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Why villages in Maharashtra are flooded every year

Along with appeals from those whose lives have been destroyed by these natural disasters, successive governments in Maharashtra have also ignored recommendations made by various committees after interviewing Mahad Taluka. The 1999 report of the Flood Control Committee – which was set up after heavy flooding in 1994 (one year after the completion of the Konkan Railway) – made the following suggestions:

  • Regular tree planting near the Gandhari and Savitri rivers, where deforestation has been noted

  • Removed small islands in the rivers of Mahad that oppose the flow of water

  • Extension of the river bed along the Savitri river

  • Construction of bunds on the banks of rivers to avoid flooding

  • No residential construction on both sides of the XX River (within 8.30 meters)

Dr Sameer Butala, associate professor and head of the geography department at Sundarrao More College, Raigad, said: “The level of flooding has increased over the years. Yet none of the recommendations are implemented. The average flood level in Mahad before 1993 was 8.25 meters – after 1993 it rose to 9.70 meters, and now it is 11.72 meters.

The only recommendation that has been implemented to a limited extent are bunds, some of which are under construction. Work on the dike for the hydroelectric project on the Kal River (water capacity: 94 million cubic meters; cost: Rs 1,300 crore) began in 2004 and was due to be completed in 2016. The low-level Sawad Dharavali dam, which costs Rs 12.30 crore and has a water capacity of 2.7mcm, has been under construction since 2004-2005.

However, according to Butala’s estimates, even if all the recommended dikes were built, the impact of flooding in Mahad would have decreased by only 18-20%. Since water flows from the Sahyadri hills at high speed, dams are more likely to be efficient and economical than bunds, Butala said. As an example, he said the cost of the bunds for the Bhave Dam would be Rs 48.02 crore and their water capacity would be 2.7mcm.

In 2010, a committee called the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel was formed under the chairmanship of environmentalist Madhav Gadgil to conduct an in-depth study of the locations around the Western Ghats range, which included Mahad. In 2011, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry revealed that 64 percent of the Western Ghats in six states, including Maharashtra, are environmentally sensitive areas.

The committee recommended that no new towns be built in environmentally sensitive areas; construction in wetlands and watersheds should be avoided; new dams should be stopped; and the expansion of tourism and mining should be banned.

The report was rejected by the center as well as by state governments. Instead, another committee was put in place, which diluted these recommendations. He said only 37% of the Western Ghats region should be classified as environmentally sensitive areas.

With a decades-long history of committees being put in place and their recommendations ignored, there is little hope in the new model study that was commissioned to study areas affected by flooding after July 2021. Meanwhile, those who living in Mahad remain vulnerable to environmental disasters.

Environmentalist Gurudas Nulkar said: “Every time after the floods the same set of recommendations are given, almost like a cut and paste. But until today, nothing has been implemented.

He said India needs to rethink its urban development policies in order to avoid tragedies like those suffered by Mahad in July 2021. “This is not about the flooding of the river. It’s about how the city is structured, ”he said. “Urban development, urban sprawl, the way the city has grown, the way the Mumbai-Goa highway is being built – all of these are causing huge problems, including landslides. “

He added that the excavation of the new Mumbai-Goa highway was a cause for concern. “The excavations include blasting, which is not controlled at all. None of the environmental impact assessments specified how it should be done or monitored, ”he said.

As with the Konkan Railway, environmentalists and local activists have raised objections about the Mumbai-Goa Highway, but these efforts have had little impact. It seems that the Indian government is buying into the idea that environmental damage is an inevitable and necessary price to pay for development. In the case of the Konkan railway, one of the costs of this prestigious infrastructure project has been the increasing intensity of floods and landslides in Mahad Taluka.