July 26 Mumbai floods and how nothing has changed even after 14 years

‘July 26, 2005’ – the date will always be etched in the memory of every Mumbaikar as the day when rains paralysed the city. The rains pushed the city to a shutdown. The maximum city received a rainfall of 944 mm, a 100-year high, over a span of 24 hours and it didn’t stop raining after that. The heavy rains caused to shut down of electricity, water supply, communication networks, and public transportation. Over 1,000 people lost their lives and 14,000 homes were destroyed. 52 local trains, 4,000 taxis, 37,000 auto-rickshaws, 900 BEST buses were damaged and the city incurred a direct loss of about Rs 5.50 billion. Thousands of school children and office-goers were stranded and could not reach home for up to more than 24 hours due to flooding.

It’s been 14 years now, I was 12-years-old and still remember how my parents set out to find our neighbour, a senior citizen, who has stepped out to get some medicines. The rains paralysed the city but failed to break the spirit of good Samaritans, who extended their support to fellow Mumbaikars. Citizens were not just kind to people but also to stray animals. Watchmen and security guards were asked to let animals stay in the society compound till the water level subsided. My cousin reached home after four days and she narrated us how she walked through the waterlogged Mahim station after the torrential rains paralysed the city, how stranded people cling onto the back of a bus or a truck, how dead bodies of animals were floating in the water and how some people were distributing teas and snacks to strangers. Back then, Facebook and Twitter were not born and getting updates on the situation were not easy.

In 2018, on July 3, a part of the foot over bridge (FOB) collapsed at Andheri railway station bringing Western railway services to a halt for several hours as heavy rains lashed the city. The mishap led to one woman’s death. 10 days later, a man was killed in Sanpada after his motorcycle skidded over a pothole. On the same day, a woman was crushed to death after she fell off a bike on a waterlogged road in Kalyan. July 9 measured the highest rainfall of the season with people seen walking through knee-deep water. The next day, the rain impacted Mumbai’s lifeline bringing the city to a halt. According to reports, people were stranded in trains for over 16 hours. Services of Dabbawalas was suspended.

Fast forward to 2019, the city once again came to a halt for two days because of the heavy downpour. The day brought the memories of the July 2005 floods back. Although it did not rain anywhere near to that, it was more than enough to bring the maximum city to a standstill. On June 30, due to heavy rains, rail, air and road traffic suffered. Trains and flights were cancelled. Two days later, on July 2, many parts of the financial capital waterlogged paralysing the city. The state government declared the day as a public holiday and people were asked to avoid stepping out of their houses. A wall collapsed in Malad taking 31 lives. Trains delayed and traffic snarled. Mumbai-Pune trains were cancelled due to​​ a derailment on the ghat between Karjat and Lonavala.

Today even a class 7 student will also be able to identify the cause behind the floods Mumbai plays host every year. It is our collective failure. Yes, ours – those sitting at home, those who sit in the richest civic body, those traveling through public transport and everyone who resides in the city called Mumbai. It is high time we stop playing the blame game. What measures are we taking to avoid such situations? Have you ever noticed the rivers – Mithi, Poisar, Ulhas, and Ulwe, to name a few - in the city are treated as nothing less than a garbage disposal systems? Yes, the plastic bags (thank god for the much-needed ban implemented now), sanitary napkins and other household and industrial waste floating on the surface. Agreed that it is the civic body’s failure by not cleaning them from time to time and not upgrading the drainage system and setting up good pumping stations, despite the budget of crores allotted for the same.

If you really care and respect the city you live in, make sure you keep these basic three things in mind – segregate, support and oppose. Segregate your garbage, support the idea of a waste treatment plant and oppose investing in any projects that pose a threat to mangroves and forests.

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