Who really is responsible for Mumbai’s frequent monsoon deluges?

Rohit Chandavarkar
Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Every time a skyscraper is built, there is a foundation dug deep inside the ground and use of cement concrete at the site blocks the natural seepage paths for water during monsoon. If thousands of such skyscrapers are built all over the suburbs in last few decades, the cumulative effect is that all the paths are blocked. This endless construction activity has now taken Mumbai to the brink.

‘When you are stuck in your vehicle on the road in an endless queue of cars, don’t blame the traffic jam too much because you are contributing to the jam too,’ goes a saying! The deluge-like situation that Mumbai has witnessed over the last three days reminds one of it.  

The city and suburbs of Mumbai have suffered heavy monsoons leading to inundation of low-lying areas since ages and because of the topography of Mumbai, this annual phenomenon is a somewhat known and accepted fact by the residents since decades. However, two factors have now played a crucial role in this annual incident getting reported almost as if it’s a big disaster. First, the deluge of July 2005 when hundreds of people lost their lives after a cloudburst led to over 900 mm rainfall in the suburbs and the second factor is the increasing frequency of the flooding incidents happening in Mumbai.

The media and social media, reporting Monday and Tuesday’s flooding in many parts of the city, looked eager to blame it on somebody. One or two national news channels even named certain political leaders or bureaucrats right now in positions of power and claimed they were responsible for this mess and they were hiding!

There is no doubt that the wide public infrastructure of Mumbai is slowly crumbling under its own weight. Too much of migration has happened in the city from all parts of the country. Too much load on the roads and rail network, too little maintenance or upkeep and most importantly too much mismanagement of public amenities has led to this situation and all this has happened over last several decades, not just 3 or 5 years!

One of the big factors that has been contributing to frequent flooding happening in Mumbai in last few years is the endless and vast concretisation of spaces that have been undertaken over the last many years. Every time a skyscraper is built, there is a foundation dug deep inside the ground and use of cement concrete there blocks the natural seepage path for water during monsoon. If thousands of such skyscrapers are built all over the suburbs over last few decades, the cumulative effect is that all the paths are blocked and during high tide, the sea water forces the seepage from artificial drains back onto the city roads. This endless construction activity has taken Mumbai to the brink.

If everybody wants more and more construction in the suburbs of Mumbai because they want homes, they want businesses to boom, they want infrastructure, who can be blamed for this. The politicians over the years have benefited out of the constructions but obviously, they are not the only one! The consumers, the investors, the residents, the businesses all have a stake in this activity. No one person or section can be blamed for these disaster-like situations that we witness in Mumbai every now and then lately.

The need of the hour is obviously to decongest the city, divert growth towards Navi Mumbai and beyond and restrict new constructions in suburbs that are already congested. Otherwise, Mumbai will have to face more frequent and worse disasters in the future.

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