In 2019, a right to information (RTI) query revealed that Kolhapur floods were caused due to 1,250 acres of red and blue flood-line area, which is a no-development zone, being used for construction activity along the banks of the Panchganga River. This led to the National Green Tribunal (Delhi) ordering the irrigation department to ear-mark the flood-lines as per the 2018 survey carried out by the water conservation department; but it did only a partial job.
For the third time, last month, on 15 July 2020, the NGT has ordered the irrigation department to finalise the red and blue lines along the Panchganga River at the earliest. However, looks like vested interests will continue to stall any such implementation, considering huge construction activity is at stake.
While last week, Kolhapur again faced a threat of floods, in the 2019 monsoons, 54 people had died, thousands of cattle were washed away and there was extensive damage of property and crops, due to the flooding of the Panchganga River in Kolhapur and Sangli districts.
This overwhelmingly grim flood situation bears direct relation to the tampering of the red and blue flood-lines in the demarcation of the Panchganga River in the Kolhapur development plan. This was revealed when Pune-based activist Sarang Yadvadkar procured documents under RTI from the Kolhapur municipal corporation.
Before that, in 2015, in Mr Yadwadkar’s petition to the NGT to draw out flood-lines in flood-prone cities, towns and villages of Maharashtra, the NGT had ordered the water conservation department of the Maharashtra government to carry out red and blue flood-lines for such places that are flood-prone and to disallow any construction in an area 50 metres around them.
Thereafter, the issue got highlighted, when in 2018, a letter written by a Kolhapur-based scholar, Dr Balkrishna Shelar to NGT brought to its notice the unbridled development along the banks of the Panchganga River that ran through Kolhapur, because of which, floods are likely to create havoc in the city, in the event of excess rains. NGT suo motu converted it into a petition and ordered the water conservation department of the state government to carry out a fresh survey to demarcate new red and blue flood-lines due to the changing behaviour of rains as the 2005 flood-line demarcation was no more relevant.
This study, which was vetted by IIT, Mumbai, revealed that a whopping 1,250 acres of flood-line area on the banks of the Panchganga River are taboo for any construction activity. However, by then, several residential and commercial constructions had already come up.
Alarmed by these new flood-line demarcations, the builder lobby through the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI), Kolhapur, wrote to the then chief minister (CM) Devendra Fadnavis on October 2018 (a copy of the letter was procured through RTI), pleading that the earlier flood lines which were drawn in 2005 in the development plan should be maintained and the ones demarcated in 2018 should be scrapped. Very promptly, the CM within a week’s time ordered that CREDAI’s appeal should be maintained. This has put a large population of Kolhapur and Sangli districts perennially under the threat of floods, every monsoon.
When once again petitions were filed in April 2019 and then again after the horrendous floods of 2019, the tribunal, in November 2019 had directed the irrigation department to urgently complete the process of demarcation of the 'red’ and 'blue’ lines in the concerned areas of the Panchganga. It stated in its order: “The irrigation department may complete the process of demarcation of the 'red’ and 'blue’ lines within one month. Let a compliance report be furnished by the principal secretary, irrigation department by email at [email protected]
within one month… the additional chief secretary, urban development may also file a report as already directed vide order dated 5 April 2019 failing which he may have to be required to remain present in person before the Tribunal.”
During the NGT hearing on 15 July 2020, the Kolhapur municipal corporation filed a report with the NGT stating: “It is submitted that the blue and red line is not completely demarcated on the entire area. The area from Laxtirth to Dudhali approximately 1km and Kadamwadi to Gandhinagar approximately 2.5km, total around 3.5km length along the river is yet to be demarcated.’’
The NGT has once again ordered that as “the demarcation of red/blue/green line is incomplete by the irrigation department, the KMC has sent letters to chief engineer, irrigation department and requested to finalise remaining part of blue and red line at the earliest.”
However, the fact is, this year too, Kolhapur is vulnerable to floods and the question is: Even if the lines are demarcated, will the already constructed buildings be demolished or regularised, as is the trend with most municipal corporations? This case is important, as the havoc of construction activity is not confined only to Kolhapur and Sangli districts but even cities like Pune, Mumbai and every other urban area in Maharashtra state has fallen prey to it. Floods are invariably caused due to encroachment into the flood-line areas on the banks of the river.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)