Revive National Floodplain Zoning

Unseasonal rainfall in peninsular India has led to overflowing rivers, widespread flooding, heavy loss of lives and livelihoods, with extensive damage to property and infrastructure. The immediate priority is, of course, relief and rehabilitation, and to guard against infections. Global warming and climate change seem to have increased variability in rainfall patterns. Encroachment of waterways, inadequate drainage channels and consequent congestion lead to waterlogging.

A major factor is unplanned and unregulated development of floodplains, in the backdrop of rapid urbanisation: wetlands and water bodies are built upon, and there’s inadequate attention generally for watershed management and afforestation schemes. The way forward surely is to proactively regulate land use in the floodplains, so as to purposefully restrict and reduce the damage caused by floods. We need floodplain zoning norms, complete with scope for categorisation and prioritisation of structures. In fact, a model draft Bill for floodplain zoning was circulated by the Centre circa 1975. The Bill clearly needs to be reactivated, what with extensive developmental activities and built spaces now par for the course in India’s vast hinterlands. The rationale for floodplain zoning is to transparently determine the location and extent of developmental activities to gainfully minimise flooding.

In tandem, we need stepped-up resource allocation for flood management nationally, together with an apex National Flood Management Institute, to better mitigate and manage floods. Increased capacity for water storage reservoirs and proper catchment-area policy focus is much warranted. And, climate mitigation and adaptation measures must continue, with renewed vigour.


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