The recent floods in Punjab have once again exposed the poor maintenance of river embankments. With breaches in Dhussi Bandh emerging as the main culprit behind the havoc, The Indian Express explains how this recent tragedy has administrative failure as one of its major causes.
When these Dhussi Bandhs, which are major protection structures on rivers, were made in Punjab?
There is no exact data available with the Drainage Department about the history of Dhussi Bandhs, which are elevated structures on both the sides of a river so that river water does not spill over in case of a water surge. These elevated structures are 15 to 25 feet wide are used for plying of vehicles too. Officials said that the constructions of these bandhs started in the late 1950s or in early 1960s and they were made in different stages. Most stretches of Dhussi in Punjab are kuchha, but at some places roads have been made over them.
What is the total length of these embankments in Punjab?
According to the Drainage Department, the total length of the Dhussi Band in Punjab is 1800 km in Punjab, including around 1200 km along the four rivers and their tributaries. These rivers include three perennial rivers — Sutlej, Beas and Ravi — and one non-perennial river — Ghaggar. River Sutlej has 484.12 km embankment against its length of 582.68 km in Punjab. Beas has 215.84 km long embankment against its length 256.43 km in Punjab. Ravi’s flows for 141.29 km in Punjab and the embankment is 245.28 km (including on its tributaries) while Ghaggar had 252.81 km embankment against its length of 165 km in Punjab. 600 km embankments are there along choes and creeks.
Does the state need more embankments?
Experts in the Drainage Department say that a large portion of rivers like Sutlej, Beas, Ravi and Ghaggar lack embankments at several places. Besides these rivers, several choes, nadies, and khads also criss-cross Punjab which also create huge destruction sometimes and need to be channelised under flood protection work. Canalisation of over a dozen major nadis and nullahs including sakki/kiran nallah, which are flowing in Gurdaspur and Amritsar is must, said Drainage Department officials.
How often does repair work on Dhussi takes place?
Every year before rainy season, all the districts of Punjab are asked to send their plans and estimates to strengthen Dhussi Bandhs and to execute other flood protection works. As per the information sourced from Drainage Department for the past over two decade the department has never got beyond 25 to 50 per cent of the required funds from successive governments. Due to shortage of funds and staff in Drainage Department, even the full inspection of Dhussi does not take place before rainy season in Punjab. Officials in the department said that only with the help of villages located close to Sutlej, the officials get to know the weak spots created due to erosion. The focus remains on these highly vulnerable spots. Locals also blame illegal mining for weakening the Dhussi Bandh.
Apart from this, people too puncture Dhussi for installing underground pipelines from river to their fields for irrigation on the other side of Dhussi and when huge flow comes in the river, these underground pipes too floods the other side.
What are other measures required for flood protection?
The Drainage Department said that they have created an infrastructure 7200 km long drainage network for proper drainage of rain water to save the agriculture land from fury of floods and to check waterlogging. But these drains hardly cleaned before the rainy season due to lack of funds.
What needs to be done to prevent flooding?
“We need both short-term and long-term plans to avoid such floods. Desilting of rivers is must which hardly takes place in Punjab,” said a senior officer of the Drainage Department. Also there is need to check underground pipelines from rivers, and encroachment of the river bed by the people.
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