Life-giving water turning a bane for our city streets

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 17 Jun 2018 09:59:18


“The way our cities get crippled and sink under knee-deep water even after a short spell of rain, it looks we are living in 17th century where even basic drainage and pumping facilities are pipe dreams. And that in a country whose drainage system was exemplary and ahead of its times way back 5000 years ago as seen in the urban planning of the Indus Valley cities,” feels Anshuman Bhargava State Editor of the MP Editions of The Hitavada.









AFTER the parching summer, monsoon is greeted across the nation with hope and solace. But the same monsoon rains become a reason for worry and disgust once our cities start getting inundated. It is India’s bane and irony that despite the life-giving monsoon showers that bless our fields in their bounty, we end up hating rains. The month of June that starts with drops happiness ends in disdain by August. In these two months, our streets and lanes become slimy, filthy, smelly, puddle-ridden, potholed and slushy. We loath to walk on these roads even as we have few options to exercise.

They remain this way for months on end before the municipal workers languidly try to resurrect things by removing the garbage and patching up the craters as we wait for the same story of chaos and water-logging next year. No long-term plan is drawn up to set things right forever. We wait year after year for some solution but nothing comes up except false promises and stopgap arrangements.

Lack of funds is a staple excuse that is brought into use whenever there is heightened demand for the basic facilities of life. We are convinced and pacified but no one knows how life will be next monsoon. No one expects a miracle, given space and resource constraints we grapple with, and the attitude of our leaders that we know, but perhaps there is no civilised country in the world where even the basic run-off and sewerage facilities are in such bad shape.

The way our cities get crippled and sink under knee-deep water even after a short spell of rain, it looks we are living in the 17 th century where even basic drainage and pumping facilities are pipe dreams. And that in a country whose drainage system was exemplary and ahead of its times way back 5000 years ago as seen in the urban planning of the Indus Valley cities.

How could we slink back so much in time in an era of such aggressive technological progress of the 21st century? For one, our population has grown uncontrollably and our cities are choking. None of the cities was planned to anticipate such humungous surge of people in a span of 20-30 years.
They are now flabbergasted and in grave want of total realignment of the drainage and water storming system that is decades or even centuries old. Realignment and relaying of pipelines and de-silting of nullahs and drains is a lengthy and complex process that not only needs multiple permissions and coordination between departments but also carries legal implications and poses logistic challenges since most of our cities have grown haphazardly in disregard to land use patterns and ecological necessities.

To re-plan a city it needs large-scale displacement and reconstruction. Technically speaking, it is well-nigh impossible to find out some effective, tangible and sustainable solution to our water-logging problem that at times takes ominous proportions. It is too late in the day to turn back the clock and start things anew.

Water-logging and submergence of large areas of the city is not a Madhya Pradesh-specific scenario. We see most of our cities from Hyderabad, Bengaluru to Guwahati, Agartala, Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi suffering the same fate year after year. A little rain throws life out of gear and causes loss to the tune of millions by way of the beating business, tourism and communication have to take. No one seems to have any plan up his sleeves to change the situation.

Every spell of rain turns the main thoroughfares of cities into rivers and houses into swimming pools. Every year thousands of people living in low-lying areas are marooned due to flash floods. Unfortunately, even the new areas being developed in city peripheries are not being built adequately equipped to handle rain exigencies.

Even a comparatively newer and planned urban scape like Gurgaon has to bear water-logging following just a couple of hours of rain. Things like the right incline, angling and gradation of roads are not given their due place and priority.

The specificities of the channels/chambers mandatorily needed to carry water away from collating on the streets are not given much importance in planning or implementation. Moreover, in most cities landfill is rampant and the end of ravines, ditches, small valleys and the natural streams to give way to roads and buildings have also led to the loss of the traditional depositories and sinks where water could flow or get absorbed. Most of the lakes have died or rather systematically plundered.

All the natural ecosystems that help a city population survive and soak the excesses have gone due to years of neglect and high-handedness. The drains are not dug deep enough and their regular cleaning is not taken up.

Limited measures are taken up in small tranches that only allow temporary relief in a limited area. The bigger picture remains the same spectre that engenders fear and despondency. Water-logging is not only inconvenient, but the murky standing water that stagnates for long is also a source of several infections. We are reluctant to learn from our past mistakes and prove laggards in innovating or adopting high-end technology to ameliorate people’s problems in rains. Our red tape and lack of political vision coupled with corruption have got our backs to the wall.

On the one hand, we have immense water scarcity with taps in cities running dry almost all around the year, while on the other hand due to lack of proper water management we are losing thousands of litres of the precious commodity. No major city in the world has been built without more than adequate and ample planning to drain excess water from public places and bring the same to better use. Most cities were built with provisions to accommodate the greater needs of a growing future population. In India, all plans are short-term nip and tuck measures taken with an eye on the vote bank and election dates.

The onus also falls on us individuals to a great extent regarding the way we behave and conduct our life. We chock our drains with plastic garbage. We build our houses without leaving any passage for letting out rainwater, let alone conserving it. Our colonies are narrow, slushy and haphazardly planned with little provision schemed beforehand for allowing easy flow of water in view of growing population pressure the future portends.

We are so used to wading through difficulties in our day to day life that even the major inconveniences don’t bother most of us anymore because we have learnt to consider it our fate. We no longer clamour for our rights but settle gratefully for whatever little we get because we ourselves eat into the rights of others. When there is the paucity of resources, everyone fends for himself more fiercely.

This has further relieved the administrative machinery from acting smart and acting fast. A glimpse at the situation of our traffic condition on the city roads is enough to scare the wit out of a foreigner and paints a poor picture of our systemic failures. There is complete chaos in peak hours on most main roads and we seem to have reached a dead end where from there is no tangible solution to smoothen traffic flow. No one seems to have any idea.

There is no scope for road expansion. Flyovers take years to be conceived and built and even they are not sure shot solutions to traffic snarls and jams. Most traffic signals don’t work many times a day and even if they work they are flouted. Those which work see a mile long queue of vehicles in front of them that keeps roads choked forever. The police are helpless and ill-equipped.

Traffic violators brandish their heft and political linkages when caught. This is the genesis of lawlessness. There are regular brawls and scuffles with the police that impede implementation of the law.
Drunk driving is rampant. Roads are narrowed by encroachers and damaged by diggings that go on all around the year.

Unruly parking further limits space for vehicular movement.
There are frequent incidents of road rage, speeding and accident deaths. The case of water logging in our cities is much similar to our traffic situation. In the West and in cities of developed nations like Japan or Australia no settlement is allowed until proper drainage and road mapping is done. That has to be the basic criteria. It is a near crisis situation if water doesn’t drain automatically after a spell of a hard shower.

People can’t imagine they have to walk to their house splashing and groping through knee deep water. In India, first people build houses wherever they can and then start thinking about road planning, water exit points and drainage network. The whole approach is regressive. It must be remembered that once a colony or a township settles and grows, it is very difficult to change the basic underpinnings.

If they are wrongly planned, the whole edifice survives on that wrong premise of planning and the implications are borne later. Whatever is needed has to be planned and executed beforehand. That is the only way we can safeguard our future cities from getting drowned.

That is the only road map to the elusive ‘development’ we so grandly talk of. It is a shame that in an era of such advanced scientific and technological development we are still not able to get our fundamentals of urban living right.