Just a couple of months ago, during the Budget session, Rajya Sabha had an extensive discussion on the drought that had hit several parts of the country. On Tuesday, a day into the monsoon season, the Upper House was already discussing the flood in many states.
Widespread rains over the last few weeks, particularly in central India and the Himalayan states, have resulted in death and destruction. Incidents of lightning and cloudbursts have also taken their toll.
Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju informed the Rajya Sabha that until July 14, 196 people had lost their lives due to flooding and other rain-related incidents. More than 2,000 cattle had perished while over 38,000 houses had been damaged. The minister said over 35,000 hectares of crops had been damaged.
A number of members questioned the government on the steps it was taking to prevent the loss of lives and property due to natural calamities. Two members, Dilip Tirkey of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Sharad Yadav of Janata Dal (United), suggested the need for a separate department or ministry to deal with natural disasters. Currently, the Home Ministry is the nodal point for disaster relief and management.
“You are talking about the steps being taken by the government after the flooding has taken place. What about steps to prevent floods,” A U Singh Deo of the BJD asked.
Viplove Thakur of the Congress asked if it was “impossible to predict cloudbursts” and why the government wasn’t investing in research on the subject. Cloudbursts have resulted in several deaths in Uttarakhand and Himachal in the first week of this month.
Later, while responding to the queries, Rijiju admitted there was no technology available to predict cloudbursts. “The technology to predict cloudburst is not available. Not just in India… no country in the world has been able to predict cloudbursts. That is because cloudbursts form in a very short duration and they take place over a very small area. But we are trying and are holding consultations with our weather scientists to explore whether such prediction, at least three-day forecast, can be made available,” Rijiju said.
Many members complained that state governments were not being provided with enough funds to deal with relief and rehabilitation after a natural calamity.
Vishambhar Prasad Nishad of Samajwadi Party claimed that disaster relief forces were often ill-equipped to deal with water-related calamities such as floods. “People more accustomed to swimming in swimming pools will not be able to deal with angry waters in a flood,” he said. He demanded that at least 50 per cent of the post in disaster relief forces should be reserved for people of communities that live near rivers, lakes or seas, like fishermen who are natural swimmers.