This year’s monsoon rains caused landslides and flooding that reportedly resulted in the death of over 1,300 people, and displaced over one million people across 14 states, including Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The Indian Meteorological Department has cited incessant and above-normal rainfall in a short span of time in early August as the reason for the scale of the disaster. Kerala witnessed similar devastation last year, when over five hundred people died in the deluge that swept the state.
Himanshu Thakkar, the coordinator of the South Asia Network of Dams, Rivers and People—an informal network of organisations and individuals working in the water sector—spoke to Nileena MS, a reporting fellow with The Caravan, about the shortcomings of India’s approach to disaster management. Thakkar argued that effective management of dams could bring down the damage caused by floods during monsoon. He noted that the circumstances leading up to the flooding in the last two years, and the response to it, clearly show that “there is culpability of dam operators in completely mismanaging the dams and contributing to the flood disaster.”
Nileena MS: In your analysis of the floods that swept Kerala in August last year, you said that prudent operation of dams could have alleviated the magnitude of the disaster. What has been the main reason for the floods in the state this year?
Himanshu Thakkar: This time, most of the deaths occurred in relatively higher-altitude areas. Most of them were related to land-use change, quarrying, mining et cetera. The dams, as such, have not created problems so far. If you want to see whether the lessons of last year were reflected, [look at] disaster management in general. There is little bit of change here and there, but on the whole there isn’t any big change.