Monsoon misery in Mumbai and across Maharashtra

Monsoon should bring its own magic, and not just in Mumbai. But these days the season is associated more with misery everywhere in the country. The Maharashtra government shifted its monsoon session to Nagpur this year, hoping to escape the misery of the season in Mumbai. However, on the third day of its sitting, it rained so hard in Nagpur that the roads were washed away and the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) shut down the electricity supply to the city to prevent accidents due to short circuits. And this shut down included the Vidhan Bhavan premises and the VVIP Civil Lines area of the city where all ministers and bureaucrats are located. It was a day spent with cars floating in three-four feet of water as the city saw 265mm of rain in six hours, more than a quarter of the season’s rainfall and three-quarters of the month’s whole quota.

One thing that struck me was the lack of drainage in this landlocked second capital of Maharashtra. Fortunately, there were no aircraft falling from the sky or no bridges that collapsed or houses that crumbled because Nagpur, all said and done, does not live in the squalor that Mumbai does. There is plenty of green cover, it is said to be the second greenest city in India, after Bangalore. Being landlocked, it also does not have to worry about things like high tides that flood the insides of buildings in Mumbai and take hours to recede. So why was there so much flooding?

Union minister, Nitin Gadkari, who was in his home constituency on the day, immediately ordered officials to map the clogged routes of water drainage and promised that by next monsoon the rains will bring magic, rather than disaster. However, even a cursory look makes it clear why misery is more the order of the day in both capitals of Maharashtra during monsoon. In Mumbai, the Shiv Sena-BJP, which has been ruling the city for 25 years, has had an active stake in ensuring that the system clogs up every season. How else will tenders be issued every year and corporators, including their party leaders, receive a slice of the enormous Mumbai pie? Nagpur fares no better in terms of garbage clearance — despite being a green city, it has no concept of garbage separation or cleanliness.

Governments have been blaming the use — or rather misuse — of plastics for blocked outlets. But this year, ever since the ban on plastics became effective from June 23, I have noticed the problems have compounded at least for garbage workers. Readers may forgive me for this graphic description but over the past three weeks, I have been overhearing a woman garbage collector in at least one particular building society — this might not be happening everywhere — screaming her head off every morning about having to clear unwrapped used condoms and sometimes even adult diapers from individual garbage bins. Paper bags simply are not adequate to wrap such things and her hands get messed up no matter how hard she tries to avoid contact. The government has given no thought to the disposal of plastics and mindlessly imposed fines on its use. For a government that believes in Swachh Bharat, such a thoughtless ban is only subjecting the manual workers to more misery than before. Most housing societies have now got used to separating dry and wet garbage. Could not a third bin be provided to dispose of plastics and things like condoms and diapers, as is done in western countries? Instead, now the garbage workers dump them on open sites and add not just to clogging but infections and disease, not just to themselves but also on others who might unknowingly come in contact with the discarded human waste.

Plastic is actually a blessing when it is used and disposed of correctly. In the early days of the ban, I had a WhatsApp forward from a friend depicting a cop attempting to fine a woman carrying a plastic bag to protect her documents. She would rather pay the fine than have her documents destroyed by the rain. But the policeman had a change of heart and let her go. Not because he had any care for her documents but, as he reached for his challan book, he remembered he had wrapped it in plastic too to protect it from the rain! The story only points towards the mindlessness of the government and the misery it is putting both the people and its workers to this monsoon.

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