Drainage is the key

Why wet­lands and lakes are nec­es­sary to pre­vent floods

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

In flood-rav­aged Jammu and Kashmir, the streets of the state’s sum­mer cap­i­tal, Srinagar, re­sem­ble surg­ing streams.The drainage chan­nels of the city have been blocked.The links con­nect­ing the lakes have been cut off due to un­planned ur­ban­i­sa­tion and encroachment.As a re­sult, the lakes have lost their ca­pac­ity to ab­sorb wa­ter the way they used to a cen­tury ago, sci­en­tists say.

Wet­lands and lakes act as sponges dur­ing floods. Kashmir Val­ley is dot­ted with wet­lands. Apart from nat­u­ral ponds and lakes, the val­ley has other types of wet­lands, such as rivers, streams, river­ine wet­lands, hu­man-made ponds and tanks. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Re­mote Sens­ing, there are 1,230 lakes and wa­ter bod­ies in the state—150 in Jammu,415 in Kashmir and 665 in Ladakh. Dal Lake, An­char Lake, Manas­bal Lake and Wu­lar Lake are some of the larger wet­lands in the re­gion which are to­day threat­ened by ur­ban­i­sa­tion. Dal Lake in Srinagar, one of the world’s largest nat­u­ral lakes, cov­ered an area of 75 square kilo­me­tre in 1,200 AD, says Nadeem Qadri, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the non-profit, Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­ment and Law. The lake area almost re­duced to onethird in the 1980s and has fur­ther re­duced to one-sixth of its orig­i­nal size in the re­cent past. It has lost almost 12 me­tres of depth. Srinagar’s nat­u­ral drainage sys­tem has col­lapsed mak­ing it prone to ur­ban floods.


Last month, con­tin­u­ous rain for two to three days flooded Srinagar with wa­ter from the Jhelum. This would not have hap­pened a few decades ago, say Hu­mayun Rashid and Gowhar Naseem of the Direc­torate of Ecol­ogy, En­vi­ron­ment and Re­mote Sens­ing, who have stud­ied the loss of lakes and wet­lands in Srinagar and its ef­fect on the city.

They ex­plain that de­for­esta­tion in the Jhelum basin has led to ex­ces­sive sil­ta­tion in most of the lakes and wa­ter bod­ies of Srinagar. They com­pare two maps of the city—one of 1911 and another of 2004 (see ‘Srinagar’s lost saviours’ on p27). Their anal­y­sis shows that wet­lands like Bata­maloo Nam­bal, Rekh-i-Gan­dak­shah, Rakh-i-Arat and Rakh-i-Khan and the streams of the Doodh Ganga and Mar Nalla have been com­pletely lost to ur­ban­i­sa­tion, while other

lakes and wet­lands have ex­pe­ri­enced con­sid­er­able shrink­age in the past cen­tury. The study in­volved map­ping of nearly 69,677 hectares (ha) in and around Srinagar. The anal­y­sis of the changes that have taken place in the spa­tial ex­tent of lakes and wet­lands from 1911-2004 re­veals that the city has lost more than 50 per cent of its wa­ter bod­ies.


When some low-ly­ing ar­eas in Srinagar go un­der wa­ter dur­ing heavy rains, peo­ple blame the drainage sys­tem. What they don’t re­alise is that they have con­structed their houses in those low-ly­ing ar­eas that were pre­vi­ously used as drainage basins for the dis­posal of storm wa­ter, says Mehra­judin Bhat, ex­ec­u­tive en­gi­neer of the J&K Ur­ban En­vi­ron­ment En­gi­neer­ing Depart­ment. “Peo­ple in the city have con­nected their sewage lines di­rectly to drains that are meant for the dis­posal of storm wa­ter. This leads to chok­ing of drains,” he ex­plains.

In 1971, Srinagar’s mu­nic­i­pal lim­its cov­ered only 83 square kilo­me­tres (sq km). In 1981, the area went up to 103.3 sq km. At present, ur­ban ag­glom­er­a­tion of Srinagar cov­ers more than 230 sq km. This has re­sulted in the encroachment of wet­lands and nat­u­ral drainage chan­nels, Bhat says.

Just like Srinagar, many ur­ban cen­tres of In­dia have failed to man­age their drainage chan­nels and storm wa­ter drains. Mumbai learnt its les­son in July 2005.The six basins of streams that criss-crossed the city, meant to carry its mon­soon runoff, had been con­verted into roads, build­ings and slums, just like Srinagar. Kolkata, Guwahati, Hy­der­abad, Chen­nai and sev­eral other ci­ties have been fall­ing prey to fre­quent ur­ban floods due to the degra­da­tion of their drainage net­work.


A few ci­ties like Guwahati and Kolkata have taken steps to pre­serve their wa­ter bod­ies.In Guwahati, the state gov­ern­ment passed the Guwahati Wa­ter Bod­ies (Preser­va­tion and Con­ser­va­tion) Act,2008. The aim was to pre­serve wet­lands and to reac­quire land in the pe­riph­ery of the wa­ter bod­ies. In 2006, the East Kolkata Wet­land Con­ser­va­tion and Man­age­ment Bill was passed to pro­tect 12,000 ha of wet­land.

The Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment and Forests is­sued a rule for con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment of wet­lands in De­cem­ber 2010, un­der the pro­vi­sions of the En­vi­ron­ment (Pro­tec­tion) Act,1986, called the Wet­lands (Man­age­ment and Con­ser­va­tion) Rules,2010.

But the law has no teeth un­til a wet­land is no­ti­fied un­der it, says lead­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal lawyer San­jay Upad­hyay. He adds that the Town and Coun­try Plan­ning Act should take care of the wet­lands, but the mu­nic­i­pal bod­ies that im­ple­ment this Act do not have the tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise to even iden­tify a wet­land. Th­ese loop­holes add to the prob­lem of floods in ur­ban In­dia.

Srinagar res­i­dents have con­nected their sewer lines to drains that are meant for drain­ing out storm wa­ter

PHOTOGRAPHS: AJIT A res­i­dent of Pad­shahi Bagh in Srinagar as­sesses the dam­age to his house in the af­ter­math of the flood

A tem­ple stands amidst the wa­ters of the over­flow­ing Tawi river dur­ing heavy rains in Jammu on

Septem­ber 6

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