OPINION

Dark clouds & a silver lining

Making extensive preparations for rare, extreme situations is neither easy nor economical. Both the Tamil Nadu administration and the residents of Chennai and its neighbouring districts were not ready for the relentless spells of rain after the North-East monsoon set in, flooding homes and offices, roads and malls. Ordinarily, the worry for Chennai is a weak monsoon with deficit rainfall that leaves little water for drinking purposes and irrigation. But, over the last 30 days, the government and the people were dealing with the ill-effects of an unusually active monsoon that seemed intent on overcompensating for the deficit years with record rainfall. Even as the city returned to some sort of normalcy after one torrential downpour, it had to contend with another spell of rain. Displacement, traffic jams, power cuts, rising prices, and scarcity of food, the woes just would not end for the people of Chennai. The situation was especially bad for those in the relatively new residential areas in the suburbs where, in recent years, real estate growth was given priority over planned development. Also, more than the amount of rainfall, Chennai was hit badly by the overflow of water from reservoirs and breaches in lakes and tanks, and the flooding of water channels that were already choked with silt and refuse. With an unprecedented discharge of water, Chennai’s rivers have shown no respect for the bridges and the roads, effectively cutting off people and places on one bank with the people and places on the other bank. With bus and suburban railway services becoming inoperable, Chennai had to rely heavily on the new Metro line and the Mass Rapid Transit System.

But the rains were not all about doom and gloom. The government did remarkably well in rescue and relief efforts, quickly requisitioning the deployment of the armed forces to evacuate people in flooded areas and engaging in elaborate rehabilitation work. In the end, even Opposition leaders readily praised the relief measures taken up in challenging circumstances. The distress brought about by the rain also revealed the remarkable strength and character of the people in the city and the affected districts, with NGOs supplementing the efforts of the government, and public- spirited individuals taking up relief work, spending time and resources in reaching out to those left stranded. The Hindu is privileged to be a part of these efforts. Social networks were full of messages offering help or information on where help would be available. Malls and private schools and colleges too opened their doors to the flood victims. A radio taxi service provider, under criticism for failing to arrange cabs, offered free boat services. Clearly, the civic solidarity was in evidence everywhere, with volunteers helping to ferry the aged and the sick, and distribute food packets and warm clothes. Without a doubt, this has been the silver lining in the dark clouds over Chennai over the last few weeks. The lessons learnt during this extended disaster should result in a hard look at existing policies on urban planning, and a short-term revamp of the inadequacies in the civic infrastructure of urban areas.