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Declare Maharashtra Floods as man-made disaster: Plea in Bombay HC by former MP Nana Patole

Omkar Gokhale

Former Member of Parliament and Congress Party leader Nana Patole has moved the Bombay High Court seeking that the recent floods in the Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara districts of Western Maharashtra be declared as a ‘man-made disaster’ under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

Several people and animals were killed in Western Maharashtra and other areas after monsoon rains battered Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara districts, resulting in the flooding of the Krishna and Panchanganga rivers creating this month.

As result of the floods, the Pune-Bangalore National Highway and Railway services in affected areas were shut for more than ten days.

In a letter written to Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog, Nana Patole and social activist Sanjay Lakhe-Patil sought a direction from the Court to the state government to file an affidavit giving information about the damage caused by the floods, rescue operations, and precautionary measures to be taken for epidemics arising out of the floods.

The letter also seeks the appointment of a Court-monitored expert committee to inquire into alleged inaction of the authorities, causes of the floods, and factors that aggravated damage.

Patole and Lakhe-Patil sought an expert committee under the Chairmanship of Madhav Chitale, Stockholm Water Prize winner and former Chairman of the Central Water Commission. Chitale was also a member of National Commission for Ganga Rejuvenation.

While requesting Chief Justice Nandrajog to take urgent cognizance of his plea, Patole cited a precedent of a letter written by one Joseph Rappai to the Kerala High Court last year. Rappai had highlighted poor dam management, and had sought that last year’s floods be declared as a ‘man-made’ disaster. Joseph’s letter was suo motu turned into a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by the Kerala High Court.

Section 2 (d) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 defines “disaster” as a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or ‘man-made causes’ or by accident or by negligence.

Patole’s plea claims that dams in the state, including those in the Krishna River Valley, are not maintained for flood control as per the National Water Policy and National Disaster Management Authority guidelines. It is also claimed that the authorities have failed to update systems based on the National Disaster Plan of 2016 for floods.

“Most of the reservoirs were full before the extreme rainfall and they did not have the capacity to accommodate additional flow in Koyna, Hippargi and Almatti dams”, the petition claims.

Moreover, the plea highlights the lack of co-ordination between state government agencies and local administration while working towards helping people affected by the floods. Patole claimed that the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis delayed its meeting by almost a week. The petition also claims lack of communication between SDMA and the Karnataka government with respect to release of excess water from Almatti dam.

The plea further states that despite the ‘heavy to very heavy rainfall’ warning given by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), authorities failed to take prompt measures. It is stated,

“Due to this, the manageable flood situation became severe nature of ‘man-made’ disaster and lakhs of people suffered because of the blunders and mismanagement of the State Government.”

The letter was received by the Registry of the Bombay High Court on August 13. Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog is likely to hear the plea in the coming weeks.

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