A deeper look at the Chennai floods of 2015

As the city reels under a drought, Krupa Ge recounts lessons we can learn from the mismanagement of water resources that led to the 2015 floods

July 10, 2019 04:23 pm | Updated 04:25 pm IST

Author Krupa Ge is emphatic: “Any environmentalist will tell you, floods and droughts are two sides of the same coin.” A coin called mismanagement of water resources. At a time when the city is reeling under water scarcity, the writer-journalist has come up with her first non-fiction book, Rivers Remember: #ChennaiRains and the Shocking Truth of a Manmade Flood (Westland).

Coming in four years after the December floods of 2015 left the city ravaged, the book is comprehensive, replete with facts and figures about the city’s rivers, lakes, dams and drains. Krupa traces the history of the city’s water resources and how they have been (mis)managed in the past few decades, including the incompetence shown by Government departments in the days leading up to the flood.

Global focus

Years of research is reflected in this book, that has seen praise from stalwarts such as Amitav Ghosh, author, and Arvind Subramanian, former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India. “I have so much unused data, that I hope will be put to good use some day,” she says, adding. “Even now, though this book is complete, the story is unfinished — as it should be.”

She believes that we, as a society, have a tendency to move on. “But right now, with the drought, we’re getting unprecedented global attention. It’s time to speak up. Because people are listening.”

It took Krupa five drafts to finalise the structure of her book, which balances hard truths with emotions. Like a deck of cards, the author has taken empathetic interviews of people affected by the floods, and shuffled it with information from the responses to the dozen Right To Information (RTI) applications she filed.

Access to papers

Wrapping up the interviews was easy — “everybody has a flood story to share”. Needling the Tamil Nadu Government was far more difficult. Her first major breakthrough was getting hold of the CAG report filed as a performance audit of the flood management and response.

Once the report was no longer under legal scrutiny, she gained access to it, along with another major piece of evidence: the Government’s response to the report.

“It is a 150-page response by different departments, all passing the buck on to someone else.”

Much help in research came from a network of lawyer friends, starting with her husband, and from the social impact community. “It’s amazing how many people are working for free, to make this a better city,” she says.

Old guidelines

The reasons for floods and droughts are similar, she believes. And it all goes back to inefficient city planning and management. “The Chembarambakkam reservoir follows guidelines laid out in the 1980s, from information collected in 1970s. We’re looking at 2020 now with no change…” she says.

Despite the bleak subject, Krupa maintains that her book is not meant to bring despair, but to empower citizens to question authorities: “Though every bit helps, there’s only so much we can do by closing the tap tightly and using steel straws. We can’t let the big guys pass the guilt on to us, and profit off it. We have to hold them accountable.”

Rivers Remember is priced at ₹499.

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