How long does it take to fix a plumbing problem? Eighteen years, if it happens to be Mumbai’s. Twelve years after the city’s municipal bosses knew it did not have wide enough storm water drains, a cloudburst killing hundreds in 2005 stirred city hall into action. Parliament was petitioned for the Rs 1,200 crore it will cost to drain 50 mm of monsoon rainwater every hour into the Arabian Sea. So far Rs 1,000 crore has been released, Rs 500 crore as recently as a week ago, and Mumbai should hopefully not have to swim to work from 2011. The Maximum City will have widened 440 km of drains in just about twice the time it took a Macedonian chieftain to build an empire from the Bosphorus to the Indus, and several Alexandrias.
Now that men are at work, the country’s financial capital can afford to lose the Rs 500-odd crore every day
it shuts down for the rains. The insurance companies can shrug off their underwriting losses as a passing pain and the stock exchanges can use the forced holidays to de-stress. The rest of India, too, can do without cheques being cleared and teller machines running dry. It’s just a matter of time while engineers use satellites to first draw a map of Mumbai’s underworld and then figure out how to untangle the mass of water and sewage lines, power and telephone cables that have snaked their way into the 150-year-old drainage network.
After that it’s a breeze. Clear the tonnes of garbage in the drains and a quarter of a million people living over them, build half-a-dozen pumping stations, and clean up the 2,000 km of smaller drains that feed the big ones. With dosh in the bank and 24 months to go, this is hardly the stuff that should make the current managers of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry break into a sweat.