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Wreaking havoc in Mumbai

According to news reports, approximately 80 percent of the 3.5 lakh shops in Mumbai remained closed on Friday due to the incessant rains that swamped the city. The reported loss in business days, according to certain estimates, was approximately Rs 500 crore. This figure, however, may rise in many areas since the water has seeped into shops due to unfinished road construction, causing severe damage to stored goods. Officials from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have warned the city residents that they should avoid low-lying areas over the weekend while finalising travel plans. Images posted online depicted a city mired in the throes of absolute chaos. 

The problem, though, isn’t the rain as much the city’s poor drainage systems, which are under the charge of the BMC. It is imperative to note that the BMC has been run uninterrupted for two decades by the Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena. Earlier last week, the BMC had inaugurated two pumping stations in South Mumbai to aid the process of storm water drainage. Despite costing Rs 200 crore, both pumping stations have proven to be rather ineffective. In their interviews to various news channels, leaders from the Shiv Sena were at pains to avoid taking responsibility for the city’s chaotic state, blaming the sudden spurt of rain and the subsequent volume of water that had collected on the city’s clogged streets. To make matters worse, scientists at the Indian Meteorological Department have warned citizens that extreme rainfall events are going to occur more often over the Konkan region.  

By most official accounts, the Brihanmumbai Stormwater Disposal System, a project planned to overhaul Mumbai’s water drainage system, has been a resounding failure. According to a report prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General last year, the city’s attempts at building stormwater drains have failed largely due to the hiring of sub-standard contractors. To make matters worse, the city’s natural drainage systems that include salt pans, mudflats and mangroves, have begun to disappear on account of mass construction projects, both legal and illegal. According to a study conducted by Mumbai University, between 1990 and 2012, more than 50 kilometres of land had been created through the illegal destruction of mangrove forests. In addition, the previous Congress-NCP state government in the State had decided to open up more than 70 acres of the city’s salt pans at the city’s Wadala area. 

Studies have even shown that various reclamation projects in the city, notably the Bandra-Kurla Complex, have significantly accentuated the water logging problem. It is safe to say that the debate between development and the environment has polarised vast sections of the Indian intelligentsia. The development versus environment debate is, however, irresponsible and unwise. Although many do take extreme positions on the matter, the essential idea is create a habitable environment for a city. To create such an environment, objective, transparent and time-bound decisions have to be taken, while according environment clearance to development projects. The authorities in Mumbai have unfortunately not paid heed to such concerns and its citizens are now paying the heavy price.
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