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Mumbai rains show that India is becoming a country of drowning cities

Heavy rains brought Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, to a standstill for several days. As it limps back to normalcy, the focus is back on urban city planning – or the lack of it.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2017 21:48 IST
Chetan Chauhan
Chetan Chauhan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Mumbai rains,Mumbai,Mumbai floods
Vehicles ply on a waterlogged road after heavy rains left Mumbai submerged on Wednesday. (PTI Photo)

First Bengaluru, then Chandigarh, and now Mumbai – the three Indian cities to have been submerged in recent times following heavy rain have something more in common than the misery they were subjected to. All three have their own urban planning – or the lack of it – to blame.

According to the latest report of the Wetlands Atlas of India, all three cities have abysmally failed in protecting their water bodies that normally would have absorbed or drained out excess water. The deluge in the wake of heavy downpour was therefore more man-made than an ‘act of God’.

According to the report, over half of the water bodies in the three cities have simply vanished.

Experts say the water bodies have either been encroached upon, reclaimed or their flow channels into rivers have been blocked by unplanned development. The few that have survived are not doing much better. Many have become virtual garbage dumps. When it rains, the garbage – including plastic – overflows and chokes the drains, impeding the drainage of storm water.

Other studies have found marshlands that once stretched across 5,000 hectares in Chennai – which was marooned two years ago – have shrunk to one-tenth of their original size. Mumbai’s wetlands in Sewri and other areas are being used to dump solid wastes. Open and natural spaces around Chandigarh are being transformed into concrete blocks of residential colonies.

Heavy downpour is aggravating matters further.

Mumbai has received 290 mm of rain in two days since August 29 — the equivalent of what it normally gets over a period of 11 days in the monsoon. Bengaluru received the heaviest showers in the last 127 years on August 14. It rained 25 times more than it rains normally during the mosoon season.

Chandigarh came to halt on July 27 with a sudden downpour of 121 mm of rain in six hours, the highest in a decade and 23 times higher of the daily average. A month later, on August 22, it rained even more. The city received 130mm of rainfall that day.

Officials say the extreme weather could be because of climate change.

“Our data shows that such events would increase in coming years as monsoon will become more difficult to predict,” says R Krishnan of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune.

But the consequences of the rains are being magnified by the ineptness of our civic authorities. Though the annual rainfall in the cities of Bengaluru, Chennai and Mumbai has declined over the past 20 years, floods are being triggered more often by sudden spurts of rain.

So, better urban planning and protection of natural drainage systems are the only way to prevent the recurrence of flooding.

“Our advice to the municipal bodies is incorporate such events in the city planning or Mumbai like devastation will be common across cities”, Krishnan added.

First Published: Aug 30, 2017 20:00 IST