Every urban settlement is a victim of its urbanization. Patna, the state capital of Bihar, has been facing an appalling state of water logging after just a few hours of heavy rainfall and there seems to be no end to the situation. Construction of buildings and apartments as well as undergoing projects of state roads, highways and flyovers in and around the city, are human-made risks worsening the situation further. For the last two and half decades, Patna has been expanding explosively. Residents have been bypassing legal norms assigned under the Public Works Department of the State Government and have constructed homes indiscriminately. The government has overlooked this explosive expansion, and there has been a state of policy paralysis at the urban governance level to work on an Integrated Urban Development Plan.
Between 1990 to 2005, there was a state of zero urban governance. And after 2005, Patna turned into a ‘real estate haven’ when a katha (1360 ft) of land started valuing up to ₹20-60 lakh. Local private property owners then started selling their land and earning huge profits. If the government had controlled the sale and purchase of land resources, maybe today Patna wouldn’t have been facing such waterlogging.
Pratibha Singh, a student who submitted her master thesis on the Patna water-logging situation, points out that inadequate drainage, a saucer shaped topography, low lying areas and improper garbage disposal are the leading causes of water logging in the city. Randhir Kumar Singh, an environmentalist and expert in hydrology, further elaborates that the creation of an urban heat island along with the lack of a porous layer in the soil due to urbanisation and the rainfall intensity is creating a burden on the environment which the city cannot withstand. Encroachment beside nalas (drains) and an inadequate drainage system, add to the city’s woes. He further states, “There is a need to update the early warning systems, build reservoirs and dams for extra water storage and strengthen drainage systems. The development of a green belt may also help to reduce runoff.”
Bihar has been blessed with wetlands, a dream for its agricultural economy for the fertile land it provides. Today, four major perennial wetlands are waterlogged zones. The first zone is extreme east of Patna Saheb and south to the New Bypass 30, near and around Mahatma Gandhi Setu. What was once a major part of unidentified and un-demarcated wetlands acting as a ‘water sink’ for a new urban sprawl, has now been taken over in the urbanisation boom. The situation is likewise for whole Kankarbagh area and habitations in its proximity. The landscape north of the Bailey Road connecting to Danapur and the Army Cantonment is fully occupied by sky-rocketing apartments and homes with no or poor drainage. Nitish Kumar, an engineer and resident states, “The encroachment of wetland along with zero maintenance of existing drainage systems and no government planning for construction of new townships or colonies has led us into this situation.”
The third zone is the Ganga Diara zone. Ganga has been shifting northward, leaving a vast piece of land. This land would have been an easy route to divert mass water during the monsoon. However, high profile individuals with political, judicial, bureaucratic and business backgrounds have now occupied this Gangetic bed, leaving no way to drain rain water into Ganga.
The fourth zone is Meethapur Farms, an area that was also a part of unidentified and demarcated wetlands offering a livelihood to locals surrounding the habitat through fisheries and Trapa (Singhara) farming. Apart from livelihood, it was also acting as an area to disperse excess water for Meethapur and areas in proximity. The Bihar government destroyed the precious ecology by developing a bus stand and other educational institutions on it. The step was a big policy blunder, as it ignored natural environment and ecology for blind development measures. It is disappointing to see how the Bihar Government has been treating our wetland ecosystems which are widely known for their rich productivity and ‘disaster risk reduction’.
Prashant Jha, an assistant professor at the Central University of Bihar, showed concern regarding the disposal of solid waste and high level of construction in the city. The demolition of wetlands along with a lack of drainage management systems such as separate storm water drainage in vulnerable areas is a huge concern. He also comments upon the death of wetlands and other natural drains. However, his biggest complaint is the lack of political will and priority and an even greater lack of public awareness, which he believes to be the most significant contributor to the situation the city is in.
Government policies do not address the growing instability of the hydrological cycle in the state. Every household has submersible boring, and the government has failed to supply potable drinking water. The government is only watching as a spectator with blindfolded eyes. The Patna Municipal Cooperation (PMC) is a local self-government with zero governance.
Kunal Bharti, a social and political activist and an IAS aspirant, presented an extended analysis. He says, “Floods repeatedly draw our attention to the fact that our urban sprawls have not paid adequate attention to the existing natural water bodies. For the last two decades, urban water bodies have been a victim of unplanned urbanization in India, because of which they face several threats. Factors like encroachment onto wetlands, pollution, the absence of administrative framework and illegal mining activities are creating significant problems. The government does not have data on the total number of urban water bodies in the country, except for a few cities who do so, because of court rulings. Further, the Union Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has still not identified wetlands or the risks to them due to pollution of river water.”
With circumstances like these, it is no wonder that Patna and most of the country is witnessing freak climatic episodes ranging from droughts to floods. We need to reinforce the concepts of afforestation, creating a cleaning force for garbage removal, improving our flood water disposal systems and the water harvesting technology for the next few years. That is the only way, Patna and other parts of the country can successfully combat the problems it is facing.