Home Feature MONSOONS AND THE DELUGE

MONSOONS AND THE DELUGE

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By DARSHAN SINGH
The best thing that happens to India every year is that we get the Monsoon rains. Without them we will be as dry as the unlucky lands of Sudan. In the years gone by our forefathers respected the Monsoon and knew how to take care of the life-giving water that fell on the land, in the forests, in the fields, and the Mountains and thus filling our rivers.
Every village had a pond which was known as “Johar” in Haryana and as “Chappar” in Punjab. Infact such ponds were in the villages all over India. Each pond would help villagers with their cattle and the water also seeped into the ground and therefore they were the best Water Harvesting Structures. The structures were perhaps in the 500,000 villages of today’s India. This went on not just for Centuries but even Millennia. Now we have let this great advantage slip away under our eyes.  There was hardly a better Water Harvesting System.
It is not that our Administrators and Government functionaries do not know what has happened, but they have turned a blind eye to the reality. In plain sight the ponds have disappeared, and construction has come up. Actually after 1200 years of foreign rule, no one sees this as his responsibility. We have now an ingrained slave syndrome. Here is the true (Gulam) spirit or Slave mentality in us, that “someone else will come” to solve our problems. But since last 70 years it has become our responsibility, and yet the inertia of the slave mentality continues, to the extent of criminal neglect of even what we know.
In olden time even in Taxila and Mohenjodaro there were drainage and irrigation channels. This was understood by Indian rulers throughout history and if we fast forward to the British Rulers; taking just the example of Shimla, drains were well maintained. After all, it was the summer Capital of India. Before partition there was an Inspector of Drains. But then it changed as an Independent Nation with our ego in the minds of officers who did not like words such as drains and clerks. The Inspector of Drains seems to have gotten lost and discontinued somewhere in the 1950s.
The Inspector of Drains would ensure the upkeep of drains, arrange new drains wherever necessary and of course ensure drainage from the hillslopes when it rained. If we now again go fast forward and see all the construction that has taken place without any drainage for water. Now perforce the water seeps into the soil and accumulates in the subsurface below the building foundations. Everyone knows that this weakens the foundations.  Buildings are now falling as the stability of Mountain slopes deteriorates. Do the officials really not know that water weakens the slopes?  Drains are easy to fathom as they should follow the path that water would normally take.
It is only a matter of time before damage takes place, as in Kedarnath and Joshimath. This will be repeated again and again. Certainly Shimla is on a precipice as people have forgotten how Lakkar Bazar in Shimla dropped many feet from an original position. In the years to come, Shimla has a poor survival chance in many places.
The flood at Kedarnath was not just heavy rains; but also a sort of “Dam” brust of timber and boulders blocking water upstream. Was this lack of clearance of blockage?
Excessive construction is of course the culprit, and the blame conveniently is put fully on the builder. But any construction by such individuals is always approved in writing with certificates from concerned Government departments and officials.  Even an occupation certificate is given by approving authorities. Still the system only punishes the contractor. This problem will only end when the approving authority also gets taken to task for lack of drainage and faulty construction. What are the reasons that encourage officials to certify defective land development. There is no solution without punishment to both sides.
If our “Water Resources” and “Urban Housing Ministries” are indeed concerned, then those who permit such constructions and those who overlook the requirements of drainage must be held accountable. Even roads are washed away not only because of possible poor construction but obviously because of the lack of a drainage system on mountain slopes. The drainage system needs to be adopted on a war footing for otherwise our Himalayas will not just get damaged but will actually “dissolve” as did the water on the salt pile of the Nawab of Oudh.
Having given a reasoning as above, now to make some major points in quick bursts.
— Make drainage channels and keep them clean. Check budgets and money spent. There is a case in Gurgaon where a concerned citizen claims that Rs 100 Cr was spent on Monsoon preparedness. If lacs were spent on cleaning drains, how does one check such expenditure. What was achieved?
— Construction should not be sanctioned on flood plains without suitable embankments (Bandhs).
The Yamuna has a danger level of 206 pr 207 mtrs from MSL (Karachi). What has this to do with volume of water that the Yamuna can hold or flow, especially if it is 50% silted. (A bucket of water has half the water if the bucket is half filled with Sand).  So the Yamuna height is irrelevant as even little water will reach that.
— In the hills, why is construction allowed right upto the water’s edge.  Obviously when there are heavy rains, houses on Riverbanks will get washed away. Is this done to get compensation, or is it gross ignorance, or just cooperative corruption.
— For the whole country “Slope Maps” are available. But are they used in town planning or District level planning. Who is responsible? Clearly the lowest points should not be built, or best Ponds/Lakes be created there. Sometime ago an RTI was done to find out who designed Gurgaon.  Obviously the reply evaded all Officers, Bureaucrats or Politicians, and listed only two Draughtsmen.
— Trees make roots, and nature destroys roots and builds more over time. These form channels for water to seep into the ground. Protection of this is the key. For this reason, it is hardly ever that there is a flood in a forest. But excess water in a treeless place is a sure flood.
— Now the time has come to make 5000 small dams in the hills, blocking small quantities of water after a few hundred feet. This will prevent flooding every year, as the dams will be drained out in the dry season.
— And if we want to think as in a paradigm shift, then build Dykes, as in Holland, around all the Bombay Backwaters. Drain out the seawater, so that the created captive area becomes a valuable rainwater storage in the Bombay Monsoon deluge.
— A former Minister Dr KL Rao suggested the linking of Indian rivers.  Has the time come?
There is so much more to say, but for now I rest my pen.
(Darshan Singh is an entrepreneur, who has worked in quite a few key areas that have been critical to the process of nation building, including the railways and oil and natural gas exploration. He is also an educationist, and is currently the Chairman of the Welham Boys’ School in Dehradun).