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Recipe for disaster: our policymakers’ cookbook

It’s a week to take a look at how policy makers force disasters upon hapless citizens. Two cases make the point.

delhi Updated: Sep 12, 2010 23:09 IST
Bharati Chaturvedi

It’s a week to take a look at how policy makers force disasters upon hapless citizens. Two cases make the point.

The first is the controversy around the Navi Mumbai airport. The environmental argument against is building the airport will destroy a rich mangrove area. The argument for it is that this is the best place for the airport. But as many of us will recall, mangroves are not some green patches that we should preserve for sentimental reasons.

Repeated reports remind us that mangroves are the best protection in case of a severe tidal wave, cyclone and even tsunamis. Mangroves don’t promise to mitigate the impact of all of these, but they lessen the damage. Remember how parts of Tamil Nadu, such as Muthupet, with a rich Mangrove cover, saw much less damage that many other parts where the coast was bare.

Let’s face it, Mumbai, set along the sea, is vulnerable to all kinds of natural weather-based calamities, particularly as impacts of climate change become more pronounced. Who can ever forget the freak 2005 floods? Cutting down the mangroves won’t give Mumbai relief — it will make the city even more vulnerable. The choice is not between an airport and the mangroves but between an airport and public safety.

Delhi sends misery downstream

If airports and mangroves seem like exceptional cases, think about the Yamuna’s condition. The water levels in the Yamuna in Delhi rose perilously high to touch 206.82 meters, which was just a little lower than the 1995 mark of 206.93 meters. Yet, several accounts suggest the damage in Delhi might have been more than in 1995, because of the many building that have come up on the river bed since, pushing the water further away.

This was predicted. What’s worse, Delhi’s decision to build has impacted thousands of people downstream all the way to Itawah, about 300 kilometers away, because the rising waters, which otherwise naturally overflow on the river bed, have been stopped by the buildings and flowed downstream instead. How’s that for manufacturing misery?