I have in my earlier blog dealt exclusively on the causes of flooding in various parts of Chennai; that piece was on the floods that took place in November 2015; but in retrospect it looks like a trailer and worse was to come a bit later; it seems the massive flooding that happened in the first week of December 2015, is a real game changer!
Let’s look at some of the vicious highlights of this Himalayan tragedy!
a) One really doesn’t know the real casualty figures of the latest floods; some sources say it could run into several hundreds; many houses where the flood waters entered might hold dead bodies and this will be known only when these are opened. Some say the initial violent gush of water in Adyar itself brought in its wake several bodies and nobody seems to know the whole truth on this.
b) In a shocking incident, a leading hospital has reported avoidable death of 18 patients due to disruption of power due to flooding in Adyar;I will write more elaborately on this later!
c) Families have parted; life’s possessions lost; several nights sleep lost; daily routine turned inside out; education and work severely affected; exams, weddings, and interviews postponed; why, even last rites for the departed could not be performed for about three to four days; health complications have arisen; travels restricted; safe air and water has become scarce; electricity disrupted in several places; documents lost; factories and offices remain shut; productivity losses are staggering; loss of wages for small time vendors and self- employed; prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed; normal development activity has completely stalled.
In these dark days, there are a few bright spots though; the spirit of camaraderie among the public, an attitude of ‘you first’ when it comes to availing relief,enthusiastic voluntary service by the youth and old, tireless and selfless service by various socialservice bodies and Hindu, Christian and Muslim organizations and NGO’s,corporates, self-less and heroic service by lower level staff of Corporation, Police, Fire & Rescue dept., EB, Government hospitals, personnel of NDRF, army, navy, airforce and the extraordinary role of social media.
Most important take away is that the public are no longer willing to put up with serious disruption to their day-to-day lives as their karma and are demanding all-weather,functional andpot-hole free roads, fail-proof 24×7 civic services &power ,robustinfrastructure,people friendly emergency response protocol, professional & swift rescue and relief procedures! Gone are the days when people would accept the heavy downpour theory and take long dislocations in their stride!
Rulers beware of this new India!
A clichéd argument that is being bandied about is this flooding and its effects are due to Chennai recording the highest rainfall this season in a century or the global climate change, El-nino and such gibberish; the heavy rains may be a result of such a climate change but definitely not the flooding and deplorable state of infrastructure and the initial government response;
In the last one century we have made substantialadvancements in scientific and technological fields and it is cannot be anybody’s case that safe and effective disposal of rain water of a city is a rocket science (by the way we are a well advanced nation in rocket science) or some complicated genetic engineering technology that such repeated failures are par the course and acceptable;it is eminently doable, excepting that those in charge seem to lack the abilities nor are they willing to walk the extra mile !
Now let me not dwell more on the causes of the flooding this time except saying that Adyar river whose sudden spate created a major part of the tragedy, was found to have shrunk in width to the tune of about 50% in several places along its course. That is to say, half of the river bed had gone missing at some points!!
It is learnt that the documented carrying capacity of the river during the 1970’s was more than 50000 cusecs (cubic feet per second; one cusec is about 28.3 liters per second i.e. the river could safely carry 14 lac liters of water every second!!!); the maximum discharge from Chembarampakkam lake on December 2nd/ 3rdDecember was only about 30000 cusecs; that is some 60% of the original capacity! Had the full carrying capacity been available as on date, no one would have even noticed such a flow except some children playing around the river banks!
Such is the level of encroachment that has happened during the last four decades!
Chennai mega city has various canals and water courses like Captain Cotton canal, Otterinallah, North and South Buckingham canal, Cooum river, Mambalam canal, Virugampakkam Canal, Adyar river, Arani river, scores of major lakes, tanks and finally the Bay of Bengal; a major project to strengthen and create interlinks among these canals at a cost of about Rs.1100 crores under a central government scheme (Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission) was commenced in the year 2009; but it is still not completed. Had this project been completed on time, this would have partly mitigated the severe hit that the city took by spreading the waters more evenly and quickly;
Enough about the causes! Let’s see what is the way forward!
Some measures are a political hot potato! So let me give some solutions which are moderate that can be implemented with some limited political will!
a) Clear the encroachments along the Cooum and Adyar rivers and restore its natural width all through; already the encroachments along Adyar course near Mudichur and Manimangalam are being cleared by Kancheepuram Collector; if this tempo is maintained and the whole set of encroachments are removed within a month or so, the opposition to this will not be severe; of course the loss of some thousands of houses (which are illegal anyway) has to be compensated especially to the poor among the residents. Having experienced a nightmare they would move to other parts of the city without much resistance if properly incentivized and their basic needs addressed.
b) Restore the major lakes in Chennai-Kancheepuram-Thiruvallur districtsto their original size by removing the encroachments and illegal occupants on a war footing; every land grabber in these places know about the illegality of his occupation and this kind of emergency situation is the right time to evict these people.
c) Desilt all the lakesto the original depth using special equipment once the water level drops and this desilting has to be properly documented, monitored by NGO’s and recorded so that it is not just a paper exercise.
d) Corporation of Chennai has proved its inability in handling major projects time and again. Appoint twelve task forces of engineers drawn from reputed private sector companies and the civil society (many who have the skillsets, energy and drive are willing to volunteer) and ask them to monitor and review the above said storm water drainage improvement project in each of the twelve packages into which this mammoth project has been divided; there must be an apex team of empowered senior engineers to co-ordinate these twelve task forces; these teams should be given the mandate and facilities to complete the entire project within six months.
e) Priority should be given to recharge the lakes and tanks in the city and suburbs by linking these canals to such waterbodies wherever possible; along the entire length of the canals, have adequate ground water harvesting wells which will get charged when the water flows in these canals which will further reduce the wastage of water.
f) A similar exercise for the improvement of TANGEDCO facilities in Chennai and suburbs will be necessary, if we are to ensure power does not fail the moment there is a rain and avoid loss of life due to power leakages during inundation.
If we build third class infrastructure, miss the larger picture, resort to illegalities like encroachments routinely and tolerate lame excuses and corruption by rulers and officials, such a fate will definitely follow!
Pure cause and effect, dear friends!!
Dated 9th December 2015
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