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HT Monsoon audit: Mumbai is at Mithi’s mercy, again

Mumbai city news: HT’s panel of experts travelled around Mumbai to check if drains and roads were prepared for the downpour.

mumbai Updated: Jun 06, 2017 18:59 IST
Sanjana Bhalerao
The BMC has only completed 20% of pre-monsoon cleaning on the Mithi river.
The BMC has only completed 20% of pre-monsoon cleaning on the Mithi river.(Praful Gangurde)

Another year, another monsoon, the same old Mithi trouble.

If you have followed HT’s monsoon audit over the years — in which an expert panel identifies clogged drains and bad roads that could spell trouble for Mumbaiites during the monsoon — you know how this story goes. If you’re reading this for the first time, we’ll tell you all about the annual problem.

Issue persists

On July 26, 2005, Mumbai drowned in 944mm of rain. The deluge, referred to since as ‘26/7’ in the manner of a terrorist attack, killed more than 500 people. The downpour had caused a clogged, polluted Mithi river to overflow as it was unable to carry rain water to the sea.

Ten years later, on June 19, 2015, just a fraction of that downpour brought the city to a halt. The Mithi river’s level rose to 2.5 metres (the danger mark is 2.7 metres), and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) started evacuating people from the nearby shanties.

READ: Will repeat 2016 ‘flood-free monsoon’ feat, says Mumbai civic body

On June 2, 2017, when HT’s expert panel visited the Mithi River in BKC, and four other nullahs in the western suburbs, they found the situation was dangerously the same. Shrubs and garbage were seen floating, and silt had not been cleared of a river that flows through most of the densely populated western suburbs and central Mumbai.

Worse this year

The expert panel found the status of Mithi’s cleaning worse this year, compared to the years before. The BMC has completed just 20% of the cleaning work till May 25, data from the civic body showed. Last year, it had completed 76.09% of the work.

“Usually, the cleaning is at a better stage, when compared to other drains. This year, its condition is as bad as the rest,” said Raj Kumar Sharma, an activist and one of the panellists.

“Shrubs usually stick to the walls of the nullah. But we saw floating shrubs, which is a definite sign the work is incomplete. It will clog the drains and prevent water from flowing out to sea,” said DK Pathak, a former engineer with the solid waste management department.

Why it matters

Desilting and unclogging the Mithi river and other major drains is important as it increases their depth, and capacity, to hold rainwater. In fact, a probe into why Mumbai flooded in 2015 unearthed two major scams in the BMC’s storm water drains and the roads departments. Civic officials and contractors were allegedly involved in cutting corners and doing shoddy cleaning work. Action was taken, but two years later, it seems to have had little impact on the crucial process. The BMC has promised Mumbai won’t flood this year. But experts said a lot more needs to be done to ensure this — more clean-up rounds, removing shanties along nullahs, building retaining walls to keep water in check and widening the drains to increase their capacity.