State of Despair
While Bihar is not unfamiliar with floods, the debacle in its capital Patna, this time, has stunned the world – in the 21st century, though we dream of robotics and AI, our basic civic system continues to be fatally crippled at its roots
On June 23, 2017, then Union Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu had announced the third batch of Smart Cities development. The list featured the name of Patna which was selected for the Smart City project after overcoming several rounds of rejections.
The moment this historic city passed the Smart City test, residents of Patna and those living in the peripheral suburban areas were filled with imagination about how their city would soon join the elite club of world-class cities equipped with ultramodern amenities. The Bihar government too swung into action and soon commenced development work by chalking out a foolproof plan and strategy.
Till the rains did not inundate Patna in the closing fringes of September, every cosmetic makeover the city received with the promise of becoming 'smart' fit well into the bills of the government as well as civic agencies. And in fact, the people of Patna too seemed satisfied as they never bothered to raise their voices, even when they found that their sewerage system was emptying into the deep drain.
So, does this imply that the Smart City project is the sole villain that has brought shame to this ancient city which was once the proud capital of the flourishing Maurya and Gupta dynasties?
"No. This is just one cause among several other factors that have disturbed the perfectly designed drainage system of the city. The prime cause for the existing system's failure is the defunct Patna Municipal Corporation (PMC) and its highly corrupt officials who care little about the problems of the common people," explains Vinay Kumar 'Pappu', former deputy mayor of Patna Municipal Corporation. Pappu was the deputy mayor of the city for two terms from 2010-12 and then 2017-19.
"The officials of PMC had never imagined that Patna would receive such massive rainfall and they were thus, conducting the drainage cleaning works as per their own whims and fancies," he added.
"There is a huge dearth of manpower in PMC as no recruitment has been undertaken for the posts of Group C and D staff for the past several years, especially since the civic body has outsourced the work to Bihar Urban Infrastructure Development Corporation (BUIDCO). So, drains and nullas were not declogged or desilted for several years and that resulted in such severe water stagnation," the former deputy mayor explained.
"The waterlogging or urban floods in Patna are not at all a natural calamity as is being claimed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his administration. Such floods make us believe how man-made disasters are created by a lacklustre, almost non-existent municipal corporation and corrupt urban development authorities," Pappu added.
"Whatever image building exercise was done by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, it has all been washed out by the Patna flood. We had never dreamt of facing such a situation in Patna that too due to rainfall," opined Girdhar Jhunjhunwala, a resident of the city.
"It is a total management failure. Right from Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to clerk-level employees of PMC, everyone is responsible for making the city a living hell," Jhunjhunwala, a victim of government apathy, added.
"Since water has been cleared from affected areas with the help of dewatering machines brought from Chhattisgarh, the major concern is removing silt and human wastes from homes," he said.
"It's so horrifying to see thick layers of silt containing human waste inside our houses. It has made our lives a living example of hell and the worst part is that the government is not going to remove these wastes. We have to do it on our own and at any cost as safai karamcharis are charging exorbitant rates," he said.
The sump houses have a major role to play in these horrific Patna floods as out of 39 sump houses in the Patna municipal area, about 38 sump houses failed to work as they were all found to be defunct due to different undignified reasons.
Patna is geographically bound by waterbodies on three sides, and is situated at a lower slope than the surrounding water bodies, in the shape of a bowl.
Commenting on Patna's geographical conditions, Dr Deepak Kumar, an Assistant Professor of Geography in Daudnagar College of Magadh University, said, "In situations where the ground is at a lower level, a sump plays an important role in sucking out stormwater and thereby minimising waterlogging."
Surprisingly, big sump houses with higher waterlifting capacities installed in Jogipur, Saidpur and Kankarbagh were found non-functional. If all these pumps had been functional, they could have pumped out 10,689 million litres per day (MLD).
The maintenance and administrative control of sump houses was in the hands of Bihar Rajya Jal Parishad, but after the absorption of Jal Parishad into BUIDCO, the responsibility of running the sump houses was outsourced to private agencies.
The administrative units lacked coordination as BUIDCO and PMC were on two different planes regarding preparedness before the heavy rains and also during rescue, and both were clueless about the steps to be initiated.
Undoubtedly, the government is responsible but residents of Patna are also equally responsible for the man-made disaster as in connivance with the government authorities, people have grabbed government land. Encroachment has occurred at such a level that apart from parks and government buildings, there is hardly any open space in the city.
Blind, unplanned development is taking place in Patna. Bus stands and several institutions have been built on existing wetlands, which used to absorb the rainwater. In the recent past, Mithapur bus stand, National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Chanakya National Law University (CNLU), Aryabhatta Knowledge University and Chandra Gupta Institute of Management (CIMP) have all been built on Mithapur wetlands.
Commenting on the causes of waterlogging in Patna, Disaster Management Department Principal Secretary Pratyaya Amrit told Millennium Post that the excessive rainfall was the prime cause.
"There was excessive rainfall for which no forecast was given by IMD. We had a red alert warning for September 28 by IMD but Patna was not on that list," said Amrit, who was felicitated with the Prime Minister's Excellence Award in Public Administration in 2011.
"The forecast of September 28 issued by IMD was for Madhubani, Darbhanga, Supaul, Araria, Kishanganj, Jamui and Gaya. Since there was drought-like situation in Gaya and Jamui, we were quite satisfied that 300 mm rainfall for these two districts would be of great relief to paddy farmers," he further stated.
"In light of the warning for other parts of Bihar, we had requisitioned four teams of NDRF from Guwahati on September 26. The NDRF team had arrived in Patna on September 27 and rain started peltering on September 28, which continued for the next 36 hours. We had deployed the NDRF team for the rescue operation," he said, adding that Patna received 400 mm rainfall as per the local administration's rainwater measuring machine.
"The evacuation was very fast. The government evacuated about 62,000 stranded people from most affected areas of Rajender Nagar and Kankarbagh. The areas of Rajender Nagar and Kankarbagh are dominated by doctors, private nursing homes and clinics, and no death case was reported from these areas," the senior officer added.
The Patna floods also brought both the alliance partners Janata Dal (United) and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) on two different pages over owning responsibility for the debacle in the civic system.
Defending the Bihar CM, party spokesperson K C Tyagi said that those pointing fingers at the CM should know that Patna has a BJP mayor for the past 15 years. "Patna has a BJP mayor for the past 15 years, the urban development minister is theirs, both MPs are from BJP, as are all the five MLAs – but still the CM is at fault," Tyagi said.
Union Minister Giriraj Singh had held both Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi responsible for what unfolded in Patna after the heavy rains.
Nitish Kumar also faced sharp criticism for terming it as a repercussion of climate change. "The climate is changing and this heavy rainfall is due to the Hathiya Nakshatra. Such rainfall is common during the Hathiya", Kumar had said while trying to mock the press gathered in front of him.