In the wake of the recent floods in Kerala, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs is set to rope in the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) to chalk out ways in which the ministry can take charge of prevention and mitigation of floods in Indian towns and cities.
Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told The Indian Express, “We will ask the NIUA to put together facts on the recent floods, be it in Kerala or Kashmir, and hold talks with experts to look at the causation. We will begin with urban flooding for now and later look at disaster management in all kinds of urban areas.”
The move is part of attempts by the ministry to belatedly set into motion the national guidelines on management of urban flooding issued by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) expert panel in 2010.
The NDMA panel, set up in the wake of the 2005 Mumbai floods, held that urban flooding is a phenomenon distinct from rural flooding. Hence, the panel said, it needs to be dealt with by the ministry in charge of urban affairs through an urban flooding unit headed by an officer at the level of joint secretary.
In July 2012, the Ministry of Home Affairs had issued orders designating the urban affairs ministry as the nodal ministry for urban flooding, but since then there has been no movement to make it operational.
Puri said that while on some level, flooding can be an indictment of municipal management, as in lack of dredging and drain cleaning, it can also be caused by the urban heat island effect.
The NDMA report has documented how Indian cities, owing to lack of vegetation, moisture-absorbing soils and increase in built surfaces, have reported urban heat island effects, which results in localised high-intensity rainfall.
Puri said that the area between natural disaster and man-made blunders is becoming very difficult to define, as much of what appears to be natural is often man-made due to climate change.
“We have to deal with disaster management in the context of robust urbanisation. There are measures that cities can undertake, such as changing the nature of buildings and materials used, ensuring water conservation or planting more trees, and overall design an eco-system that helps prevent and mitigates the impact of floods. Since land is a state subject, our role has been mostly advisory,” said the minister.
He added that as the ministry lacks the mandate to make it enforceable, flood mitigation and management could be made a reform condition in various flagship missions of the ministries and fund release be tied to implementation.
The NDMA panel held that unlike rural flooding, with urbanisation, natural catchments develop and the increase in impervious surfaces results in higher run-off of rainwater during heavy rainfall, which increases the flood peaks from 1.8 to 8 times and flood volumes by up to six times.
It noted that flooding in urban centres is made worse by inadequate stormwater drains and largescale encroachments along natural waterways, and stressed the need for improved forecasting and urban planning strategies. For this, it held that a dedicated cell under the MoUD, headed by a joint secretary-level officer, must coordinate all urban flood disaster management and mitigation efforts at the national level. This pattern is to be replicated at the state level, where the nodal agency would be the state-level urban development department.