HT Monsoon Audit: Drains cleaner, but flooding likely in parts of Mumbai
History repeats itself first as tragedy second as farce, so the saying goes. In the context of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) monsoon preparedness, these words have been ringing true since the 2005 deluge.
Like every year, the BMC is patting itself on the back for completing desilting of stormwater drains (nullahs). It is also not unusual for the BMC to see its claim washed away with the first monsoon, or pre-monsoon, showers.
But an expert opinion on BMC’s claim about desilting of nullahs can clear the air.
To achieve this, HT has roped in four experts — two former BMC officers, an activist and a civil engineering professor — for its annual monsoon audit; and their findings make for grim reading once again. However, they observed that the situation is a tad better than previous year.
The HT panel examined maintenance of nine nullahs and five roads on June 2. In the first of a three-part series, the panel reviews desilting of four drains in the central suburbs — at Dharavi, Rafiq Nagar in Chembur, Chunnabhatti and Somaiyya Hospital in Sion.
The average score for the four audited drains was a mediocre 6.3 out of 10 marks.
Waste of money?
The BMC has spent about ₹70 crore on desilting the 287-km of Mumbai’s nullahs over two months. The panel observed that the civic body’s performance of desilting and widening of the four drains has improved this year. But, the BMC has failed to keep the nullahs clean by not removing encroachments near them. This has led to sewage being released into the nullahs. The civic body has also failed to spread awareness over dumping of trash in them. If the four audited nullahs clog this monsoon, parts of Dadar and Matunga railway stations, King’s Circle at Wadala, Sion, Kurla, Dharavi, Chembur and Pratiksha Nagar are likely to be flooded.
This year, the BMC started cleaning nullahs on April 1 and wound up on May 31. Facing heat since the deluge of 2005 in which more than 500 died and more recently the death of a renowned gastroenterologist during last year’s downpour, the BMC has gone into overdrive to make amends this year. But is it enough?
‘99% work completed’
The civic body said as of May 31 it had completed 99% of desilting. The Mithi river has been completely cleaned, claimed the BMC. Vijay Singhal, additional municipal commissioner of the stormwater drains department, said, “I examined nullahs on Tuesday. The work is almost complete. But trash thrown by residents again clogs up drains.”
The ground reality
Nullahs are supposed carry stormwater to the rivers or sea. But they also double up as sewage carriers. According to the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MMC) Act, no structures can come up within six metres of nullahs. But the drains at Rafiq Nagar, Somaiyya Hospital, and Dharavi have huts abutting them.
Former BMC official Girish Patil, a member of the HT panel, said, “At many places, haphazardly constructed hutments clog the banks of the nullahs. Each house discharges untreated sewage into the nullah. The stench is unbearable.”
Another member of the audit team, activist Vidya Vaidya said, “Standing on the banks of these nullahs for 10 minutes, we spotted at least three people walking over to its retaining wall and dumping plastic bottles, household waste and vegetable waste into the drain.”
The Dharavi nullah is dotted with hutments and makeshift shops, which use the nullahs as waste basket. The situation at Somaiyya nullah was no different. Nandkumar Salvi, former chief engineer of the stormwater drains department, said, “While desilting is over, the nullahs at many places do not have proper retaining walls. This provides easier access to litterbugs.”
In addition, a water pipeline hinders flow of Chunnabhatti and Somaiyya drains at some places.
Experts advised a change in BMC’s approach to overcome the trouble. “Nullah cleaning has to take place throughout the year, at regular intervals,” said Salvi. Vaidya suggested that the BMC spread awareness against littering.
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