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It could happen again

It rained recommendations after the July 26, 2005, deluge, but few flood-prevention projects are ready or even on track. As deadlines are missed and costs skyrocket, there’s little to save the city from going under again.

mumbai Updated: Jul 26, 2010 01:07 IST

Committees asked to study Mumbai’s flooding problems have made innumerable recommendations over the last three decades. But there’s little to show for it on the ground.

Most projects are delayed, leading to severe cost and implementation problems. The first report was submitted in 1975 by the Natu Committee constituted after the flood of 1974, when it rained 575 mm over a 24-hour period.

Then there was the flood of 1985, which led to another study and more recommendations submitted in 1993.

The latest was the Chitale Committee that studied the July 26, 2005, deluge and suggested solutions to ensure Mumbai never went under again. However, five years after the tragedy that killed 546 Mumbaiites, several recommendations of the committee are yet to become a reality.

There is an urgent need to revamp the drainage system, but the Brihanmumbai Stormwater Drains (BRIMSTOWAD) project — to increase rain-handling capacity from 25 mm per hour to 50 mm — is far from complete. First recommended in 1993, the BRIMSTOWAD has got yet another deadline — May 2012. And its cost has risen three-fold to Rs 3,500 crore in the last three years.

“It is disappointing that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) couldn’t even complete the city’s contour mapping in four years. Only once it is complete can other efforts, such as flood zoning, be started,” said Madhavrao Chitale, chairman of the Chitale Committee. Flood zoning is the mapping of each area’s flood risk and basing all development on the findings.

Two pumping stations, of the eight planned, are all the city has to show for all the recommendations made. Even among these, the one at Haji Ali is functioning only at 20 per cent capacity. “It’s high time the BMC expedites the process. That only two pumping stations have been commissioned so far is ridiculous,” said Chitale.

PR Sanglikar, former civic chief engineer (stormwater drains), said the BMC is not serious about the projects. “Eighty per cent of flood devastation could be prevented if even basic desilting and reworking of the drainage system is done all year round,” he added.

Standing Committee Chairman Rahul Shewale said BRIMSTOWAD is the BMC’s priority and they would take it up on a war footing. “Much of it will be complete by December,” he said.

“There has been a delay, but we hope to complete BRIMSTOWAD by May 2012,” said Additional Municipal Commissioner Aseem Gupta.

Surviving the Deluge

‘I feared for my unborn child’

Salma Shaikh (26) is one of the few whose house overlooks a river. But, she wishes that wasn’t the case. For, when the waters of the Mithi rose on July 26, 2005, it carried away her home and her belongings. Shaikh, a Ganesh Pada resident, can never forget that day. “I was nine months pregnant. When the waters rose, I feared not just for myself but for the unborn child,” she said. Luckily, she escaped and delivered the child three days later.

Despite having to start again from scratch, she continues to live by the riverside. “The BMC hasn’t told us where they will accommodate us.”

‘No food, water for 3 days’

Savitri Sharma (39), a resident of Krantinagar for 18 years, recalled: “I was in my house with my four children. The water came in through the windows and I shifted my children onto a raised platform. I was now neck deep in water and couldn’t open the door. I screamed for help and after a long time two youths pushed the door open. We moved to a neighbour’s house on the first floor.”

Her daughter Pramila (17) adds: “We didn’t have water or food for three days. The entire colony was submerged. When the water receded, we were moved to a school nearby. There was no electricity for 15 days.”

‘A lot more needs to be done’

Air India Colony is a low-lying area. The ground floors of many of its buildings were under water, as was a bus on July 26, 2005. Seven watchmen of the colony drowned in their cabins. Residents were left without electricity for two weeks.

The colony’s office-bearers have raised the ground level, which has prevented too much water from accumulating. However, this has resulted in the second phase of the colony at a lower level, causing flooding there. Ajay Chowdhary (21), a resident, said: “Even moderate rainfall leads to flooding. Overall, the area has improved but a lot more needs to be done.”