BMC won’t act, Mumbaikars must

Mumbai’s poor preparedness to face the monsoon was laid bare yet again on Monday night as heavy rains battered the city, inundating its road and rail network and crippling air traffic. Over 30 people died that night, most of them due to the collapse of a wall of a reservoir that crashed down on a slum. Others suffocated to death in inundated vehicles, were electrocuted or washed away by surging waters. The mayhem on display on Monday night and Tuesday as Mumbai struggled to stay afloat under some 372 mm of rainfall brought back memories of the deluge on July 26, 2005. One would have thought that after the 2005 rain disaster, civic authorities would have improved infrastructure in Mumbai. However, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) seems to have done precious little.

BMC does not lack funds. It is India’s richest civic body. What is lacking is the political will to make the city monsoon-ready and the ability to take responsibility for preventable disasters. BMC officials have blamed climate change for the city’s inability to handle rains. It is the BMC’s ineptness and corruption that is to blame. A recent CAG report drew attention to “major deficiencies” in the city’s system for management of flood risk.

Aggravating Mumbai’s problems during monsoons is the fact that vast tracts of the city have been built on land reclaimed from the sea. Water-logging is severe when it rains. Yet, the BMC continues to permit building construction without heeding ecology or environment. Protecting Mumbai’s mangroves should be an important part of its strategy to improve flood preparedness as mangroves are a natural flood-barrier and silt trap. Mumbai’s mangroves are severely endangered. River Mithi is on the brink of death. Choked by construction debris, it has lost capacity to discharge Mumbai’s excess water into the Arabian Sea. BMC won’t act, so Mumbaikars must to prevent future monsoon catastrophes.

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