By Bindu Unniraj
It was the usual monsoons at Mumbai and Mumbaikars went about their work in the same way as they do on any rainy day. But then 26th July 2005 was different.
Rains lashed the city, and people unaware of any specific danger set out for their work. Little did they know that a natural disaster awaited them that would be etched in memory. A disaster that would teach the inhabitants of Maximum City a lesson in humanity and equality.
It rained nonstop, and as the day progressed, the electricity went off, and hence the idiot box could tell us nothing. I went about my chores unaware until my neighbour stormed into my flat wailing that her husband was stuck in his car at Andheri and the car had conked out due to seepage of water. It was then I came to know that the city had knee-deep water and buses had stopped plying. It was a miracle that some networks had connectivity.
There was utter chaos. People were yet to come out of their numbness to realise that something needed to be done soon. They began to panic as the downpour took strength making visibility poor. It was as if the heavens had opened up for the Gods to unleash their wrath on the people. It poured and poured nonstop for two days and then it ceased. Slowly people came out from their safe havens to head back to their respective homes.
Good Samaritans helped and with great difficulty and dignity, Mumbai pulled herself up.
But, it had shaken the foundation of the city and its people such that, their senses awakened to probe what went wrong and where.
The BMC ( Bombay Municipal Corporation) took upon itself to analyse where the city had lacked in planning its infrastructure.
The 26th July floods had happened because the Mithi River had breached its bank and flooded some of the city’s most densely populated areas. The torrential rain that hammered the state for four days, where 994 mm of rain, fell in just 24 hours, killed as many as 5,000 people. Much of the flooding occurred along the 18 km long Mithi River. The Powai Lake had started to overflow spilling vast amounts of water into the Mithi.
The river that usually served as a stormwater drain would have enabled the excess rainwater from Lake Powai and around the city to drain quickly away into the Arabian Sea. Sadly, this did not happen as the river was choked up with sewage and waste.There was no way for the flood water from the Lake to flow and instead of flowing into the sea, it retraced back with gallons of sewage and industrial waste into the streets of Mumbai.
The situation was worsened by the fact that the rain and floods coincided with a high tide. Mumbai’s one-hundred-year-old storm drain ( which had never been renovated over a decade ) did not stand a chance and it was also blocked like the Mithi with garbage.
The poor state of the river was blamed by many for exacerbating the flood disaster. It was easy to blame the river, overlooking the fact that it had been overly polluted and used as a dumping ground by the people living near it.
The Mithi River today, still looks the same, more of a sewage drain rather than a river. The sewage has now not only resulted in contamination and stagnation of water but also becoming the breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
The MRDA was set up to plan on improvising the state of the river along with MMRDA and MCGM ( Municipal Corporation for Greater Mumbai). The plan was to clean the river, desilt it, widen stretches of the river and build new roads and bridges. It was also decided to increase the catchment height of Powai Lake by up to 4 metres in places. There was also another plan to store monsoon rain water that may later be released into the Mithi River with the hope to ‘flush out’ the polluted river.
The plan is still in progress, the completion of which awaits!!
The paradigm of Mumbai Floods repeats at Chennai. A three-day downpour brought Chennai to a halt.
It’s time we learnt to protect our habitat. Just as one would take extreme measures to protect one’s individual homes, let us make an effort to protect our Earth because its our home at large.