No lessons learnt from the 2005 deluge in Mumbai

Memories of the 2005 deluge come back to haunt Mumbaikars

Updated - August 30, 2017 08:58 am IST

Published - August 30, 2017 12:11 am IST - Mumbai

Mumbai 09/07/16:  Picture for Fixing Mumbai.  Picture of Eastern Express Highway-Sion Chunabhatti section on 27th July, 2005, morning. Photo:  Palashranjan Bhaumick  (old picture)

Mumbai 09/07/16: Picture for Fixing Mumbai. Picture of Eastern Express Highway-Sion Chunabhatti section on 27th July, 2005, morning. Photo: Palashranjan Bhaumick (old picture)

Twelve years after Mumbai faced the great deluge of 26/7/2005 the public administration of an aspiring global metropolis continues to demonstrate mediocrity in managing a disaster, especially when it rains. The civic fathers have failed to build a foolproof defence mechanism against ‘more than heavy rainfall’, a downpour mark of 124.5mm to 244.5 mm in a single day.

Every single time dark clouds gather over Mumbai threatening to breach the dreaded mark, as it did on Monday, it causes a near flood-like situation with water-logging in low-lying areas, collapse of public transport, traffic jams, potholes, and loss of many innocent lives.

It was no surprise then that when Mumbaikars woke up on Tuesday morning to a near recurrence of the great deluge the horrifying images from 26/7/2005 came back to haunt millions stranded on the roads, trains and in offices.

What ails Mumbai’s public administration? Is it too much to expect a world-class flood control mechanism for a city aspiring for global status?

The blame squarely lies at the doorstep of an administrative system that is at best reactive, not proactive, and at the same time corrupt in its ways and means. The city’s premier civic administrative body or the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is hamstrung by managerial mediocrity compounded by poor coordination with the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the two sharing only a week or two’s forecast in advance before monsoon. A committee to probe the 2005 floods had recommended installing of three Doppler Radars for effective weather predictions. But so far only one has been put in place by the IMD.

The BMC starts its flood preparedness — cleaning of a 3,000-km long storm water drain network — only two months prior to the monsoon clouds arriving on the city’s horizon. This is a small window considering the strenuous task relies heavily on several external variables, such as a bunch of unscrupulous contractors who rarely complete the job on time. The outdated way of cleaning drains has bred a system which promotes corruption since there is no scientific way to calculate how much silt the contractors remove from the drains. The BMC, in the last 12 years, has not even bothered to find an alternative either to this contracting system or effectively monitoring the cleaning works.

Year after year, the corporation maintains it is ready to tackle 350 to 450 mm of rainfall in a day during the monsoon. But the existing drains are not even ready to handle 50 mm of rainfall, while the pumping stations, most crucial for tidal control and pumping out storm water into sea, often malfunction in the face of “more than heavy rainfall”. In 2014, a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) validated the claims of mismanagement in construction of pumping stations in Mumbai.

The CAG claims don’t even sound far fetched on a day when Mumbai’s spirit once again drowned in the face of “more than heavy rainfall”. However, what blows away with the torrential weather were all the claims of being a global metropolis like Shanghai and Singapore. Time to remind the BMC and the state government it is not smooth roads and fancy bridges but a world-class disaster management system that makes a city global.

Until then, hold your aspirations Mumbai.

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