Mumbai houses more than 18.4 million people. The city accounts for nearly 46% of the country’s economy, contributing 30% to income tax collections, 60% of customs duty collections, and 40% of the nation’s foreign trade. In addition to its economic and demographic uniqueness, there is the famous “Mumbaikar spirit” that makes this multilingual, multicultural hub stand out.
And yet, each year, these very Mumbaikars watch helplessly as their city drowns in flood-like conditions and politics is played over dead bodies of their kin.
On August 29 this year, the same tragedy played all over again: The Mumbai floods hit. Almost 20 lives were lost, in addition to the huge loss of infrastructure and the inconvenience caused to the common man. So, Mumbaikars did what they always do: they helped each other out by providing shelter to the needy, cried over the deaths, repaired their broken buildings and waited for the injuries to heal. The national and print media covered the tragedy for a few days and then moved on to more sensational topics.
What next? Should Mumbaikars forget the episode and wait for another repetition next year?
For the uninitiated, the two major causes of the flood are the antiquated drainage system of Mumbai and the ever-shrinking Mithi river which serves as the main outlet of rainwater. I have linked an article that was published in 2007. Sadly, the causes remain unchanged and unlooked at ever since. Other causes such as the decade-long delay in stormwater disposal systems, lack of de-silting of river water, encroachments over mangroves, corruption in approval and granting of contracts, etc more or less aggravate the primary causes. The question, however, remains: who is accountable for this disaster and the lives lost?
1. If we look at the civic infrastructure of Mumbai, the BMC is directly responsible for the the Brihanmumbai Storm Water Drainage (BRIMSTOWAD) plan aimed at doubling the storm-water carrying capacity of Mumbai’s drainage system. This is a two-decade-old plan, revived after 2005, which has seen less than 50% implementation and an almost four-fold increase in its cost.
2. If we look at the encroachments on the rivers by slums and the blockage of drains and clogging of river-water due to garbage dumps and sewage, the citizens themselves are also responsible for reducing the city’s capacity to drain out rainwater.
3. The forest cover of Mumbai, especially the mangroves, are primarily destroyed by the construction developers and builders. These trees served as the buffer that absorbed the rainwater but in their absence, river-water overflows.
What causes these floods? This is a question that has been answered time and again, more so since the fateful floods of July 26, 2005. Case studies have been done, documentaries have been made, projects planned, funds allocated – what not, and still, no change reflects on the ground level. This clearly shows that the issue is not in finding out the causes behind this flooding or planning out a future course of action, the issue lies purely in implementing those plans and utilizing those funds.
Even though it is primarily the BMC’s responsibility to look after the city’s civic infrastructure, the citizens can at least hold them accountable: ask questions, participate in civic discussions, lodge complaints with the authorities and follow up. In addition, they can take personal responsibility to fulfil their fundamental duty to protect the environment and public property by ensuring that our garbage is properly disposed, making informed choices when investing in new development projects, ensuring that manholes near their homes and workplaces are covered, etc.
Every citizen that contributes to solving the city’s problems is essentially saving precious lives and preventing an inconvenience for many. Also, in a democratic republic like ours, the ultimate power is vested in its citizens, exercised through their elected representatives. But with such power also come certain civic duties. Even if the authorities fail to fulfill their duties, the citizens can step up to fulfill theirs and bring about the much-needed change.
Mumbaikars show exemplary resilience and brotherhood in times of crisis, but in order to do justice to their beloved city, they also need to put in some effort throughout the year so that such crises may be avoided altogether in future.
Another version of this article was previously posted here.