Shanghai dream, Mumbai nightmare
Mumbai recorded 944.2 millimetres or 37.1 inches of rain over a 24-hour period ending July 27, the highest ever rainfall recorded in a single day in India and beating a record that has stood the test of time since July 1910. According to an official release, 267 Mumbaikars lost their lives due to nature's fury. The actual death toll could be much higher. Hundreds lost their homes and belongings and will have to start all over again. Loss of livestock is estimated at 5,000.
Although none in Mumbai could withstand nature's fury, its impact could have been reduced had effective disaster management been in place. A proper public address system would have stopped many office goers from straying outside their offices. Even at railway stations there was no one to inform commuters of events unfolding in other parts of the city. Communication systems broke down and people could not find out the fate of their near and dear. A public address system and communication systemóboth in working orderówould have saved hundreds of innocent lives and put thousands of others out of nerve-wracking misery.
Flooding has brought to the fore the dismal state of the drainage system in the city, especially in the suburbs. Though a comprehensive drainage system was planned for Mumbai with World Bank aid a few years ago, the plan is languishing in the corridors of power. Maybe, papers are shuttling between Mantralaya, the state Secretariat, and the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. It is unfortunate that our political masters pay no heed to the critical importance of a proper drainage system for a Metro city like Mumbai. Even after last week's calamity there is no guarantee that the authorities will give sincere thought to overhauling the drainage system. Is it because such calamities occur only once in a few decades and public memory is short?
Urban drains in the city are increasingly being used for wastewater and sewage disposal and the consequent overflows result in epidemics like malaria, dengue and typhoid. Garbage-collecting vehicles are out of order and one can see mountains of garbage accumulated on roads with no chance of their disposal anytime soon. Indeed, the entire government machinery has failed Mumbai and its citizens.
The government needs to change its mindset. Setting up an efficient drainage system must be top priority now. It is the least our hungry-for-votes politicians can do before dreaming about converting Mumbai into Shanghai.
[1 August 2005]