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Sinking governance

The annual plight of those affected is symptomatic of the indifference of governments to natural disasters, which choose to firefight rather than take measures to contain the impact.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2006 03:04 IST

The floods in various parts of western India and Andhra Pradesh are, at one level, an annual occurrence. On the other hand, their intensity almost always catches governments unawares. The annual plight of those affected is symptomatic of the indifference of governments to natural disasters, which choose to firefight rather than take measures to contain the impact of such disasters. Take the case of Mumbai. As the rain-lashed city struggles to keep afloat, one must ask the question why flooding is a chronic phenomenon in a city that hopes to position itself as a world-class financial capital. And therein unfolds a tale of neglect by the state government, apathy of municipal authorities, lack of funds, unregulated growth, corruption and much else.

The Chitale Committee, which did a definitive study on the 26/7 disaster, discovered that there was a Nathu Committee report of 1976 that had made sound recommendations — which remained unimplemented. An important finding of the committee was that rainwater runoff had increased by half over the years because of development and construction. The immediate need, therefore, was to have pumping stations drain out the water. But even on a clear-cut recommendation such as this the government  dithered. Currently, the much touted Brihanmumbai Storm Water Drain project, too, is not making progress. Its projected cost is Rs 1,200 crore, for which the Centre has promised Rs 474 crore. But the cash-strapped state government is hard put to find the rest. The Chitale Committee has emphasised flood prevention but the government is preoccupied with disaster management. Some estimates put the funds needed for the city’s infrastructure at a staggering Rs 35,000 crore.

Yet, no one knows where the funds could come from. It is not that the money is not available — the city could, for example, issue bonds or raise taxes. But that presupposes a level of governance that remains a pipedream.