ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Mumbai Floods: A Year Later

Mumbai Floods: A Year Later

A Year Later Mumbai is a city that usually ignores its history. Anniversaries have remained largely uncommemorated, that is, till recently. The events and stories of July 26 last year remain indelibly imprinted in the city

MUMBAI FLOODS

A Year Later

M
umbai is a city that usually ignores its history. Anniversaries have remained largely uncommemorated, that is, till recently. The events and stories of July 26 last year remain indelibly imprinted in the city’s history as well as in the personal history of most citizens. The heavy rainfall (944 mm recorded in the suburbs) led to a breakdown of public services; caused floods in several low-lying areas; cut off many parts of the city from one another, the city from the rest of the country and led to the loss of several lives, 447 in the city itself with 57 people still unaccounted for.

The report of the Concerned Citizens’ Commission (CCC), an innovative citizen-led initiative has been released in time to coincide with the first anniversary of the Mumbai floods. It has sought to document the events that occurred and followed in the wake of July 26 and to nail the absence of accountability in official circles. The report serves as a useful compendium in detailing the mechanisms for disaster management operational

Economic and Political Weekly July 29, 2006

in the city that were largely missing when most required and also lists valuable pointers for the future.

The list of inadequacies points to not only immediate failings but also to warnings cited in the recent past, and the wilful bypassing of key developmental norms. As the full-scale of the disaster unravelled, and as early warnings such as the flash floods in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in the afternoon of July 26 were ignored, it was evident that the government’s much-touted disaster management plan, which could have alleviated citizens’ suffering to an extent, existed only on paper. Communication and public transport struggled, blaming inadequate information for their lack of preparation; equally vitally, the meteorological department’s forecasts were woefully off target.

But in the pursuit of short-term development gains at the cost of the city’s sustainability, the government, whether the state government or the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, and the other official agencies responsible for the city’s management, must take a lion’s share of the blame. They are to be blamed for the untrammelled urbanisation allowed by the flouting and revising of the FSI norms; constant modification of building norms (even of the Slum Redevelopment Scheme) that facilitated unabated construction and concretisation, especially in its suburbs; the development of the Bandra-Kurla Complex and the extension of the airport runway that in turn led to the narrowing and congestion of the Mithi river, land encroachments and construction of illegal hutments and colonies adjacent to the river; the inadequate drainage system and the blocking over of the storm water drains even as state-of-the-art flyovers and expressways have been envisioned, and land reclamation that continues to denude the city’s mangroves, mudflats and creeks which make up its natural drainage systems. In very many instances, the multiplicity of agencies also led to a deliberate lack of coordination, for instance, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) ran roughshod over the municipal authority’s guidelines on road building and extension. What compounds the tragedy and the lack of government response is that it chose to ignore findings of several reports whose dictums could have proved invaluable. These include the Rani Jadhav Committee report of the heavy rainfall of 2000, the Paranjape and the later Atkins report on public transport in the 1990s and the Brihanmumbai Storm Water Drainage (BRIMSTOWAD) report of 1993.

The aftermath of the deluge saw several other tragedies, most of these affecting the poorer parts of the city, whether it is the landslide in Saki Naka or the outbreak of rain-related diseases that claimed over 50 lives. The CCC report estimates that the city suffered damages of nearly Rs 640 crore. Worse, relief and rehabilitation measures were poorly coordinated and did not reach the actual victims; many slum dwellers, who were first victims of the city’s slumlords, were rendered victims twice over as the lack of any documentation meant they could not avail of state compensation.

The CCC report offers its citizens a panoramic detailing of the Mumbai floods; it is also empowering as the many inadequacies and all-round failure of official agencies is clearly apparent. It offers answers that call for sacrifices and careful planning in the short run. But too often, citizens have been let down by the governments they elect to power. The government was profuse in its assurance that a repeat would not happen but such promises have been belied the very next year. And perhaps the only bright spot the report offers, as also seen in the subsequent tragedy Mumbai faced (the July 7 serial train blasts), is that in the absence of responsible governance, it was the aware citizen that chose to help herself

EPW
and her fellow citizen.

Economic and Political Weekly July 29, 2006

Dear reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top