Stop Blaming It On The Monsoon: Here’s Why Mumbai Drowns Every Year During Rains

Posted on July 7, 2015 in Politics, Society

By Garima Kushwaha:

One of the picturesque and sumptuous gothic-style building opposite to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (a UNESCO World heritage site) is the building of Brihanmumbai Mahanagar Palika, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. Its unique architectural, cultural and historical value makes it a local landmark and contributes to the image and identity of the city. However, the eminence and efficacy of the country’s largest civic body housed in this building (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, BMC) is defeated when it fails to serve the city every monsoon.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Every monsoon, Mumbai, the financial city of India, effectively gets paralyzed due to heavy rains. The city experiences extreme water logging, flooding and power cuts at public places including roads, railways stations, subways and airports. Most educational institutes, courts and offices shut down, bringing the whole city to a standstill. This year Mumbai received the highest rains ever in June. This is the time of the year when the effect of BMC’s yearlong actions and efforts are reviewed.

BMC’s main effort towards resolving waterlogging and flooding problem in the city started after the incident of the heaviest rainfall of all time on 26th July 2005, when at least 1,058 people’s died in deluge, while 435 more lost their lives due to flood related diseases. Two years after that 2005 deluge, BMC formulated the Greater Mumbai disaster management action plan. However, all the projects in the plan progressed at snail’s pace over the last seven years, resulting in nothing but cost escalation of the project. A 2013 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General said that only 30 per cent of the work has been completed with cost escalations over Rs.2,708.89 cr.

BMC also initiated the Brihanmumbai Stormwater Drainage (BRIMSTOWAD) project, to upgrade the city’s 100-year-old drainage system and construct new pumping stations. This project was proposed and planned in 1985 but was not acted upon due to lack of funds till the 2005 flood, resulting in estimated cost to double from Rs. 600 cr to Rs. 1200 cr. This project is still running way behind schedule. Out of eight planned pumping stations, only four are ready after nine years of the BRIMSTOWAD project’s announcement. Two are still being constructed and the remaining two are still on paper. Meanwhile, delays in execution resulted an increase in the project cost to Rs.4,000cr from the initial Rs.1,200cr.

BMC, inspite of being the richest civic body in Asia with Rs 33,514 cr budget is accused of being unable to bring any relief to mumbaikars. “We have delayed this for years and it is criminal. There is no excuse for the delay. The BMC is one of the richest civic bodies and they cannot say lack of funding caused the delay,” Urban planning and design expert Ashok Datar told NDTV.

Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray inaugurated the new Rs.116cr Love Grove pumping station and Rs.112cr Cleveland Bunder pumping station in Worli, on June, 17th. These pumps were supposed to ease waterlogging in areas like Worli, Prabhadevi, Mahalaxmi, Dadar etc, but just two days later during heavy downpour, these pumps were found to be inadequate. Also, increasing the width of the drainage network, as per the plan, is still incomplete in most parts of Mumbai.

BMC also formed The Disaster Management Cell in 2005 to co-ordinate relief and rescue efforts, but the building for City Institute of Disaster Management (CIDM) awaited inauguration for years after its construction.

In 2015 BMC budget, BMC mostly presented the repeat of plans and promises that it could not implement in the previous year, for all major departments like roads and traffic, storm water drains, health, fire and education.

Regarding cleaning of drains or nullahs, although BMC claimed to have unclogged all the drains, all low-lying areas were flooded again this year. “There is a huge scam in the nullah cleaning work. Only the big nullahs appeared to be clean. Roadside drains and small nullahs were not cleaned at all. The BMC administration needs to clarify where the Rs150cr was spent,” said Devendra Amberkar, leader of the opposition in the BMC.

It is clear that the civic body made many promises about improving the city’s infrastructure after the 2005 deluge but nothing has yet materialized. And, now 10 years after the 2005 rains, the havoc by current rains in Mumbai clearly exposed the fiasco of BMC’s action plan.

What is most concerning is that all the BMC’s initiatives and efforts are counter-reactive measures, like upgradation of its disaster management cell, setting up a monsoon website to guide citizens about traffic and water logging situation, installing dewatering pumps at flood-prone spots etc., instead of preventive measures. These preventive measures often include forest and wetland restoration, which should be prioritized over the land grab that this city has become.

With patience running out in Mumbai’s population, it is high time for BMC to clean up its act and deliver on the promises that the people of Mumbai desperately deserve from their city.