Five years since Gurujam, agencies meant to resolve city’s rain mess are adding to its woes

In its aftermath, plan after plan was made by the Haryana government to make Gurugram “rain ready”, to carry away rainwater from the highways and busy intersections, to ensure that the city never got inundated that badly again. Five years on, all those plans have come to naught
Commuters were stuck on roads due to severe waterlogging, despite only 52mm of rainfall. (HT Archive)
Commuters were stuck on roads due to severe waterlogging, despite only 52mm of rainfall. (HT Archive)
Published on Jul 27, 2021 11:23 PM IST
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By Kartik Kumar, Gurugram

On July 28, 2016, Gurugram received just 52mm of rain. While that was not much when compared to other rain days — like the 19th of this month when the city received 185mm of rain — it was enough to bring Gurugram to its knees; enough to overwhelm a skeletal drainage network; enough to cause the infamous “Gurujam” when commuters were stuck on the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway for nearly two days; enough to flood all arterial roads, enough to inundate houses, and enough to wash away the moniker of “Millennium City”.

In its aftermath, plan after plan was made by the Haryana government to make Gurugram “rain ready”, to carry away rainwater from the highways and busy intersections, to ensure that the city never got inundated that badly again. Five years on, all those plans have come to naught. On July 19, 185mm of rain left the city battered yet again; four underpasses were flooded, low-lying homes and offices were inundated, and multiple road cave-ins were reported from across the city.

In 2016, the main stormwater drain, the Badshahpur drain, overflowed near Hero Honda Chowk and the severe waterlogging had a domino effect. The arterial roads were soon clogged and they took on knee-deep water. Many commuters had no option but to abandon their vehicles on the roadside and complete their journey on foot.

In the aftermath of the severe flooding, the Haryana government identified three main solutions to the problem. The widening of the Badshahpur drain at Khandsa village; the construction of a parallel drain to reduce the carrying capacity of the overfilled Badshahpur drain; and the formation of a new agency to end the multiplicity of agencies and streamline work through proper coordination.

The three solutions are either still on paper, under construction or have resulted in minimal impact.

While the construction of a parallel drain next to the Badshahpur drain, to reduce its carrying capacity, remains on paper, the widening of the Badshahpur drain is currently underway. The formation of a new agency, the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA), has failed to evoke any change in the workings of the city and has only compounded the prevailing issues.

GMDA’s chief engineer, Pardeep Kumar, said since 2018, when the GMDA started its drainage operations, the number of citywide critical points has consistently reduced each year. According to him, this reflects the “on-ground success”.

“Recently, the construction of check dams and cleaning of creeks led to minimal waterlogging on Golf Course Road, even when the rest of the city was underwater following the heavy rain. We are aiming to replicate such localised success measures across the city and ensure that all plans formulated to fix the city’s drainage issues, post-Gurujam, are completed,” said Kumar.

The deputy commissioner of Gurugram, Yash Garg, said since ”Gurujam”, the administration has carried out preparations, both preventive as well as long-term, to stem waterlogging.

“Prior to this monsoon, 113 points were identified across the city, where counter waterlogging measures were initiated. Along with taking preventative measures, the administration is also working with all public bodies to set up infrastructure and revive the natural drainage channels to fix the city’s drainage issues,” said Garg.

Experts called on the authorities to come up with a comprehensive citywide plan to combat waterlogging.

“The biggest problem with Gurugram is that drainage solutions so far have been done according to residential pockets rather a citywide comprehensive one. In Gurugram, drainage has been fixed according to individual needs of the developer colonies, townships, Huda colonies, societies and condominiums. Instead, a master drainage plan needs to be made, one that creates natural rainwater holding structures, and subsequently, addresses localised drainage issues,” said Sanjukkta Bhaduri, professor of urban planning and dean research at the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi.

Widening of Badshahpur drain

In the immediate aftermath of ‘Gurujam’, a 600m stretch of the Badshahpur drain at Khandsa village, where the width of the 27km stormwater drain reduced from 30 metres to a mere 10 metres. The Badshahpur drain carries nearly 70% of Gurugram’s rainwater and this reduction in width was identified as the main cause for the flooding of the expressway in 2016.

The drain water overflowed onto National Highway-48 (NH-48) and areas near Hero Honda Chowk, completely cutting that area off from the rest of the city.

In the three years that followed, the government acquired from villagers most of the land required for widening the drain. However, a 33m stretch of Khandsa village, where the carrying capacity of the Badshahpur drain reduces from 2,300 cusecs to 800 cusecs, remained stuck in litigation and could be acquired only this May, after the GMDA invoked the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

The GMDA started widening that portion last month but by then, the monsoon reached the city. So the construction of a retention wall will not happen only after September.

“The 33m stretch was acquired only by end-May and the widening work started immediately. Due to the monsoon, work had to be halted indefinitely. A retaining wall that will ensure the drain water does not overflow onto the highway will be built in September, after the rains subside,” said Pradeep Kumar, chief engineer, GMDA.

Parallel drain

The Badshahpur drain has a limited capacity, as evidenced from the spell of heavy rain on July 19, when the drain was filled to the brim in four hours. With the rain continuing for over 15 hours that day, the administration cautioned residents to brace for waterlogging, unless the drains water level recedes.

However, the construction of a parallel drain continues to remain on paper. The latest development in this regard took place last December when GMDA officials said they have formulated a plan to build the drain in collaboration with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).

According to the plan, a culvert will link the Badshahpur drain at Vatika Chowk with the new drain that will flow along the Southern Peripheral Road (SPR) and Dwarka Expressway.

The project, estimated to cost 50 crore, will carry the extra run-off from the Badshahpur drain up to Choma village, thereby reducing the load on the main drain by 40-45%, said officials.

Kumar said the authority will construct the parallel drain from Vatika Chowk till the cloverleaf on NH-48, near Central Peripheral Road (CPR), from where the NHAI will construct the remaining portion. “Due to Covid-19, cost of construction materials has increased by 15-20%. Hence, the DNIT [detailed notice inviting tender] had to be revised. We will be floating tenders for this project by September and construction will start soon after,” he said.

Ineffective nodal authority

After the ”Gurujam”, the Haryana government decided to form a new public authority that will serve bring about better coordination among various public bodies, end multiplicity, and fast-track major development projects, without having to wait for a nod from Chandigarh.

A year later, the GMDA came into being. But four years on, the GMDA is riddled with problems of its own that have only added to the city’s civic mess.

The main problem affecting the functioning of GMDA is its skewed revenue model, which has left it struggling for funds, thereby stalling development projects. The main source of GMDA’s revenue is the funds it receives from the Department of Town and Country Planning (DTCP), Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG), and Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HSIIDC) — the very agencies it was formed to govern. This has affected key infra projects, including drainage.

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in January announced that the GMDA is running at a 300 crore loss. Since its formation, the main source of its revenue has been the external development charges (EDC) receipts from the DTCP, amounting to around 250 crore a year, which is equivalent to the amount the MCG rakes in from property taxes.

“On paper, the concept of GMDA makes complete sense in regards to clarity in communication and helming a joint effort for large-scale projects such as drainage augmentation and cleaning. The biggest problem, however, is GMDA’s financial model. For want of funds, it is heavily reliant on other public bodies, which gives those agencies leverage to do things their own way,” said a senior GMDA official, asking not to be named.

According to the GMDA’s working structure, it has multiple divisions such as infra 1 and infra 2, with the former largely looking after roads and the latter looking after drains, leading to multiple positions, where one would suffice. Realising this, last September, then GMDA chief executive officer (CEO) VS Kundu formulated a think tank to bridge the communication gap between departments.

The GMDA has also faced multiple issues of jurisdiction with various departments such as NHAI, MCG, DTCP, and HSVP, which have resulted in confusion and stalled progress on major projects.

As for drainage, the MCG and GMDA formed separate drainage committees to identify reasons and solutions to the city’s waterlogging mess after the rains on August 19 and 20 last year, when seven underpasses were flooded and the city’s most high-profile stretch, the Golf Course Road, had gone underwater.

Due to lack of communication, the MCG and GMDA committees worked separately for nearly two months before realising that they were working on the same objective and subsequently, formed a joint committee for the task.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021