Flood Management in India

Flood Management in India

Why Flood Management in India ?

Floods have been a recurrent phenomenon in India and cause huge losses to lives, properties, livelihood systems, infrastructure and public utilities. India’s high risk and vulnerability is highlighted by the fact that 40 million hectares out of a geographical area of 329 million hectares land is prone to floods.

Causes of Floods in India

  1. Meteorological Factors: Prolonged heavy rainfall during the monsoon season. Cloudbursts in the Himalayan region during monsoons. Tropical cyclones often cause flooding along the eastern coastline.
  2. Topological Factors: Lack of drainage from the area, saturated sub-soil, glacial lake outbursts due to the failure of outward debris dams.
  3. Human Factors: Encroachment of floodplains and wetlands, drying and sedimentation of natural drainage channels due to human activities, damming and diversion of rivers, destruction of natural barriers to flooding like forest and mangrove belts.

Impact of Floods

  1. Loss of lives and livelihoods of the people.
  2. Destruction of basic infrastructural capacities such as sanitation and transportation leading to isolation and risk of spread of diseases.
  3. Risk of violence against vulnerable sections, especially women.
  4. Destruction of ecology and biodiversity of an area that may take years and even decades to recuperate.

The scale and magnitude of the impact vary both spatially and temporally and this has been found to be increasing with the changes in global weather patterns.

Why are floods man-made? Though the factors have been mentioned earlier, they need to be explained in detail as it is often said that flooding is a hazard but man made activity makes it a disaster:

  1. Floodplains of several rivers, especially in the northern plains like Kosi, Ghaghra, Gandak, Sarayu etc are flooded every year. Yet, these areas have been settled by people, usually lying in the lower economic-strata. This has led to recurring losses in the face of floods, especially in the Assam and Bihar plains.
  2. The destruction of natural wetlands including marshes and lakes has led to blocking of areas that had earlier served as water sinks. This is the primary reason behind Chennai floods.
  3. Construction of houses in a haphazard manner without getting plans approved has led to washing away of several buildings during flash floods due to cloudbursts in the Himalayan region.
  4. With increasing deforestation especially along coastal areas and river banks, the first line of defence against floods has been removed. This is the reason that cyclone caused floods result in severe destruction along the coasts.

Flood Management in India

As per the constitutional provisions, “Flood Management in India is a state subject” and as such the primary responsibility for flood management lies with the states.

Institutional Structure:-

  • National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) deals with all types of disasters including the floods.
  • The National Executive Committee (NEC) with the Secretary of GOI of the ministry or department having administrative control of the subject of the DM as the Chairman and other members.
  • State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) and State Executive Committees (SECs) to perform similar functions at the state level, such as
    • Identification and marking of flood prone areas on maps,
    • Preparation of close contour and flood vulnerability maps,
    • Formulating plans for expansion and modernisation of flood forecasting and warning systems,
    • Identification of priority flood protection and drainage improvement works, identification of reservoirs for review and
    • Modification of operation manuals and rule curves and undertaking special studies on problems of river erosion.
    • Continuous modernisation of flood forecasting, early warning and decision support systems
    • Ensuring the incorporation of flood resistant features in the design and construction of new structures in the flood prone areas
    • Drawing up time-bound plans for the flood proofing of strategic and public utility structures in flood prone areas
    • Introducing appropriate capacity development interventions for effective Flood Management (including education, training, capacity building, research & development, & documentation)
    • Ensuring regular monitoring of the effectiveness and sustainability of various structures and taking appropriate measures for their restoration and strengthening.
    • These activities which include inspection of dams, embankments and other structural measures, execution of restoration and strengthening works and expansion
    • Improving the compliance regime through appropriate mechanisms
    • Strengthening the emergency response capabilities
    • The role of communities and NGOs is vital in search, rescue and relief operations.
    • Immediate medical assistance to the affected people and steps for prevention of outbreak of epidemics after the floods are essential components of flood response.

How can floods be mitigated?  Flood mitigation strategies involve the following components: 

  1. Floodplain zoning by the respective state governments. Even after the recommendations of the Rashtriya Barh Ayog (RBA) in 1976, only three such states have passed these acts – Rajasthan, Manipur and Uttarakhand and even in these states, the implementation is lax.
  2. RBA s recommendations on identification and assessment of flood-prone areas have been ignored to a large extent. These can be followed to allow for better flood forecasting
  3. Planting of the tree and mangrove belts along river banks and coastlines.
  4. Planned settlement growth and economic empowerment of the poor so that they can build back better structures. Housing for All scheme incorporates the disaster resilience component.
  5. Shared flood warning mechanisms with both upstream and downstream neighbours across international boundaries.
  6. Recharge and rejuvenation of wetlands and prevention of any encroachment upon their areas.

Things to be done:-

  • Flood forecasting and warning and Decision Support System (DSS) to be established on a scientific basis taking into account the latest technological developments in the world
  • To set up a National Flood Management Institute (NFMI) at an appropriate location in one of the flood prone states.
  • There is a need to set up a central organisation to lay down policy and implement Flood Management measures in consultation with the states and other stakeholders as floods are not confined to one state and flooding in one state leads to flooding in adjoining states
  • The Ministry of Water Resources (MOWR) and the state governments/SDMAs/DDMAs concerned will urgently undertake identification of areas prone to floods along with names of villages/talukas or tehsils/districts in a scientific manner in collaboration with the NRSA and Survey of India( SOI).
  • Flash floods forecasting and warning systems using Doppler radars
  • As a preventive measure, the inhabitation of low-lying areas along the rivers, nallas and drains will be regulated by the state governments/State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs)/District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMAs)
  • Landslides and blockages in rivers will be monitored by the Central Water Commission (CWC)/National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA)/state governments/SDMAs with the help of satellite imageries and in case of their occurrence, warning systems will be set up to reduce losses.
  • There is lack of documentation on floods and flood damage.
  • The state governments will ensure that each and every flood event is properly documented and flood damage assessment is made on a scientific basis with the help of latest technological advancements in the field of remote sensing through satellites etc.

Thus, floods which are an age-old phenomenon, can be prevented from turning into a disaster.


Today, the country faces the twin challenges of floods and droughts that recur every year. Even when the country is poised to turn into a major power in the world, it has yet to shed its most basic problems. This not only requires a policy based top-down approach but a local government based push. The Panchayati Raj institutions and Urban local bodies have thus, been recognised in the National Disaster management plan (NDMP) as important stakeholders at all stages of a disaster.

India has committed itself to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, these are aligned with the Sendai Framework of Disaster Risk Reduction to which India is a signatory. It is thus imperative that India synchronise its efforts so as to meet its targets under both by addressing all disasters – especially floods and droughts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *