Analysis of GCC’s Budget Allocations on Flooding

March 11, 2024 Vaidya R

Severe Cyclonic Storm Michaung made landfall near Chennai during the first week of December 2023. It caused massive rainfall in the city which left many areas waterlogged. Since December 2015, when a record 1000+mm of rainfall was received, Chennai has had to face flooding related incidents every few years. Cyclone Vardah, categorised as Very Severe Cyclonic Storm, caused massive damage in 2016. Cyclone Burevi, which struck Sri Lanka in December 2020 also brought massive rains to Chennai and caused flooding.

Given how prone to floods the city is, flood relief and flood works are expected to be an important component of Greater Chennai Corporation’s(GCC) budget. Looking at the budget allocations, and more importantly expenditure, over the years gives us an idea of how much the city has prioritised flood relief and more importantly flood prevention.

Flood relief over the past five years

Flood relief has been a constant expenditure for the GCC over the past four years. Since 2020-21, the GCC has spent Rs. 50 Cr on average on flood relief, of which the highest was in 2022-23 when Rs. 80 Crore was spent. The largest expense during 2022-23, despite there being no major flooding incidents was on the header “Interior Roads”, where Rs. 57 Cr was spent. The complete data for Cyclone Michaung related relief is not known yet, but the revised estimates for 2023-24 as per the latest budget point to an expenditure of Rs. 37.39 Crore.

Despite this spending, the actual allocation each year paints a puzzling story. During 2022-23 when Rs. 80 Cr was spent, only Rs. 5.7 Crore was allocated. During the rest of the years, the amount allocated for flood relief in the budget was a measly few lakhs. The last two budgets, 2023-24 and 2024-25 have allocated Rs. 1.5 Lakhs each year for flood relief, despite there being expenditure to the tune of Crores every year.

Allocation vs spending on flood relief from 2020-21 to 2024-25. The allocation amounts are too small to be seen in the graph.

While it could be argued that flood relief is a response that cannot be foreseen, the expenditure is high during all years, with or without major flooding events.

Flood prevention expenditure

While flood relief is a response mechanism, what do the budgets say about allocation and spending for flood prevention?

Storm water drains(SWDs) and existing waterways are important infrastructure that play a large role in flood mitigation during heavy rainfall. Allocation and expenditure on these headers can give us an idea of how good the preparations each year have been.

For this purpose, we look at three headers, desilting of SWDs, cleaning of internal waterways, and the SWD works on Kosthaliyar and Kovalam river basins undertaken with funding from Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) respectively.

Desilting of SWDs

During the 2024-25 budget Rs. 33.65 Crore was allocated to desilt SWDs. Except during the Covid years of 2020-21 and 2021-22, the allocation and spending on desilting of drains has been upward of Rs. 30 Crore.

Allocation vs spending on desilting SWDs.

There are close to 2,200 Km of SWDs in Chennai, which means Rs. 1.53 Lakh is allocated to desilt every kilometre on average. In terms of money, the amounts are getting allocated and are being spent for this purpose. However, whether all the storm-water drains in the city are correctly desilted and are working to their best capacity needs more ground-level analysis.

Cleaning of waterways

One of the complaints that surface every year after floods is how the historic channels have been encroached upon and are obstructing the flow of water. GCC allocates money every year to clean the waterways so that water can flow smoothly.

However, this amount is only a fraction of what is allocated to desilt SWDs, barely around Rs. 1 Crore. In 2024-25, Rs. 0.5 Cr have been allocated for this purpose as against the Rs. 33.65 Crore for desilting SWDs. Interestingly, of this allocation, less than half the allocation is spent each year.

Allocation vs spending on cleaning waterways..

Chennai has an extensive network of waterways leading to the major rivers – Kosthalayar and Kovalam, and it is hard to imagine how an allocation of Rs. 1 Cr can clean them up, and even worse, how the actual expenditure of less than half of it is doing anything to clean them up.

Chennai river lines and waterbodies map

Also, while cleaning up waterways could solve some of the issues, encroachment could be a bigger issue, but that’s a different story and analysis. For the waterways, there is scope for more allocation and spending. More importantly, clearly defining what are these waterways that are being cleaned, and their length could help people nail accountability better.

New SWDs for river basins

While desilting of existing drains is important, GCC has been working on increasing the network of SWDs through funds from Asian Development Bank and Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) Bank along the Kosthaliyar and Kovalam river basins respectively.

Since 2020-21, Rs. 3800 Cr have been allocated for this purpose of which Rs. 2113 Cr has been used so far – allocation includes the year 2024-25, while spending does not. Annually, since 2022-23, the amounts have been significant and more than 80% of the amount is being spent.

Allocation vs spending for Grants from ADB and KfW banks.

The grant from ADB is of Rs. 3,220 Cr and to create 769 Km of storm-water drains on the Kosthaliyar river basin. According to their Action Taken Report for 2023-24, 523 Km of SWDs have been taken up at an expense of Rs. 2090 Cr and 68% of these drains have been completed.

The grant from KfW bank is of Rs. 1174 Crore to construct 360 Km of SWDs on the Kovalam river basin. According to the Action Taken Report, in the first phase they took up construction of 41.77 Km of drains at a cost of Rs. 150.45 Cr, of which 75% is currently completed. In the second phase, they’ve taken up 118.77 Km of drains at a cost of Rs. 447 Cr of which 42% is currently done.

The curious case of Covid-19

While looking at flood relief numbers, what stands out near those headers is the spending on Covid-19. Covid-19 was not something GCC budgeted for, but something they ended up having to spend a lot on. Till date, the allocation in the last five budgets for any item under Covid-19 stands at Rs. 0. However, the expenditure over the last four years has been a whopping Rs. 710 Cr!

While the spending during the pandemic years of 2020-21 and 2021-22 were expected, and some spending during 2022-23 was possible, the expenditure has continued into 2023-24 where Rs. 19.47 Cr is expected to be spent as per their revised estimates. Of this amount, Rs. 6.5 Cr has been spent under “Food expenses”, Rs. 2.2 Cr under “Man power”(sic) and Rs. 6.3 Cr is under “Hire charges”. Food expenses are, in fact, thrice the spending from last year (2022-23)! It is indeed curious as to who could be eating worth Rs. 6 Cr when the confirmed cases are so low and few people are being admitted for Covid!

Even in 2022-23 well after the main waves of Covid-19 were done, GCC spent Rs. 72.74 Crore. Rs. 30 Cr has been spent on “Man power” and Rs. 26 Cr on “Hire Charges”. “Electrical arrangements” for Covid-19 have cost the exchequer another Rs. 2.1 Cr, while “Food expenses” were 2.16 Cr.

What these expenses are, and if they are indeed real two years after the pandemic needs further analysis at the ground level. It would be interesting to see how this spending continues into the next year, and to know what really is going on with this money.

Allocation vs spending on Covid-19 over the years. The allocation each year has been Rs. 0.


Waterlogging after heavy rains has been a persistent problem that GCC has been tasked with addressing for more than a decade now. Budget spending in the form of building new, and desilting existing, SWDs, and cleaning waterways suggests that some work is happening and money is being spent on addressing the issues.

While allocation on cleaning waterways is ridiculously low, the actual spending is even lower. Thousands of crores are being spent to build new drains and desilt existing ones. But these do not capture systemic issues like encroachment of waterways and drains, and if the drains have the capacity to handle the load from very heavy rainfall events. Audits of the natural storm water flows and the capacity of existing drains are needed to address these issues further.