Why Mumbai will always flood

“We are prepared for the rains, we are monsoon ready”! Over two decades have passed since the same press note was released every year after changing the date on it. Into the monsoon, every year we witness history repeating itself. Flooded homes, roads, swept away humans, wading in sewage etc etc. Then two sparring partners step into the ring and pretend that they are slugging it out seriously.

Yes, the two partners the MCGM and the State Government. With Mumbaikars getting agitated, the partners spar away through the monsoon giving the impression that the world heavyweight boxing title is on the line! But year after year the flooding gets worse and worse. All kinds of excuses began to float to justify the inability of Mumbai to cope with rainfall.

Mumbai being a coastal city at sea level will witness daily ingress of tide water. Let us step back and analyse what we did post 2005 floods. Mumbai basically has four rivers flowing through it on the western front. Dahisar, Poisar, Oshiwara and Mithi. Rain water, storm water runoff is carried by these rivers to the sea.

On the eastern front, the Thane Creek, Sewri Bay with its vast expanses of mudflats, mangroves and saltpans are ever ready to take on the challenge of any amount of rain that will befall it. But how does one ensure that these benefits of these huge holding areas is denied to the city? Simple! the planners decided to build walls along the creeklets, riversides, under the guise of increasing storm water drainage capacity to safeguard property and life.

The fact that hundreds of acres of deserted salt pans had no residents on it was conveniently hidden. Look at Google Earth Satellite Time series Imagery to understand reasons for flooding. The rivers don’t resemble rivers at all. Instead they have been turned into sewers inside concrete channels. Every square inch around, along the rivers is constructed on. The estuaries are being constructed on even today.

The Oshiwara river estuary has a huge 500-acre wetland which has been steadily reclaimed over 20 years despite numerous FIRs and violations being recorded on the plot. The effect of further reclamation will be borne by Lokhandwala residents who probably don’t realise the danger unfolding before them.

Ninety per cent of the estuary of Mithi river has BKC constructed on it. Worse, it is witnessing construction even today. Pray what is the essential infrastructure being constructed on it? A mall. Yes, a mall at the expense of the estuary. But we cannot question it, we need development isn’t it, so please visit the mall in the Mithi estuary.

Where will the rain water spread out? It is pushing through a narrow channel trying to escape into the sea. Easier said than done! The sea has its own plans, it wants to come in to spread on the land. So, we have a situation where the sea is fighting to make inroads into the land and the storm water is trying to make gains onto the sea front.

The clash ensues inside the narrow channel. No prizes for guessing who has the upper hand. The sea obviously, the storm water gets pushed back and desperately tries to maintain ground. What happens inland? The storm water gathering in the city cannot drain out because the channels are witnessing a battle between the high tide water and the hopelessly out powered storm water from the city. The wait begins for the tide to recede or the rain to subside.

Unless either happens, the city becomes a huge container holding water inside it waiting like an overfilled bladder seeking an outlet to be relieved. Hundreds of crores of citizens’ wealth is milked every year under the guise of “desilting” these nullahs. Dewatering pumps temporarily solve localised issues of flooding but can never be the solution, it’s more of a face-saving exercise to calm agitated residents.

Let’s talk climate change, sea level rise, global warming and global warnings. Mumbai and Mangalore are already listed as cities that will bear the brunt of sea level rise. Let’s take a look how the Maharashtra government is leading the way in the fight against sea level rise. First of all, the thorn in the flesh of the construction lobby needed to be removed.

The CRZ notification meant to protect the coastline, protect fisherfolks, prevent loss of life and property needs to be removed. So dear CM goes to Delhi asking for CRZ norms to be relaxed keeping in mind Mumbai’s “special needs”. The worst part is that this moronic request is considered and norms relaxed! The sea is very kind, it knows Mumbai is CM’s baby and hence it better focus its attention on Gujarat or Karnataka.

The absurdity and the lack of science, the absence of scientists in planning is a disaster in itself. Dear CM, Mumbai has only one special need which is to survive sea level rise! If we had demarcated floodplains on the development plans and kept space for the lateral spread of water, most if not all of our flooding miseries would vanish. All that the government did under the guise of flood control was to create more land for construction in a city with a massive inventory of 5 lakh unsold houses.

Keeping a city free from flooding requires commitment and vision. Build structures twice the height of the existing ones if needed but identify, demarcate flood plains in the Development Plan and keep them inviolate. But no, the government has an easy, quick fix solution. One which only hurts the voiceless, poorest section, the daily wage earners.

Declare a holiday and all is well. Chill at home with a beer, chai, pakoras etc. Mumbai can go to hell. Just lay back and enjoy the monsoon. Till the date is changed on the next press release proclaiming “we are ready for the monsoon.”

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