Flooding is the new normal in the city
Last week saw Mumbai getting submerged again as it received heavy rainfall. Thousands of people were stranded in vehicles, trains, at railway stations or their workplaces as rail transport was shut for hours and the traffic on the roads came to a near halt. This is the second time this monsoon that the city came to a standstill and lakhs of people suffered. Unlike in the past, there wasn’t much visible anger among people this time. It is likely that the people have now started taking it for granted that every monsoon, the city will be shut a couple of times due to heavy waterlogging. Just like potholes on the roads, they can’t do anything about it.
For over a decade now, during every monsoon, the city’s roads are full of potholes, leading to huge traffic jams and once in a while, deaths due to the pock-marked roads. Every year, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) spends ₹3,000-₹4,000 crore on repairing and rebuilding roads. Then it also spends money on filing the potholes that come up on the roads, largely because of the poor quality of road construction. In just one decade, the Shiv Sena-BJP ruled (they were ruling it together for close to two decades till 2017) BMC spent thousands of crores of rupees on repairing and rebuilding roads in Mumbai. With the kind of money the BMC spends on roads, they would have probably been able to build roads that are as good as the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, which is in better shape even as it passes through difficult terrain, unlike Mumbai city. The quality of these roads is there for everyone to see.
However, citizens have largely stopped caring about it. Something similar seems to be happening with the Mumbai floods. In 2005, when the city saw unprecedented rainfall and the subsequent devastation, people were furious with the city and state governments. In 14 years, not much has changed but fewer questions are being raised.
Experts are pointing out how successive city and state governments have lacked the seriousness and vision when it comes to taking measures to prevent or control floods in Mumbai during the monsoon. Congress-NCP governments that ruled the state for three terms didn’t pay the subject the attention it deserved. The BJP-Sena alliance has been working on its ambitious agenda of building coastal roads and Metros but is yet to figure out how to handle basic issues such as preventing floods in the city. When it comes to the city’s new Development Plan, the focus of everybody involved is more on real estate construction and less on measures to prevent or control flooding of the city.
After last week’s situation in the city, the Mumbai civic body has (again) blamed it on the flooding of Mithi river and has now announced that they are looking at an option to build water holding ponds or underground reservoirs to store excessive water that flows from Tulsi and Vihar lakes and leads to flooding of Mithi river.
Ironically, there was little action when the natural spaces that could act as holding ponds were vanishing or being destroyed. The open spaces, grounds, natural water bodies, mangroves and salt pan lands in the city were holding the floodwater at several places. As most of these natural areas fell prey to real estate construction or slum encroachment, the city started witnessing more and more flooding. Now, as the BMC is planning to spend hundreds of crores of taxpayers money to build holding ponds and underwater reservoirs, the city and state authorities can still save some of the natural areas in the city — whether it is mangroves or salt pan lands or open spaces.