Drainage is the key
Why wetlands and lakes are necessary to prevent floods
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.
HALF OF WATER BODIES LOST
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.
WHAT WENT WRONG
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