Our climate is changing. Cities are collapsing. Mumbai became the latest example of what a deluge can do to the civic infrastructure. Incessant rains accompanied by wild winds brought India’s commercial capital to a grinding halt. People opened their homes and offices to stranded strangers, clubs and hotels put out helpline numbers offering free tea and snacks. The Indian Navy and the National Disaster Response Force were on red alert as the city went under water.
Well, the climate experts claim or warn that this is only a trailer. Much worse is in store. Our cities are simply not equipped to handle rains more than 70 mm, anything more means disaster. Are we prepared? No. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation—the richest civic body in the country with an estimated annual budget of Rs 37,000 crore—seems clueless.
It can be accused of corruption, mismanagement, but not of anything remotely linked to planning. We adopted the Brit lifestyle and the language, not the urban planning nor the railway maintenance. Whether it’s Mumbai, Chennai, or Kolkata, cities have grown in complete disregard of civic guidelines. The rates for every single illegal construction and encroachment that chokes a city are pre-determined. And slums abound.
There’s more than a city infrastructure that’s collapsing. Our greed for land has destroyed the wetlands. The mangroves of Mumbai which once absorbed the excess water and recharged the groundwater have been felled. If the Mithi river of Mumbai is filled with plastic and silt, the Buckingham canal in Chennai is choked with encroachment.
After a little bit of excess downpour, Bengaluru was under water this August and last. And every time catastrophe comes, the locals help each other, but never their cities. The cities lurch from one inundation to another. Even then, the big metro facing deluge and death attracts attention—not the vast rural hinterlands of Bihar, Assam, UP or West Bengal, where floods are an annual event, and so are the deaths and the destitution.