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What Mumbai Needs To Learn From Tokyo About Dealing With Floods

Last evening, on my friends’ WhatsApp group, the only topic discussed was the Mumbai rains. Probably the only reason was that three of my friends in the WhatsApp group, including my younger brother, are in Mumbai. My best friend’s sister also stays in Mumbai. They were coordinating with each other as to which road to take and how to reach home safely. No one said it, but all of us were thinking about the 2005 Mumbai floods. My brother reached home safely after two hours in traffic. All my other friends are safe as well.

It rained like crazy yesterday, 331 mm in a matter of few hours! In 2005, the rainfall was 911 mm in 24 hours. If the rain had not stopped yesterday…

Photo by Satyabrata Tripathy/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Today morning, looking at the TV news, I saw an impassioned journalist pointing at thousands of Mumbaikars walking on the train tracks, near Sion Station in Mumbai. He kept asking, have we learnt nothing from 2005? What does the BMC do with its 37 thousand crore budget?

This got me thinking. I am an engineer and a masters in psychology. So here is my take.

Let me start with a story, In Sep 1991, a devastating typhoon/cyclone hit Tokyo. Thirty thousand homes were destroyed and 52 people died. So the Japanese started thinking. They started building the world’s largest storm drainage system. The drainage system took 13 years to build: 1993–2006, at the cost of 2.6 billion USD!

In July 2005, the Mumbai floods happened. 1094 died. 550 crores were lost, and these are just the official figures. Now, 12 years later, a similar event has happened! Half a dozen have died! So what did the BMC (Brihhanmumbai Municipal Corporation) do?

Spurting out rage is not the objective of my blog here. It is the bloody numbers. It has been repeatedly said that the BMC does not use its money.

So where does it go? The answer to that, I don’t know. But after about an hour’s research into the entire matter this is what I found:

  1. The BMC spends around 25–30% of its annual budget on capital expenditure on infrastructure development. This is the expenditure which is supposed to make the storm drainage system.
  2. I took that number as 25% and found out that ₹69,302 crore (conservatively) was earmarked for infrastructure development over the past 13 yearly budgets.
  3. Now let’s say 25% of the capital expenditure is to be spent on storm drainage. Then we had ₹17,325.5 crore available over 13 years only for storm drainage.
  4. Less than half of all capital expenditure budget has been spent in the last 13 years; even then ₹8,600 crore should have been spent on storm drainage.

I have a solution.

Do what Tokyo did, in Mumbai.

Now Tokyo and Mumbai are very different cities but here are some numbers:

Both cities are prone to flooding — Tokyo due to high rainfall and typhoons and Mumbai due to very high rainfall and bad drainage systems.

If we built something like what Tokyo has built for its drainage systems, it would cost ₹16,629 crore (2.6 billion USD at the exchange rate of INR 64 per USD). Obviously, it would cost less in India due to the difference in costs of labour, etc. So taking the 2015 figures from the World Bank for the PPP (price parity) exchange rate of INR 17.12 per USD, the cost would be ₹4,451 crore.

As we just established – conservatively, mind you – the BMC was to spend ₹17,325.5 crore for drainage systems over 13 years and has probably spent ₹8,600 crore on storm drainage. With ₹8,600 crore, we could have easily covered the cost of building a system like that. Japan started in the 90s, when the technology available was older and slower, and it took them 13 years to build it. If we started in 2005, when Japan was about to finish the project, we could have used their know how and the latest technology, and still be ready with the system before yesterday’s mishap.

Photo by Shashi S Kashyap/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The last point is extremely important because we can not compare the ground realities of Tokyo and Mumbai. So planning, getting technology, getting regulations passed and approvals and then actually building the project would not have taken more than a decade.

We already know now that the money was not the problem. The approvals would have happened because of the fresh devastation of the 2005 floods. The technology and know how was available. Japan always supports India’s infrastructure projects, e.g. Delhi Metro, so that would not have been a problem.

So then what was the problem?

Potential Problem 1: The BMC and the GOI (Government of India) and organisations like EIL (Engineers India Limited — India’s official engineering think tank) had no idea what to do. Well, now you have an idea. Start making it happen.

Potential Problem 2: Lethargy of the system. Politicians, bureaucrats and our corrupt state of affairs. I have no solution for that.

So unless the people wake up and demand what they need, there will be more deaths and more floods.

But then, I am a realist as well.

I know there are smart people in our administration and I know they do not budge despite people’s demands (that pot-hole song about Mumbai comes to mind, after such a prompt response from the BMC).

It took me two hours to do the research and suggest a solution. I am sure these guys can do better.

The only answer is political will. Demonetisation happened, right? Things can happen.

I just hope they start happening soon.

Photo by Shashi S Kashyap/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

In 2015, my brother was working in Chennai and he got stuck in the floods. My parents and I wanted him to move out of Chennai to some safe place. He moved to Hyderabad and is now in Mumbai.

I want my brother to leave Mumbai now and move to Delhi or Chandigarh or some other safe place. Except, I just remembered: Chandigarh was flooded some time back, and Gujarat and Assam and Bihar!

WTF, Government of India.


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