Chetan Chauhan’s apt description of the behaviour of angry rivers under the headline ‘Builder greed led to nature’s fury’ (HT June, 20, 2013) and the unprecedented destruction caused in the Mandakani Valley at Kedarnath and other places in Uttrakhand should be a grim warning to the thoughtless multi-story building activity very much accelerated during the last five years or so in the river basin of Lucknow on both banks of the Gomti, particularly in Gomtinagar and the areas adjacent to it.
The rapid expansion of building activity a few years back in areas, which were till then the Gomti river basin near Ambedkar Smarak, was a matter of concern to me. This was because I had known that a very heavy flood around 1981 had submerged all these areas in the Gomti waters which stood as high as one story on houses on both sides of the river banks.
My friends in Lucknow, who were active members of Lucknow Boat Club, told me they went by boat for rescue work across the fully submerged Lucknow -Faizabad road near Ismailganj. That flooded area includes the place where the massive high court buildings are being constructed now. The authorities concerned have to take ample precautions in this regard for safety of valuable records of the high court in case its surroundings get submerged in flood waters in future. Very recently, I was horrified to see huge multi-story complexes coming up in the Gomti river basin when I travelled across the Shaheed Path for the first time about a couple of months or so ago. The only protection for these buildings against inundation are flimsy earthen bunds. They, too, are in disrepair. If the heavy rainfall of 1981 is repeated, it shall take its toll.
It is a well-observed engineering formula in vogue in construction of major river projects that the high flood of once in 50 years, as well as that which occurs once in 100 years, is taken into consideration. Heavy floods and landslides are a regular happening in the river basins of Himalayas, but the one at Kedar valley appears to be a happening that has appeared only once in two millenniums.
Adi Jagatguru Shankaracharya founded the Kedar Nath and Badri Nath Dhams in the sixth century AD and the continued pilgrimage to these places for the last 1500 years or so shows that such a terrible natural disaster did not occur anytime earlier. However, at Lucknow, the people are very negligently forgetting a very dangerous event of hardly over 30 years ago and are unmindful of tremendous disaster that may occur if the rains of 1981 are repeated anytime later. They are instances in the world where people live comfortably below sea level as is the case in Holland in Europe. But the areas reclaimed from the sea bed are totally protected by strongly built dykes which are continually watched and maintained.
Lucknow can only avert a major disaster if the long earthen bunds of several kilometres on both sides of the Gomti are properly fortified and made 100% safe against any vulnerability.
Similarly all pumping stations on the Gomti or else on the Kukrail river have to be continuously maintained and kept functional so that the rain water accumulating on the other side — on the residential area side — is constantly pumped out during floods. This may require an immediate investment of over Rs 1000 crore and also a very efficient monitoring of the administrative machinery supposed to deal with the maintenance of earthen bunds and the pumping stations.
Failure to heed a timely warning may result in a 100 times greater tragedy that has overtaken the river basins of Himalayas a week back. The presence of about 10 lakh people in Lucknow’s flood-prone areas and the wealth invested in buildings poses the risk of unestimable major damage.
People residing in the flood prone areas of Lucknow whose residential area plans have been duly approved by the appropriate agency of the state government have a very legitimate right to demand from the government that foolproof arrangements are made so that the Gomti’s flood water passes across Lucknow without inundating any area. Timely action alone can protect the legitimate interests of a very large number of people if a natural calamity strikes.
Views of the writer are personal( The writer is managing secretary, Feroze Gandhi College, Rae Bareli).