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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

As floods wreak havoc, Centre urges states to firm up own laws to curb flood damage

This has been conveyed by Jal Shakti Secretary U P Singh to chief secretaries of all states and Union Territories, it is learnt.

Written by Harikishan Sharma | New Delhi | August 22, 2020 6:15:14 am
Flooded streets and submerged houses after heavy rainfall at Bhestan in Surat on Friday. (PTI)

With floods claiming more than 800 lives and affecting millions in many parts of the country in the ongoing monsoon season, the Centre has asked state governments to take “urgent action” for “enactment of suitable legislation”, on lines of the Model Flood Plain Zoning Bill, 1975, to mitigate damage.

This has been conveyed by Jal Shakti Secretary U P Singh to chief secretaries of all states and Union Territories, it is learnt.

The subject of floodplains and protection of riverbeds come under the domain of state governments. Thus, a law on this can be made only by states. The Centre has been pursuing state governments for enactment of such laws for the last four decades, a source said.

Singh stated in his letter, dated August 19, to all chief secretaries: “As you are aware, flood plain zoning has been recognised as an effective non-structural measure for flood management. This concept is based on the fact that the flood plain of a river [is] essentially its domain and any intrusion into or development activity therein must take into account the river’s ‘right of way’.”

He wrote, “Demarcation of appropriate flood zones for various uses of flood plains not only helps in mitigation of flood damages, it also aids in ground water recharge, maintenance of water quality and conservation of riverine biodiversity.

“I therefore request that high priority may be accorded to the matter and urgent action may kindly be taken for enactment of suitable legislation in your state/UT.”

The latest push for floodplain zoning legislation by the Centre comes at a time when floods have affected several states. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently reviewed the situation with chief ministers of six states. The Parliamentary standing committee on water resources is also deliberating on the issue.

In 1975, the Central Water Commission (CWC) drafted the model flood plain zoning Bill and circulated it to states and UTs. Only Manipur, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand have so far enacted this legislation.

Manipur enacted the legislation in 1978, demarcation of flood zones is yet to be done, sources in the ministry said. Rajasthan enacted a law on this in 1997 but its enforcement is yet to be done, they said.

Uttarakhand, it is learnt, is the only state to have not only legislated a law on this – in 2012 – but it also notified limits of floodplain areas in two cities: Haridwar (Chandighat to Laskar) and Uttarkashi (Gangotri to Badethi Chungi).

In February 2017, then Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation minister Uma Bharti had also tried to push the legislation.

In a letter to all chief ministers on February 8, 2017, she had stated, “Needless to say that demarcation of appropriate flood zones for various uses of flood plains depending upon particular frequencies of floods enormously benefits States/UTs and act as a catalyst in their efforts towards mitigation of flood damages…”

She asked states to take “urgent action” for enactment of suitable legislation on the lines of the model Bill.

In July 2017, the National Green Tribunal directed for demarcation of floodplains from Haridwar to Unnao and implement floodplain zoning, sources said.

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