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'Sonu! Tuza BMCvar Bharosa Nai Kay...?'

Thursday, July 12, 2018
By Bharatkumar Raut

As I am writing this column on Tuesday, I see rains lashing Mumbai and its peripheries. The same is the situation for the last three days and Mumbai’s civic and commercial life has been thrown out of gear. Roads are flooded and suburban railway services are thoroughly disturbed. Many over-bridges and the bridges which connect Mumbai's East and West are closed for repairs as the authorities have now woken up to realise that as many as 48 bridges are in a dangerous situation.
This is a pathetic situation. The monsoon in Mumbai throws the spotlight on poor infrastructure, inadequate city planning and, most importantly, bad drainage systems. Despite tall claims by the authorities, they remain unprepared in times of crisis. This year too, the rains have affected normal life, hampering air, road and rail transport and leading to water logging in agriculture land. While development has become synonymous will malls, MNCs, etc., we lack progress at the grass roots.

The track record vividly shows that the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has learned nothing from last year's monsoon. While experts feel water logging in Mumbai is because of rapid development and lack of vacant land, it may not be entirely true. Heavy rain is not unusual in Mumbai. In the past too there used to be flooding but water used to drain out within a few hours. Through the years, the drains have been choked by plastic bags and bottles. How many of our so-called metropolitan cities have waste management systems wherein biodegradable and non-biodegradable matter is segregated?

‘Study Tours’!
Our civic experts and BMC officers along with city-fathers do undertake so called 'study tours' to Western and Eastern world's modern cities to take 'first hand' information of their mechanism to overcome the drainage problems. What happens later? Did they apply their 'knowledge' here? If not, Why? Or they go abroad every year like a pilgrimage only for fun at the cost of our tax? Now citizens demand answers? If these answers are not furnished willingly, they should be forced to do so?

I wish to pose these questions today because what has been happening in Mumbai for the last four days is criminal. Thirty centimetres of rainfall in a day from Monday night to Tuesday drowned a city celebrated as India’s financial capital and with a civic body with a budget larger than many small states. Lakhs of people were stranded at railway stations or their workplaces or spent the night wading home through flooded roads. As the sun rose heralding a new day, it brought to light fresh horror. And as the day progresses the horror show also continues.

It’s not as if those who are paid to keep the city running and its citizens safe did not know that there could be a deluge. The weatherman had sounded a warning a week ago. More than enough time to prepare. But that is the crux of the problem. We never learn from our mistakes. After the great deluge of July 26, 2005, when 944 mm of rain fell in 24 hours, there was a lot of talk that the authorities would be better prepared the next time around. 13 years later, the downpour was only a third of that in 2005, but the impact was nearly as bad. Mumbai was saved from worse because the high tide time was over, not because the authorities did anything. What was heart-warming was that Mumbaikars as usual stepped up to lend each other a helping hand.

A million commuters stranded
Like on many occasions in the past, what Mumbaikars did is as it should be in any civilised society, but shouldn’t the civic body and the state government be held to account? And don’t forget the railways who were quick to shut down services on all the three lines by 12.30 pm. This left at least over a million commuters stranded. The railways say they can’t do anything if the tracks are flooded. Really? In this day and age can’t they build a better drainage system? The railways blame the civic body and the civic body blames the weather. Where does that leave the Mumbaikars? This tactic of passing the buck is endemic across the country.

Remember the floods of 2015 that devastated Chennai? Or the last year's floods in Bihar. People die, property is destroyed, and the authorities make excuses that would be comical if they weren’t so abhorrent or go after those who complain. Remember, RJ Malishka, whose jingle on potholes in Mumbai led to the civic administration sending her mother a notice accusing her of breeding mosquitoes? It really is time we put our foot down. We must hold those we elect and pay to run our cities and towns and villages accountable. More than the elected representatives, people should ask blunt question to the civic administration as the 'babus' hold the keys of the civic treasury. I am surprised when all TV Channels were on the forefront to criticise and blame the ruling civic bodies, none summoned the Municipal Commissioner to the 'accuse box'. After all the commissioner of any city is the real guardian of the civic affairs. Don’t spare him.

Life cannot go on as usual.

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