology, in the Department of Water Resources, “work on zoning of flood plains has started, [but] it will take time to be completed.

Lack of zoning has been bad for both people and the floodplains.

  • Encroachment and mismanagement of flood plains leading to non-suitable construction activity and concretization of flood plains.
  • This poses risks to both peple and property, and the health of the flood plains themselves. On one hand, non-suitable constructions play a part in pushing floods further inland, increasing the area harmed and damage caused during floods. Concretisation also leads to it taking far longer for floods to subside as the water simply does not drain.

Conclusion- Despite the Centre’s directions, so far only four states – Manipur, the erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand – have adopted the act on paper. However, the implementation of the plans has been underwhelming in these states with no delineation and demarcation of flood plains undertaken even by them.

Syllabus- GS-3; Disaster management; Floods

Source- Indian Express