All through this searing summer, we impatiently waited for the rain. But when it finally poured last week, the city came to a standstill. It is the same story every monsoon. Vehicles sink in knee-deep water and roads crumble. There is little difference between Sangam Vihar and Khan Market when it comes to chronic sewage backflow. Electrocution from the power poles and dangling high-tension wires kill a few. Just a short spell of rain sinks our civic agencies’ tall claims of monsoon preparedness.
Every year, Rs. 25-30 crore is set aside for the job. A couple of months before the monsoon, tonnes of silt and polythene bags are dug out from gutters and storm water channels. Some of it is transported to the dumping sites. The rest is left at the edge of the road so that it can go down into the same drains where it came from. Potholes are patched up only to get washed away by a slight drizzle, leaving motorists to negotiate with big craters all through the monsoon months. In some places, full stretches of roads cave in when the underground plumbing collapses.
When the civic and road-owning agencies get bad press, they respond with those standard “it rained way too much for the city infrastructure to handle” statements. Monsoon rains are anyway too short and sporadic in Delhi and the agencies simply wait for the headlines to fade out.
Every year, the traffic police release a list of 300-400 vulnerable points that can go under water.
A good enough warning that is never paid heed to.
In fact, year after year, the same stretches of roads make it to the list but rarely is any concrete action taken. There are piecemeal measures such as installing pumps on roadside to suck out rainwater. But they mostly run out of diesel when we need them the most.
In New Delhi, the sewage lines laid by the British have not been changed since. In the rest of the city, the last overhauling happened in the 1980s. The trunk sewers are heavily silted. The peripheral sewers are old, small and in most places, badly damaged. It has been seven years since the government decided to draw a master plan for the city’s drainage system. It is yet to appoint a consultant to carry out the 18-month study.
Most of Delhi’s roads are made without drainage or necessary gradients. Storm water drains meant to collect rainwater carry sewage. Others are clogged or do not exist. Most drains in residential areas have been filled up to create parking space or have become extended lawns for people’s homes.
According to a study by IIT-Roorkee, many roads built by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi five years ago have potholes and cracks that run three layers deep. Poor maintenance has hastened deterioration. The study found that these roads are not thick enough and waterlogging due to the lack of drainage has aggravated the situation. The breakdown is striking given that Delhi was on a public works binge just two years back for the Commonwealth Games.
If there are no effective means to ensure quality during the construction process, there is little to hold the contractor accountable if the road gives in prematurely. The maximum penalty includes forfeiture of the contractor’s deposit amount and, in the extreme cases, blacklisting the company from the MCD or PWD panels. But, as officials admit, nothing stops a blacklisted construction company to bid under a new name.
The PWD minister has big plans to videograph all desilting work to prevent corruption. Before that, he better get his team to enlarge the narrow bell mouths (openings) of storm water drains and put wire meshes on them.