India Meteorological Department data showed the city recorded 112mm of rain in the 24 hours till 8:30am. (Photo by Raj K Raj / Hindustan Times)(Hindustan Times)
India Meteorological Department data showed the city recorded 112mm of rain in the 24 hours till 8:30am. (Photo by Raj K Raj / Hindustan Times)(Hindustan Times)

Delhi: Rain sinks Capital, again

As rush hour began, arterial stretches were jammed as waist-deep waters disabled many vehicles. Delhi Traffic Police said in all, 90 locations had heavy waterlogging.
By Pankhuri Yadav, Vatsala Shrangi, New Delhi
UPDATED ON SEP 02, 2021 12:54 AM IST

Delhi woke up to a second day of flooded streets, homes, shops and even hospitals, after intense morning showers on Wednesday brought back the city’s chronic and seemingly irresolvable misery of waterlogging.

India Meteorological Department (IMD) data showed the city recorded 112mm of rain in the 24 hours till 8:30am, and another 75.6mm fell in the three hours after that, precipitating chaos for the morning rush hour. This is the most amount of rain recorded in a single day in September in 19 years. On average, the entire month typically records 125.1mm amount of rain.

Wednesday’s deluge however, was by no measure a record for 24-hour period, and 100mm-plus rain days have occurred this year on multiple occasions in May, July and August, making the day particularly emblematic of the Capital’s inability to deal with even moderate amounts of rainfall.

As rush hour began, arterial stretches were jammed as waist-deep waters disabled many vehicles. Crucial spots at and around Minto Road, ITO, Dhaula Kuan, Moolchand were among those badly hit, as were high-profile Lutyens enclaves such as Chanakyapuri, Shanti Path and Connaught Place.

Delhi Traffic Police said in all, 90 locations had heavy waterlogging. In one instance, videos shot by commuters showed water coming down in cascades from a flyover, prompting ridicule from some who described it as the Capital’s own Niagara falls.

“I got ready early this morning since I knew I would get late if I left at the usual time. But the moment I stepped out, I was horrified. There was knee-deep water on the road and I dropped the idea of going to work altogether,” said Ritesh, who goes only by his first name. He lives in Uttam Nagar in west Delhi.

Experts and officials said the problems comprise fundamental issues with the civic infrastructure, how it is maintained and, lately, the weather itself. The responsibility of roads and drains are split between the municipal corporations and Delhi government departments such as Public Works Department (PWD). Each year, both blame each other for not doing enough to address the issue – although, unusually, officials from both sides blamed the weather instead.

Equally important, experts said, are some fundamental problems in the city’s creaking drainage network – which a 2016 study by IIT-Delhi found to be mismanaged, choked and, at some places, even encroached upon by illegal construction.

“The most important thing is that the city needs a proper drainage system. The drainage plan prepared by IIT-Delhi should be implemented at the earliest,” said former MCD commissioner KS Mehra.

Sarvagya Srivastava, the former engineer-in-chief of Delhi PWD, said much of the problem is because there are no sewage lines, due to which stormwater drains double up as sewers. “Stormwater drains along arterial roads are designed accounting for the road capacity. Waterlogging is bound to happen if it carries additional water, including sewage, from residential neighbourhoods,” he said.

And then, there is the rain itself. “We have been recording short and intense bouts of rains, sometimes around 100mm rainfall in just 24 hours. Typically, this much precipitation would occur over a period of 10 to 15 days,” said Mahesh Palawat, vice president, Skymet Weather, a private forecasting agency.

These short and intense bursts dump more water than the city’s drains are in a condition to withstand. “This time, there have been more instances of 100mm-plus rainfall days as compared to the last few years. The existing drainage system is designed for 50mm rainfall in a day. Beyond that, there’s bound to be waterlogging,” said a senior PWD official, asking not to be named.

A spokesperson said the Delhi government “will do whatever it can to resolve the problem of waterlogging”.

“Delhi has received record rainfall in the past two days. It is because of the monsoon preparations and precautions taken by the Delhi government in the past few months that the infamous Minto Bridge did not witness waterlogging to the extent of a bus getting inundated in it. Apart from this, it was observed that there was no waterlogging in several other parts of the city as well. In the future, we will strive to reach a level that no matter how much it rains, no roads in Delhi would witness any waterlogging and the problems related to it,” the spokesperson said.

The city has around 150 pain points that get flooded every time it rains. On Wednesday, traffic officials had to place diversion at several of these spots as waterlogging made them impossible to cross. “Wherever required, the traffic was diverted onto other parallel roads. The underpasses were barricaded for safety,” said a senior police official, who did not wish to be named.

Gurvinder Singh Saluja, a resident of Old Rajinder Nagar, shared photos of water flowing into his basement where he runs his office. “The sewer lines in the area have not been laid fully. I had to call a plumber to get the manhole checked. It had loads of malba (debris) and solid waste in it. We had to keep draining out water from the basement. If water keeps seeping in during every rain, the foundation of the houses will weaken over the years. The civic agencies must resolve these issue before they come seeking votes,” said Saluja.

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