Many of you would have read about the havoc the recent rains have caused in Chennai and its neighborhood. About 55 people have lost their lives apart from lakhs of poor people losing their properties and meager possessions. Crores of rupees worth productivity was lost. Many others suffered in myriad other ways. There is filth all over the city as the receding waters leave their dirty trail! As in every such case it is the poor and middle class segment which has taken the brunt of the fury!
Was it such a heavy downpour that the above horrendous consequences were inevitable?
No doubt it was unexpected and of exceptional intensity. But definitely not of such a force that it should have caused such devastation.
Then why do we face this situation? I attribute it to across the board and unbridled corruption, rank negligence, gross inefficiency, lack of basic knowledge, complete absence of sense of duty among the politicians, bureaucrats, government and local body officials and finally absence of civic sense among our own public.
Just look at the following simple and easily understood causes:
a) If you care to look at the revenue department maps of Chennai-Kancheepuram-Thiruvallur Districts and compare it with the present day google maps of the same region, you would notice the extent of encroachment of lakes, tanks, channels and other water bodies that has taken place. As a ball park figure I would put about 60-70% of the lake and tank spread is non-existent. They have been plotted and filled up. The canals which take the water to these bodies have been eaten away too. So even if a remote lake has luckily escaped the attention of the encroachers, the non-existence of canals that carry the water from the catchment area ensures the water from heavens is left stagnant with no clear path to travel and reach its destination.
b) Even the remaining portions of the waterbodies and canals have not been maintained and have substantially lost their capacity due to decades of silting. That regular desilting happens mostly on paper and money is siphoned off is too well known a fact to be repeated.
c) Even where some canals are clear, our public ensures they get choked by rampant dumping of plastic and construction waste.
d) City storm water channels are designed so poorly; there is no scientific calculation on their flow carrying capacity and sizing; there is no proper slope towards the drains and water stagnates in the middle of the road; apart from this is the way the drains are maintained and the filth that is routinely thrown into it virtually making it a garbage bin of the linear variety!
e) Most of these stagnant drains have become vector factories producing dengue, malaria, leptospirosis kind of major illnesses.
f) The river beds into which the water ultimately drains are stripped of several meters of sand cushion which has the capacity to absorb the millions of liters of water in seconds allowing gradual building up of water table. Now with the sand cushion gone, rivers are more like drainage canals with a hard base and easily get filled upto their brim which reduces the ability of the channels to discharge into the river; this leads to back up of water into the residential areas.
g) The mouths of several channels discharging into the rivers like Cooum, Palar or Buckingham canal have been blocked by buildings and hutments and this virtually renders the whole channel dysfunctional. Not long ago the Government demolished several illegal buildings of a private university which had blocked Cooum river for a considerable distance. A rate act indeed!
h) Continuous increase of the road levels by the Government by adding layers over layer of bitumen topping without removing the old layers and maintaining the road levels intact is yet another cause. Houses built about 15-20 years ago are now well below the road and water enters the houses of these hapless and voiceless people. Can a Government body be more careless and clueless about such a basic fact?
i) Vehicles of all kinds are parked permanently on the road sides leaving the ground below it inaccessible for cleaning or maintenance for a long time; this over time leads to stagnation of water permanently underneath and breeding of germs and mosquitoes, leave alone the reduction it causes for the traffic carrying capacity of the roads. As it is our streets have no sidewalks and are notoriously narrow. With this kind of aggressive parking habits and inability of the police to do anything about it, this is a kind of day light hijacking of public space.
All the above said centuries old systems of water collection, conveyance, storage and disposal systems have been continuously abused, altered and destroyed for the past two decades or so and this bad karma is what is causing the flood fury and all round devastation!
What is the solution? Raise your voice in whatever forum available, be it the corporation complaint cell, toll free numbers, Government portals, social media , newspaper columns, letters to the Chief Minister cell, District Collector, Commissioner of Corporation and the like! Do not buy properties other than those approved by Government nor move into areas prone for flooding; do a proper due-diligence through a professional before you buy a property.
Do not blame it on the rain gods and keep quiet!
Dated 18th November 2015
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