Wanted: A new monsoon checklist for our cities
The visuals of senior BJP leader and deputy chief minister of Bihar, Sushil Modi being rescued by boat from the inundated streets of Patna on September 30 spoke volumes of how unprepared our cities have become for the annual monsoon.
While bursts of high intensity rainfall have become an acknowledged reality across the country, what is equally true is the need for a new monsoon checklist for our cities and our states. Merely cleaning the storm water drains and repairing the roads as a pre-monsoon activity is not going to suffice any longer.
A new set of hard questions need to be asked and acted upon: Why did a large number of people die in wall collapses in a number of cities?
On the night of September 25, Pune received 100 mm of rain in a matter of four hours. This led to a flash flood in the Sahakarnagar area where 18 people died; a few hundred cattle from the milk-supplying cowsheds in the city were washed away; homes of the poor and the middle class in slums and housing societies were waterlogged, and the underground parking of a large housing complex was flooded, damaging nearly 1,500 two-wheelers and more than 500 cars.
All of this was caused by the waters that gushed from a heavily constricted and encroached natural stream, the Ambil Odha. Pune municipal commissioner, Saurabh Rao, identified this as the bigger cause of the tragedy, and not the rainfall by itself.
Wall collapse incidents after heavy showers occurred in a number of cities and two of the biggest cases happened in Pune and Mumbai killing a total of 51 people between June 28 and July 3. In the Pune case, the report submitted by the Civil Engineering department of the reputable College of Engineering Pune (COEP) was revealing.
The COEP report clearly stated that the overall quality of construction of masonry of the retaining wall was poor; the wall was constructed “without engineering design consideration,” and structurally, it was found to be unsafe.
Boundary walls are meant to be mere markers and there is every possibility that in most of the killer wall collapses in the country, substandard quality of construction was the biggest cause.
On another front, rapid, poorly-controlled urbanisation has meant compromising with the ecology across Indian cities with encroachments in the rivers, dumping of debris, and, in extreme cases, even altering the course of rivers, streams and nullahs. The June 2013 cloudburst followed by landslides in Uttarakhand and the August 2018 floods in Kerala are cases in point.
One of the worst monsoon-related emergencies in Pune occurred this season when the basement, lower basement and ground floor of the eight-storeyed Jupiter Hospital in Baner were waterlogged. As many as 108 patients — 30 of them in critical condition, including 10 children — had to be shifted to other hospitals. The electricity had been cut off to prevent electrocution; patients, therefore, had to be brought down on stretchers and wheelchairs from the higher floors. Is this acceptable?
Another kind of monsoon-related tragedy that we saw this season was the heavy flooding in Satara, Sangli and Kolhapur districts in south Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka in the Krishna-Bhima river basin.
These floods followed the incessant rains in the region and coincided with the release of water from the Koyna, Radhanagari and Warna dams. The Maharashtra and Karnataka governments and irrigation department officials have promised better dam management after experts raised questions over poor dam management resulting in the devastating floods.
It is high time that the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, state governments and municipal corporations draw up a list with hard measures that need to be taken to make our cities and towns flood-ready for forthcoming monsoons.