Dysfunctional policies lead to dysfunctional scenarios. And the capital of India collapsed under the weight of monsoon rains this week with Delhiites wondering whether to blame just the rain gods or also mortals among them. Unnatural rainfall, as has been the case in Britain this season and in Mumbai a couple of years back, is one thing. It is quite another to be so unprepared that life comes to a standstill. Commuters were left stranded in the southern parts of Delhi and in Gurgaon on Thursday not so much because of a record downpour but something as banal as the clogging of stormwater drains tied in with construction work of the Delhi Metro Railway and of a dedicated road for a bus route. To add manufactured misery to the despair, roads that had been up and running were literally down and washed away — pointing to the kind of standards that we are ready to pass as pliable.
New Delhi is not the only sorry urban story doing the rounds. We know how Mumbai still lies at the mercy of the collaborative mood of the rains and the Mithi river. We know how Kolkata decided to go through the trauma of re-enacting 1977-like floods only a few months ago. Bangalore, the latest entry to crunched-up cities, is not far behind in the metro under breaking point charts. While it is easy to blame nature each time our cities are challenged by excessive rainfall, is there any case in the argument that the authorities are excelling in navel-gazing during unnatural times? Take Delhi, where the local municipal corporation was supposed to clean up 1,391 stormwater drains, a task that was to have been undertaken by July 20. Municipal Corporation of Delhi officials have blamed the lack of coordination between “the various agencies”. The end result? Four-hour traffic jams crippling daily life in the capital. God forbid that the same ‘explanation’ is trotted out in 2010 if it rains during the Commonwealth Games. Never mind locals, but making athletes and officials miss their day’s schedule would not make for a pretty situation.
The problem with urban planning in India’s cities is that the chalta hai mentality is the default position. Monsoon rains are not the anomaly that floods and torrential rains might be in London. So one would have thought that India 2007, Shining or Glistening, would take cognisance of that fact and take steps to avoid flooding. But two-three months of chaos is — and will be — forgotten. After which clogged manholes will remain unattended till the next spell of rains. A city, like a person, requires regular check-ups for it to remain healthy and to correct complications that remain dormant. Passing the buck provides no solace when the time of crisis comes. That’s if the crisis is identified — and not palmed off as something that the gods had ordained and against which nothing can be done.