Mismanaging the monsoon: on Chennai's flooding woes

Chennai: People wade through a flooded street after heavy rainfall in Chennai, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. (PTI Photo) (PTI11_11_2021_000206A)  

The DMK government renamed Madras as Chennai in 1996. M.K. Stalin, who was Mayor then, rolled out a slew of schemes under his pet project, Singara Chennai (Beautiful Chennai). In 2000, the same government set up Tidel Park, an information technology park, which ushered in unprecedented as well as unregulated growth. Chennai has experienced two major floods since then: first in 2005 and then in 2015. In the 25 years since 1996, the AIADMK has ruled for 15 years, including at the time of the floods. Now that large parts of Chennai are inundated once again, there is a stand-off between the DMK and AIADMK. Chief Minister Stalin has accused the previous AIADMK government of pilfering money from the Smart City project, while the Leader of the Opposition, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, has demanded to know what Ma. Subramanian, now Health Minister and previously Mayor, did during his earlier tenure. Mr. Palaniswami has also claimed that stagnation of water has decreased thanks to his government’s efforts.

The truth is that the responsibility for the sorry state of affairs lies with both DMK and AIADMK governments. It naturally rests to a large extent with the AIADMK government considering the time it spent in power. But the issue is being seen as one of political vendetta/upmanship.

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While relentless industrial development, including the expansion of ports and thermal power plants, could be one of the main reasons for the floods in the northern parts of Chennai, as activists say, it is the aspirational housing projects of the middle class in the southern parts that have destroyed water bodies and blocked channels. As a consequence, there is less space for the water to naturally flow into the sea.

Only now has the government realised the need to act on climate change despite scientists warning us decades ago that rainfall patterns are changing from long-drawn-out spells to shorter, intense spells, thus necessitating a change in urban planning.

The AIADMK government dropped the Singara Chennai plan. It could have created a Greater Chennai to cater to the needs of the people on East Coast Road, the IT Expressway and the GST Road that connects the south, but it failed to do so. For two decades, the second airport project has been on paper. The Bus Rapid Transport System remains a report. The IT Expressway awaits a Metro. Clearly, there is a lack of vision in urban planning.

The bureaucracy is also to blame for this. The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority has largely turned a blind eye to massive violations of building plans and FSI norms in core business districts.

Despite 50 years of Dravidian rule that has propelled the State on several fronts, the city’s rivers — Adyar and Cooum — hold the mirror to the failure of successive governments.

Former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was known to be unapproachable. Allegations surfaced after the 2015 floods that the delay in reaching her was also one of the factors responsible for the severity of the floods. After her demise, with no elected representatives in the urban local bodies, the bureaucracy governed urban spaces under the guidance of Minister S.P. Velumani. He is being probed now by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption. It is no wonder that the city’s civic infrastructure is in tatters.

The present DMK government must also take some of the blame. It has failed to desilt water bodies and drains ahead of the monsoon and also to foresee the extent of flooding, including in core areas like T. Nagar.

Chennai has recorded more than 1,000 mm of rain in a month four times in the last century. Three of these times have occurred in the last 16 years. This is clearly a wake-up call to the administration to rethink urban planning and development.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 5:10:31 PM |

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