Water as woe: On Mumbai’s annual mayhem

Mumbai cannot manage its flooding without a new deal for drainage and housing

The catastrophic floods in Mumbai and Chennai in 2005 and 2015, respectively, resulted in the emergence of a management plan drawn up by the National Disaster Management Authority and later, the first dedicated storm water drainage manual by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. But such initiatives can do little if States, which have both power and responsibility over city affairs, do not feel compelled to address the challenges posed by urbanisation. In fact, Mumbai’s inability to manage recurrent floods and the needs of a massive slum population was highlighted by a fact-finding committee appointed by the Maharashtra government after the 2005 deluge, with calls to liberate the city’s rivers and lakes from various impediments, enable perennial flow in the Mithi river, create fresh holding lakes for excess waters, and rehabilitate those who live in risky locations. There is a need to clear the air on the follow-up to these and other expert recommendations, which the State can do through a white paper. Mumbai’s neglect is not unique, though, and most big cities are amorphously expanding to the suburbs where basic infrastructure including drainage is absent, and lakes and rivers are heavily encroached, often with political support. Such unplanned growth, with no defences against weather disasters, is leaving cities a lot poorer.

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