Editorial

Mumbai marooned

Mumbai once again struggled to stay afloat after the first heavy spell of rain this year, bringing back memories of the July 2005 flood. Each massive rainfall event is making it evident that the city is putting on a brave front and projecting resilience, but the failure of the Maharashtra government to upgrade its tattered infrastructure is taking a heavy toll and weighing down on the financial capital. A single day of rain has killed 22 people in a wall collapse in north Mumbai, while many more died in Pune and elsewhere. In Ratnagiri, a dam gave way creating a catastrophe; flights have been cancelled and normal life is affected. Clearly, the State government should have regarded the 94 cm of rain that paralysed Mumbai in one day 14 years ago as the baseline disaster to prepare for. That it could not manage 37 cm in 24 hours, that too after incurring a massive expenditure on management projects, shows a lack of resolve among political leaders, rampant inefficiency and lack of integrity in the administrative machinery. As one of the wettest metropolises in India getting about 210 cm of rain annually, it should have been a top order priority to restore rivers and canals to manage floods. The government of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis needs to explain why Mumbai is yet unprepared to cope, especially when rainfall is projected to become erratic in coming years, and when scientific insights point to intense rainfall in a short span of time, driven by warmer oceans and hotter cities.

In a recent report, the Comptroller and Auditor General identified prolonged delays in the upgrading of storm water drain infrastructure in Mumbai. On the other hand, after the deluge of 2005, the consensus was for the flood-carrying capacity of the Mithi river in the city to be increased. But the choked and polluted river was again overflowing this year. Beyond the sclerotic management of flood waters that relies on storm drains in Mumbai, and several other Indian cities, there is a need for a new urban paradigm. For one thing, Mumbai, Thane, Ratnagiri and Raigad have, during the last century, displayed a high seasonality index, indicating a relatively small monsoon window bringing a lot of rain. This is in contrast to steady, prolonged rain in the central districts in Maharashtra. So a new climate change-influenced normal could mean fewer days of torrential rain and erratic monsoons. Managing them calls for a new approach that is ecological, and makes restoration of existing urban wetlands and creation of reservoirs and water channels a high priority. The water question is the biggest challenge for Indian cities today, as both drought and flood are common. State governments should give it priority and address it by making urban planning people-centric. A strong framework is needed to manage water, starting with Mumbai.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2020 11:58:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/mumbai-marooned/article28275516.ece

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