Mumbai marooned, paralysed

  • HT Correspondents HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jun 20, 2015 01:11 IST

Torrential rain submerged large parts of Mumbai on Friday, bringing life to a standstill as local trains came to a grinding halt, traffic moved at a snail’s pace, flight operations were delayed, schools closed and the civic body’s promise of keeping the city afloat was washed away with just 24 hours of showers.

The downpour, which began on Thursday evening and continued throughout Friday, brought back memories of the July 26, 2005 deluge, when 994mm of rainfall left most of the city under water, as the administration had completely collapsed.

The situation was slightly better this time around, not because authorities were better prepared, but the rain was comparatively less — 283.4mm in the suburbs and 208.8mm in the island city. However, it was still the highest rainfall the city has received in 24 hours (between 8.30am on Thursday and 8.30am on Friday) in June in a decade.

Mumbaiites, meanwhile, were stranded as the city’s lifeline, the local trains, remained shut for most of Friday, with around 1,500 of the 2,923 services being cancelled on the Central Railway (CR) and Western Railway (WR). Overflowing nullahs and culverts near railway tracks resulted in water levels at several stations rising up to the platforms. Tracks were submerged at Matunga, Elphinstone Road, Lower Parel, Mahim, Bandra, Sion, Chunabhatti, Sandhurst Road, Currey Road, Sion, Kurla, Chinchpokli and Ghatkopar. At a few locations, railway officials had to break retaining walls to allow the water to flow.

The situation was not very different on the roads as water-logging was reported at 50 locations and massive traffic jams were witnessed on several roads.

Hindmata, Kings Circle, Worli, Mumbai Central, Kurla, Mankhurd, Santacruz, Andheri (East) and Dahisar were among the worst-affected areas, washing away the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) claims of being monsoon-prepared.

With autorickshaws and taxis refusing to ply on water-logged roads, many people had no option but to wade through knee-deep, and in some places waist-deep, water. The high tide at 2.29pm made matters worse.

Commercial activities in the country’s financial capital also came to a standstill, with traders’ organisations pegging losses of up to Rs500 crore, as most people could not reach their workplaces. Most city schools, too, stayed shut on Friday. Two people died of electrocution in rain-related accidents, while the Mithi river levels reached close to the danger mark of 2.7metre by Friday evening.

The civic body blamed the continuous heavy rainfall for the chaos. “The city received 10% of yearly rainfall in just 24 hours. The BMC was well prepared for monsoon. Nearly 300mm rainfall made the situation worse,” said Ajoy Mehta, BMC commissioner.

The incessant rainfall also hit air traffic at the Mumbai airport, as there was an average delay of 45 minutes with three flights diverted and four asked to abort landing. “Almost all flights were delayed. The average delay was around 45 minutes,” said a Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) spokesperson.

The Shiv Sena and BJP, who have been ruling the BMC for the past 20 years, had to face the ire of citizen groups and opposition parties for failure to manage the water dispersal in the city and spending crores on several projects to ensure there was no water-logging. The Sena also had to face major embarrassment because it was forced to cancel its foundation day celebrations on Friday.

In the past two decades, approximately Rs3,800 crore has been spent for the Brihanmumbai Storm Water Drain (BRIMSTOWAD) project, aimed at increasing drainage capacities and for better water dispersal. A few more crores have been spent on 176 water pumps and for the setting up of the nine pumping stations, of which only four are functional. However, everything seems to have failed on Friday.

Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray tried to defend the civic body, saying it could not be blamed for what happened in the city considering the rainfall of more than 280mm. However, the opposition targeted the civic body. Leader of Opposition in council, Dhananjay Munde, said the situation on Friday, where an international city came to a halt, showed the ineffective administration of the Shiv Sena in Mumbai.

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