India’s shoddy urban infrastructure lay exposed on Friday as monsoon rains triggered miles-long traffic snarls in three of its biggest cities, leaving thousands of commuters stranded for hours without water or food while politicians traded blame for the mess.
The worst-hit was Delhi’s satellite town of Gurgaon. The jam was so bad that cars and trucks, ambulances and school buses backed up for up to 24 hours in a hair-pulling drive home. Many were seen abandoning their cars and wading through knee-deep water.
Unruly drivers, raucous caravans of kanwarias, or devoees of Lord Shiva, and submerged cars clogged Gurgaon’s arterial roads. Authorities ordered all officials to come out and help clear the jam. Municipal workers distributed food packets and water to motorists stranded on the Delhi-Jaipur highway. Schools were ordered shut for the week.
The crisis forced police to ask Delhi residents to skip office and avoid Gurgaon. At many places, paved median strips were hacked off to divert traffic.
Video: Bengaluru residents catch fish on waterlogged roads
The traffic nightmare began on Thursday afternoon after a heavy downpour choked storm drains and flooded roads, triggering the monster jam that was, finally, cleared around 4pm on Friday.
The chaos left many residents fuming.
“It took me four hours to drive 6 km,” said Randeep Dev, a consultant at a private bank in New Delhi. “Our cities are a living hell in the monsoon.”
Some of Gurgaon’s frenzied scenes were mirrored in Mumbai and in Bengaluru, where rainfall over the past three days inundated most of India’s IT capital as lakes breached their banks and people were seen fishing in the swirling waters.
Within hours, authorities had deployed boats to rescue people from low-lying areas and rushed personnel to treat those injured by falling trees.
In Mumbai, heavy showers on Friday morning killed a 45-year-old man after a tree collapsed on his car as many parts of the city witnessed waterlogging and huge puddles, slowing down traffic to a trickle.
Experts blamed a combination of poor urban planning, clogged storm-water drains and administrative apathy for the pain.
In Gurgaon, a rush to build more apartments, malls and office complexes in what is now known as the Millennium City ensured ponds, embankments and water channels that drained monsoon run-off vanished in the last three decades.
The mess also caused a heated political row, especially over Gurgaon, with rival political parties blaming each other for the flooded roads and traffic jams.
The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party blamed the BJP government in Haryana and chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar for not being prepared to deal with the rain.
“Quicker to reach New York from Delhi then Delhi-Gurgaon. BJP & @mlkhattar govt destroying Gurgaon as India’s global hub,” Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala said.
Khattar rejected the charges, blaming Delhi’s AAP administration and calling for an emergency meeting in Chandigarh. But he cancelled a scheduled aerial survey due to bad weather.
In Gurgaon, as water levels rose, the Centre stepped in to oversee relief work. Road transport minister Nitin Gadkari rushed a team of senior officials of the National Highway Authority of India to Gurgaon and asked NHAI chief to coordinate with state authorities to unclog NH-8.
“I just spoke to Haryana CM and told him this is an important city and international focus and attention is on it. All steps should be taken to clear the jams,” Union urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu told reporters on Friday afternoon.
“The state administration is attending the problem on an emergency basis.”
A Tweet from Manish Sisodia, Delhi deputy chief minister read: “Development doesn’t mean just changing names. Glib talk won’t clear jams.”
(With inputs from Mumbai and Bengaluru bureaux)
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