Drained of all hope, NCR cities left to sink or swim
Roads turned into lakes, homes were flooded, walls fell, and a sea of traffic was marooned in several parts of the national capital region (NCR) on Wednesday after heavy rains exposed, yet again, the fragile state of the civic infrastructure and the lack of preparedness for a season that exposes such flaws every year.
The flooding was particularly severe in Gurugram, where underpasses in some of the city’s most upscale neighbourhoods resembled a river, forcing at least two motorists to escape from their drowning cars and swim to safety, and rafts to be deployed.
In Delhi, traffic backed up for several kilometres on arterial stretches on the Ring Road – especially at Ashram, Dhaula Kuan and near AIIMS – while access roads to the airport accumulated waist-deep waters. In several parts of the town, the water logging disabled cars and buses that exacerbated the jams.
“Portions of roads were completely submerged in water, which slowed down vehicular movement on arterial stretches. Our officials were stationed to direct traffic, but in many areas, the situation was quite bad,” said a senior Delhi traffic police official, asking not to be named.
The flooding also affected people who were at home. In residential colonies such as Krishna Nagar, Amar Colony, Model Town, Prem Nagar in Kirari, Sant Nagar and Laxmi Vihar in Burari, water entered the ground floor of several homes.
“It doesn’t look like we are living in the Capital. Every year we have to experience this pain of water logging. It’s been raining since morning and the streets of colonies are completely submerged in water. It’s because of choked drains and sewer lines. Agencies keep blaming each other but it’s the public that suffers,” said BS Vohra, a resident of Krishna Nagar and the president, East Delhi RWAs Joint Front.
Civic bodies reported uprooted trees in a several areas and seven cars were damaged after the boundary wall of a school in the Saket’s J block collapsed. The Minto Road under-bridge, which has become a symbol of the Delhi’s vulnerability to rain, however, had unexpectedly little water.
The trigger for the chaos was 43mm of rain (average across five stations) that poured on Delhi between 8.30am and 5.30pm. Gurugram recorded 118mm of rain, close to 20% of the precipitation seen on an average in an entire year. Rainfall recorded below 15mm is considered light, 15-64.5mm is moderate and above 64.5mm is heavy.
Weather officials said the rains are being caused by two low pressure bands over northwest and central India: the first is the monsoon trough, and the second due to cyclonic circulations over Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
“A low pressure area has formed and the monsoon trough is also near its normal position. A lot of rain is expected over central and NW India because of these two conditions,” said RK Jenamani, senior scientist, IMD.
Moderate to heavy rain is likely in NCR on Thursday. Central India may get similar conditions for 3-4 days. For Delhi, Wednesday’s rain is likely to make up for the 14% cumulative rainfall deficit this season.
The national capital, however, fared better than its neighbour. In addition to the Golf Course Road underpasses (they are a network of three), four others – two each in Cyber City and along the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway – were flooded and had to be closed for traffic.
In an interview to HT during the monsoon in 2019, Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar said Gurugram’s monsoon flooding problem had “been taken care of”. “All underpasses have been completed. The drainage system has been upgraded in areas that were waterlogged last time and led to Gurugram being branded as ‘Gurujam’. To further mitigate the problem, we will be building check dams in the surrounding Aravalli hills and create artificial lakes. That will not only stop the rush of rainwater to Gurugram but also recharge the groundwater. The plan is to develop some of the lakes as tourist gardens,” he said
Municipal Corporation of Gurugram chief engineer Raman Sharma said the level of rainwater at Najafgarh drain was “extremely high”, and, as a result, a large portion of Gurugram’s main drain -- the Badshahpur drain -- flowed back on to the roads, leaving the city without any storm water outlet.
“The volume of rain was much higher than usual as a result of which there was severe waterlogging across the city. We initiated combating measures as soon as rains started and in most parts of the city, and by 6pm, barring low-lying areas, rainwater was cleared. More than 150 GMDA (Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority) and MCG officials are still on-ground and efforts are ongoing for clearing rainwater from remaining areas by midnight,” said Sharma.
One person, who misjudged the amount of water as he drove into the underpass along the Golf Course Road in his Hyundai hatchback, said he got out as the vehicle began drowning. “When I reached the middle of the underpass, I found myself submerged in water. The engine stopped, the brakes stopped working and I feared the automatic system might get stuck, so I immediately rushed out of the car and had to swim to cross the stretch,” said Amit Kumar, a resident of MG Road.
“We started drainage operations around 11am. The underpasses at IFFCO Chowk, Cyberhub, Genpact Chowk were cleared by 4pm while the underpass at Rajiv Chowk was cleared by 5pm. The underpass at Bristol Chowk we are aiming to clear by 7pm. At the underpass in DLF Phase 1, the level of rainwater is extremely high. More than 5 crore kilolitres of rainwater has accumulated and it may take us till tomorrow to clear it,” said Satyawan Samriwal, the assistant divisional fire official in Gurugram.
With Covid-19 having forced most office-goers, particularly in the IT hub of Gurugram, to work from home, people said the chaos wrought by the rains may have led to scenes similar to what is now known as the Guru-jam of 2016. Heavy rain drowned several main intersections and arterial roads at the time, stranding commuters for as long as 20 hours.