Follow us on


Rain havoc in Gujarat

Published : Jul 29, 2005 00:00 IST



Torrential rains cause widespread damage in central Gujarat and bring normal life to a standstill.


WATER kept rising from under Lalji Vasava's feet when torrential rains lashed his village. Before he knew what had hit him, his entire mud hut in Ankodia village near Vadodara started crumbling. Lalji took his family and fled to the local school, where many other villagers had sought shelter. By the next morning, nothing remained of his hut.

Now homeless, Lalji rummages through the ruins, wondering how he will survive the rest of the monsoon. "I will have to take a loan from my sheth (employer). But right now, there isn't much work either because all the fields are flooded," he said. Lalji is still living in the local school, where the panchayat has made arrangements for their food.

When floods drowned central and south Gujarat last fortnight, 202 persons died. Essential services like electricity and telephones shut down, houses collapsed, roads caved in and farm crops went under water. People were stranded on trains, on roads and at home for days.

Vadodara, Anand, Kheda, Surat and Bharuch were the worst affected. Some parts of the Saurashtra regions were also flooded. The Narmada dam is overflowing by one metre. A total of 32 dams in Gujarat have overflowed this monsoon, and 39 are on high alert.

For a few days, not only people were stranded in their homes but power supply, communication and transport were cut off. Train links between Ahmedabad and Mumbai remain disrupted since June 24, when the first heavy showers were reported. The Ahmedabad-Vadodara expressway had a huge crater near Vasad and was closed on July 1 and 2. The damage was the worst at Vasad, where the river ate away the embankment of the rail bridge too. Passengers were stuck on a train near Vadodara for two days. Food packets were thrown to them. The Railways estimate a Rs.5 crores loss.

Relief crew evacuated 2.96 lakh people all over Gujarat and four to five lakh are staying in relief camps run by voluntary groups, according to State government estimates. As the water recedes, more bodies are likely to be recovered in interior areas. Fifty-seven towns and 6,717 villages were affected. Chief Minister Narendra Modi circled the affected areas in a helicopter and ordered that food packets be dropped. The Central government has allotted Rs.500 crores for relief.

Crocodiles and snakes swam in the flooded streets of Vadodara. Unusually heavy rainfall made the Pratapur dam, north of Vadodara, burst and as the waters gushed into the city, 20 km away, it also brought along reptiles. While people were stranded, unable to move out of their deluged homes, it was the crocodiles' day out.

Was the total collapse only due to the abnormally high rains? How much of it could have been avoided by proper planning?

"At places where the water used to run into drains, the municipality has allowed buildings to come up, which blocked the flow of water. That is why water was locked in," says R.P. Vijay, a resident of Sama, one of the worst affected areas in Vadodara. "Our house had three feet high water. We had to live with our neighbours on the first floor for six days."

"The express highway and the Narmada canal construction have blocked the natural water flow into the Bhuki river. That is why certain areas have been submerged. Encroachments on the river are also causing flooding," says Pradeep Joshi, a Bharatiya Janata Party corporator from Vadodara. "The design of both these projects should be reviewed, encroachments must be removed and there should be a bypass for the water of the Bhuki river. The Narmada authorities, the expressway planners and the municipal corporation's ineffectiveness are responsible for all these lives lost," he said.

"Yes, the expressway has caused flooding in places situated near it, and encroachments on the riverfront are also why so many people were affected," says Gopal Shah, former town planner. "But no one could have anticipated such heavy rains. Vadodara had 50 inches of rain in eight days, while its average yearly rainfall is 30-40 inches. The city's infrastructure was not built to deal with this kind of downpour," he explained. Gujarat has already received 624 mm of rainfall, 69 per cent of its annual average.

While planning for the city and sanctioning construction or infrastructure projects, the municipal authorities do not consider how they could affect water contours, says Rohit Prajapati, an activist of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (Environment Protection Committee). "There is no concept of a water map. They build drains along canals and expressways to protect the canal or road, not the surrounding areas. Unless there is a disaster, people do not think."

Both the reservoirs built to prevent flooding in the city, the Pratapura dam and the Ajwa lake, actually caused the deluge when they overflowed. A wall of the Pratapura dam broke and the gates of Ajwa dam were opened. Water gushed into the Vishwamitra river, which flows through the city, taking crocodiles and snakes and turning the streets into fast-flowing rivers. Water was locked in the city and could not find its way out. In many places, people broke roads or dividers situated on a higher level that were blocking the flow of water.

"The water current was so strong that it broke our compound wall," says Nimish Trivedi, a resident of the newly constructed Siddharth Bungalows in Sama. People scrambled to neighbours' terraces and braved the rains for three days, while food packets were thrown to them.

In villages, farms were inundated. "Four of my buffaloes drowned. My castor crop is gone. I had sown rice, which has also been washed away. My banana trees and potato crop are ruined. Who is going to compensate for these losses?" asks Arvindbhai Ambalal Patel, a farmer from Koyali village close to Vadodara.

The `Golden Corridor', a chemical industrial zone that runs from Vadodara to Vapi, faced the heaviest rainfall. This corridor is highly polluted, since many industries violate environmental rules. The torrential rains have eroded the little pollution control infrastructure that exists. Channels carrying effluent have broken. Crude oil from a refinery in Koyali spilled into farmlands.

"The entire lake is black because of the crude oil spill. Water has seeped into people's fields and is also flowing downstream, contaminating those areas," said Ramanbhai Patel, a farmer from Koyali. The Gujarat government's disaster management plan, prepared after the Kutch earthquake, does not look at chemical disasters. While industrial losses are estimated at Rs.15,000 crores, the damage caused by effluent leakages to agricultural land, the environment and people's health has not been accounted for.

The most telling photograph of the floods is the picture of Joint Commissioner of Police K. Kumaraswamy sitting on the back of a constable while he waded through shoulder-high water. This image is also symbolic of the plight of Gujarat's people today. The crocodiles and snakes rule.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jul 29, 2005.)



Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment