Year after year, Mumbai faces unbelievable damage and death. Why can't this be stopped?
As long-time residents of Mumbai, there is an annual checklist that my family maintains to welcome the monsoon, a season which is simultaneously beloved and dreaded.
It includes the following: power backups, enough rations, protective gear including umbrellas and raincoats, and must-have plastic bags that cover our most precious gadgets.
For the last couple of days, the checklist has come in handy. With 100 kmph winds and a flood like situation, after receiving up to 330 mm of rainfall, it is almost as if the city, which provides bread and butter to millions, has lost its patience and distanced itself from its people.
Hundreds stranded in trains, houses collapsing, over a hundred trees uprooted and a high tide of over 4 feet hitting Marine Drive — these events unfolded within 48 hours. Even the state-run JJ hospital witnessed ankle-deep water in its premises.
Year after year Mumbai’s spirit is tested and the city never fails to get back on its feet but what goes unnoticed is unprecedented damage caused to human lives, livelihoods and infrastructure.
So, what can we do and for how long can we blame the authorities?
The Better India speaks to five citizens who have been living in the city for several years now. Here’s what they have to say:
Ask any resident about what has changed in the last few decades, and the common answers will be: space crunch, encroachment on ecologies and population explosion. Sure, the city welcomes everyone with open arms and has become a melting pot of culture but what about the burden it has put on the infrastructure?
Rapid urbanisation and concretisation have significantly reduced green cover and mangroves. Add to that, the problem of debris in water bodies. The Mithi River is a prime example of systematic depletion.
Construction activities, whether of buildings or railway lines, directly put pressure on the stormwater drainage system that was built by the British a century ago. The drains’ capacity is 25 mm of rain per hour in a city that records up to 1400 mm of rain/hour.
When Mumbai saw the devastating 2005 floods, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) proposed The Brimstowad Project to increase the drainage capacity to 50 mm.
15 years and Rs 4,000 crore later, the project is still incomplete and as per a report by Moneycontrol, of the 58 projects (of widening drains), only 27 have been completed.
So, what are immediate solutions?
Dr Ajit Gokhale, an expert on watershed management, explains types of flooding and what can be done to prevent them.
“Upstream flooding is a man-made cause. Due to human interventions, water cannot flow from one point to another and gets accumulated. This could be a check dam, building, embankment, speed baker and even a road divider. Developers also raise the building level to keep themselves safe during torrential rains but that, in turn, affects the entire area,” he mentions.
From rainwater harvesting to respecting the stream, here are some of the solutions he has:
Keeping The City Clean
Remember the picture of Juhu beach that went viral last year, when the monsoons were in full swing? The beach was covered in tonnes of plastic and other waste that the sea threw out during high tides. The year before that, Marine Drive witnessed a similar situation. This is the same waste that we throw daily on railway tracks, roads and every public place without realising the repercussions.
Plastic waste was a major reason the 2005 floods as it choked the drains across the city and the then Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had banned plastic bags.
Ashish Parekh, a language teacher, is a regular jogger at Juhu beach. She too underlines the need to keep surroundings clean. Every time there is flooding in her area, all she sees is drains filled with plastic bags.
“We, as citizens, need to take preventive measures and refrain from littering,” she tells The Better India. “It’s high time we took a leaf out of our school environmental book, starting with keeping our surroundings clean,” she says.
Nisarg Bodara, a resident of Tardeo in South Mumbai, raises a similar point and says climate change may not be in our hands but what we can do is find a solution to store the excess water in our water bodies.
“We are an island city that is filled with rivers and lakes that can store thousands of litres of water. Yet, after the monsoon, there is water scarcity. We need a solution where water bodies can store excess water. The first is to keep them garbage-free and clean. Treating garbage properly can also prevent waterlogging,” he says.
“My immediate reaction to a potential disaster should not be ‘what, again?’ We often blame the government and civic authorities but it’s not a one-way street. Citizens also need to be held responsible. We have enough solutions, what we need is better implementation,” says Ronit Jadhav, a resident from Bandra.
Shyam Lata, the founder of Levo Perzonas and SL Associates, agrees with Ronit. says that there is a dire need for accountability from the authorities. Shyam has been living in the city for over three decades and has seen the monsoon situation worsen despite the rapid development and technological advancements.
“The BMC is one of the richest municipal corporations but how much have they worked on improving the infrastructure? And what about the potholes that get filled every year but last only for a few days? Have the low-lying areas like Milan and Khar subways been addressed? It is high time concerned authorities start functioning in their full capacity,” he says.
As pointed out by Shyam, roads in Mumbai are riddled with potholes and though the civic authorities start working on them, at the onset of the monsoon, they reappear.
Calling the activity a ‘superficial treatment’, Structural Engineer Jaswant Arlekar told India Today, “We are dispensing superficial treatment without addressing the root cause. The long-term solution will be to have roads with no potholes but what we need is the means and technology to achieve this. We need to find the willingness to do it.”
Both Ronit and Shyam believe that a better mechanism to hold the concerned authorities accountable is needed if we have to find a concrete solution.
While several solutions exist, the challenge lies in its implementation. To be fair, the civic authorities in Mumbai also face certain limitations including getting permissions, space to build new drains and so on.
As pointed out by the Mumbaikars, a joint effort between citizens and authorities can bring some relief in future, and also shorten my monsoon checklist.
Edited by Gayatri Mishra