Monday Musings: Does Pune have the will to deal with river, canal encroachments?
The 2019 southwest monsoon, now on its return journey, has left a trail of death and destruction that has been truly unprecedented.
People, by the dozens, died in floods and wall collapses. Vehicles by the hundreds were submerged, not just on the roads, but also in parking lots. Entire slums and ground floor flats were inundated with dirty flood water and sludge.
And, in one of the worst monsoon-related emergencies in the city, the basement, lower basement and ground floor of the eight-storeyed Jupiter Hospital in Baner were waterlogged this season. Consequently, power had to be shut down and as many as 108 patients had to be shifted to other hospitals.
As was acknowledged by the hospital authorities, of the 108 patients, 30 were critical, which included 10 children. Imagine the agony of patients from the higher floors who had to be brought down by the stairs and then shifted to other hospitals.
Much of the destruction was centered around the Ambil odha, the natural stream (stream) that runs through localities such as Aryaneshwar, Parvati and Sahakarnagar. This natural stream overflowed with water, flooding the areas on either side and washing away cars and people, forcefully.
Agreed that the rainfall- of 100 mm in a matter of four hours- that occurred on the night of September 25 was unusually intense. But, the series of tragedies that have shaken up Pune this monsoon cannot be blamed on this rainfall.
What explains the death and destruction caused by the collapse of retaining walls and boundary walls? Did they give in easily because of substandard construction? After all, boundary walls are meant to be just markers- so why take the trouble of constructing them with all the necessary specifications? Is this the reason why they give in so easily?
On September 18 itself, exactly a week before the latest floods, this newspaper had highlighted how a Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) report prepared by a five-member committee had pointed out that encroachments on the rivers flowing through Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad had reduced the discharge carrying capacity of the rivers.
This committee was formed under the direction of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and on August 21, Pune Municipal Commissioner Saurabh Rao along with other officials, visited the encroachment sites.
Rao also blamed the encroachments in the Ambil Odha for the flooding that happened last week, as did former Pune municipal commissioner Mahesh Zagade who categorically described the overflowing of canals and streams due to heavy rain on the “municipal administration’s sin”. He called the civic administration “insensitive” and said that encroachments on various canals and natural streams in Pune city were the result of the illegal alterations allowed to favour building and road construction projects in the city.
He cited the flooding in Bavdhan and Baner areas in 2010, which, a field examination revealed, had occurred due the tampering with natural streams and canals of the Ram Nadi.
Zagade had even proposed appointing a committee headed by a high court judge to fix responsibility for tampering with the water bodies and streams in the city; but nothing happened.
The verdict is clear: High intensity rainfall due to climate change cannot be blamed entirely for the death and destruction that is happening during the monsoon. Merely cleaning drains and preparing the roads as a pre-monsoon activity is not going to suffice anymore.
Do the politicians of Pune and the civic administration have the will to clear the encroachments on the rivers, streams and canals of the city? Will Pune forget the nightmare once the monsoon season is over? Or will we see some strong action as a sound preventive measure for the next monsoon, and the one after that? Watch this space for updates from time to time.