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Mumbai’s capacity to deal with nature’s challenges is falling with every passing year

Mumbai is an efficient city in some ways, but this reputation depends on fair weather. It turns into a soggy mess with the arrival of a monsoon. This year the season has begun with the spectacular collapse of a pedestrian bridge on a crucial railway line in Andheri, causing injuries and overall urban paralysis. Not even a year has passed since the ghastly stampede on a foot overbridge at Elphinstone Road station, that took over 20 lives. The recurrent disasters involving infrastructure are proof of the indifference among policymakers to the city’s needs, even as they speak of a ‘global standard’ of living. It is fair to ask whether Mumbai is prepared, after the passage of a dozen years, to meet a disaster such as the July 2005 flooding caused by 99.4 cm of rain in a 24-hour period. The city continues to attract a large number of people looking for opportunity — the population rose from 11.9 million in 2001 to 18.4 million a decade later. But urban managers, led by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, have not invested enough in new infrastructure and have done a shoddy job of maintaining the old. If Maharashtra has to achieve higher rates of economic growth and touch an ambitious 10%, as Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis desires, Mumbai’s infrastructure planning should be in the hands of an empowered custodian who can secure the cooperation of all urban agencies.

A return to nature is needed to relieve Mumbai of its flooding woes. According to one estimate, the city’s Mithi river, blocked by debris and garbage, has lost about 60% of its catchment to development. The setting up of a Supreme Court monitoring committee has not helped much. It will take resolute measures to stop the release of sewage and industrial chemicals into the Mithi, and retrieve lost mangroves. A cleaner river connected to functional drainage can aid in the speedy removal of flood waters, and improve the environment. Yet, there are other basic challenges which are particularly worrisome to less affluent residents. In a 2015 study, the World Bank found that half of the poor did not consider moving out of flood-prone areas, because of the uncertainty of living in a new place with severe social disruptions and reduced access to education and health facilities. What this underscores is the need to make the best use of all available space, densify development where feasible, and improve conditions in situ. It is welcome that a joint safety audit with the IIT will be conducted on public infrastructure, in the wake of the bridge collapse. But such inspections must be regularly carried out and quick remedial steps taken.

  • Infrastructure
  • Disaster and disaster management.

The most common observations during heavy rains lashing the cities are flooding, water logging, road-rail-air traffic halted etc. Similar observations are made in Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru which slow down during rains.

Causes for flooding of cities


Though to some extent, the weather is responsible for the disruptions caused. But as it is a natural phenomenon, proper care and appropriate decisions can be taken so that right implementation is done during such unexpected emergencies.

No lessons learnt

However, rainfall is expected very year and it is known that there have been previous incidences of flooding of cities from which lessons can be learnt. For example, in Mumbai, rains in 2005 were 3 times than in 2017. But nothing has been learnt from the past.

Drainage blockage

The drive of development taking in Mumbai and other urban areas is inviting the disasters. They are natural disasters aggravated by man-made haphazard development of cities. Such kind of ‘city flooding’ is not heard of in other countries.

What US faced was hurricane which is absolute natural phenomenon. Flood in rivers, cyclones are universal. But flood in cities and urban areas is recent Indian phenomenon. However, it is not even flood but drainage congestion.

The problem for accepting it as a drainage problem and not as flood means that there will be accountability arisen on the concerned department.

Natural drainages are blocked because of unplanned development in cities. They are filled with mud and stones and roads and buildings are built over it. If the city gets concretized, the water will not seep down the ground, thereby leading to flooding of urban infrastructure.

No plans to evolve

The drainage system in place in most of the cities of India is from the 20th century during British regime. This has not been substantially changed to resume, alter or modify according to the growing requirements of the larger population. Thus, the builders are to be blamed for and also the people who allow them to build wherever and whatever they like. As a result of this, they build in low lying areas.

Lack of preparation

Various agencies that have to plan and implement- state government departments, Municipal Corporation, response agencies- they have no cohesion between them.

There is State Disaster Management Authority and State Disaster Response Force. But the quality of the people and the training required is not upto standards as seen in NDMA and NDRF. Neither they are getting experts with them nor are they getting young recruits like NDRF. Most of the state governments are not so serious about it and it is mostly about filling the gap. Along with it, latest technology is available but it is not utilized.

Almost negligible power to local government

Issue of urban governance has two aspects

  • local government empowerment
  • motivation to local government to take decisions

The technology is available to delineate and map all the drainage systems. There is satellite imagery data through BHUVAN and ministry of urban development had launched National Urban Information System to geo-Reference all the natural infrastructure and natural drains. These are also delineated and shown in master plan. However, the local level management is not able to take the benefits of the same.

Poor urban planning

Government has constructed large projects in river bed.  The new AP capital city is nuilt in an area which is highly flood prone.

Disaster management

As far as NDRF is concerned, there is technology, equipment and training about it. Whenever the information is given, they are ready to take action. But the cooperation from the state government, metrological departments, equipment available at the place and help of NGOs, there is lack of communication and coordination.

What needs to be done?

  • Lot of unauthorized activities are done in drainage areas. Natural nalas are covered with habitation, jhuggis. If these are allowed and water is able to take natural course, there will be prevention of flooding.
  • Municipalities have to be empowered. There is Delhi municipality and also there is Delhi Jal Board which handles the sewerage system and water supply system. So these are interlinked issues where sewage-drainage-water supply are intertwined.
  • In every state there is multiplicity of agencies and therefore municipality has become one of the agency and not the agency. It is time that all the agencies dealing with developmental activities and governance framework are integrated with municipalities concerned. But this will take a while as for 70 years there have gone bypassing the local government. It was because of programmes like BRGF and JNNURM and now AMRUT that municipalities are coming back to some position.
  • The long term and medium term resolution lies in putting integrated coordinated governance framework for cities.
  • Mumbai has problem of high tides. When there are high tides and rain water comes into it, it results in problem of back flow. A simple solution suggested so many times is that there should be gates which take water back to the sea. Only two places have such gates and 100 places don’t have it to prevent the back flow. By saying that such infrastructure is expensive shows the inability to truly analyse the cost-benefit ratio when high damage is done to infrastructure and lives post the flood.
  • Along with drainage, the rivers are not kept clean. People should be taught not to put garbage in rivers, plastics shouldn’t be thrown in rivers. Strong actions should be taken against those who do it. Other countries don’t see this problem of plastics being put in the drainage system and choking it. So there is a need to take action before the flood occurs.
  • There is little participation by the communities. Only state and central government cannot deal with such a big problem. If communities are involved, given the task, responsibilities and resources including finance beforehand, then there will be prompt action.
  • There is a need for a water centric approach which has been missing completely. To develop cities, water is not taken into account as a factor for development. There are courses in architecture, special universities about urban planning but drainage channel is not taken into consideration while building infrastructure. So until unless urban development becomes water centric, this problem is bound to come.
  • There is no linkage between the forecast of rain and forecast of flood. There is no system of flood forecasting or flood warning for cities. The elaborate system of flood forecasting in central water commission is for rivers. What is require is the model of linking flooding with rainfall. This model is developed internationally in academic institutions but not in India.


Now drainage is a problem faced for few days of heavy rainfall in a city. Once it is over, it will be forgotten till next year. So there is no botheration about learning lessons.

What is true for cities across the world is not true for India. India has a complex habitation pattern. In Delhi, 3/4th of habitation is called unauthorized colonies and are haphazard development. Hence, much of pre-disaster management work has to be done which includes urban planning.

Rains in the city are not in control of single agency. The cities handle last part of drains, i.e. tertiary drains. Before it there is state highway and national highway within the city and because the roads and drains are intertwined, the drains are not independent of the roads. So when national highways are made, there is least botheration about the drainage system. So there is a need to revisit the planning on one hand and governance as far as cities are concerned.

source : hindu news

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