Delhi’s wait for its first brush with rains was much longer this year, with the monsoon missing several dates with the city. But when it finally arrived on July 13-14, there was more agony than ecstasy for Delhiites, who had been waiting desperately to get some relief from the suffocating heat and humidity. The familiar story of waterlogged roads, vehicles stuck in underpasses and massive traffic jams across the city was played once out again.
Amid the mayhem that was unleashed across the national capital with just a few hours of downpour on July 14 and again on July 19, there was one surprise in store, though: the notorious Minto Bridge underpass remained completely free of waterlogging. For the past few years, vehicles, including buses, getting submerged at Minto Bridge underpass had become a routine affair in the monsoon.
So, what was different this year at Minto Bridge? This has not happened by a miracle. It’s just that the Public Work Department (PWD) decided to get a little proactive this time. They redesigned the drainage system and ensure close monitoring to ensure the area is not flooded after rains. For the rest of the city, however, it was the same old story.
That sinking feeling!
A few hours of monsoon showers inundated many arterial roads and underpasses. With the PWD focusing its attention on Minto Bridge, there were over a dozen other underpasses that emerged as waterlogging hotspots this time. The scenes that had been witnessed at Minto Bridge the past few years were this time seen at Azadpur underpass and Pul Prahaladpur in South-east Delhi. Underpasses at Zakhira, Sarita Vihar, Kashmere Gate and Moolchand flyover were submerged, among others.
Although the PWD claimed that it had installed CCTV cameras and censor-based alarms to check water levels at 10 other crucial points, the ground reality painted a different picture. Despite agencies like PWD and the civic bodies of the capital claiming to have done 100 per cent desilting of drains this year, the situation remained the same as exasperated Delhiites tried to cope.
“Every year, the MCDs and the PWD waste over Rs 500 crore on desilting of whatever remains of the drains,” said Rajiv Kakria, member of Greater Kailash-I Resident Welfare Association. “The world over, drains are covered with moveable slabs. Only a 10 feet fixed ramp is allowed per building for vehicle movement. Due to stilt parking, a nonstop concrete ramp covering the drains has become inevitable, be it MCD’s colony roads or PWD’s arterial roads. The money for desilting should go into redesigning a drainage Master Plan keeping in mind a modern city’s needs,” added Kakria, who is also the convener of the NGO Save our City.
Why Delhi is flooded in monsoon?
Multiplicity of agencies has long been identified as one of the key reasons why the problem is never resolved. Too many departments under different authorities — Centre, Delhi government and municipal bodies — and lack of co-ordination between them compounds the problem of poor infrastructure, lack of maintenance and faulty design.
There are at least 11 different agencies responsible for roads and drains in Delhi, including the PWD, the three MCDs, DDA, Irrigation and Flood Control Department, the New Delhi Municipal Council and the Delhi Jal Board. These agencies are responsible for the desilting of drains every year and they claim to do so. But the perennial problem remains unsolved and these agencies pass the buck to each other, even as residents continue to suffer year after year.
“The PWD manages 1,260 km of roads — all are main roads — with drains running to 2,064 km in length, including storm drains. But the drains which are meant only for storm water are also used by the MCDs and the DJB, which puncture sewer lines and drain the sewage into the storm drains due to which they overflow when it rains,” said a senior PWD official.
“PWD’s work is to desilt the drains once a year before the monsoon and we do that. The MCDs look after colony roads and sewer effluent drains which needs to be desilted six times in a year. They don’t do that but puncture the sewerage and drain it into storm drains,” the official said.
Another senior PWD official said, “One of the main reasons behind the waterlogging is lack of proper sewerage system. The population has increased but the capacity of drains remains the same. The sewerage released in storm drains needs to be stopped. Careless disposal of plastic and industrial waste and encroachment are also contributing factors.”
“In markets like Azadpur mandi and Ghazipur mandi, they dump the garbage and animal/bird waste parts in the drains. Unauthorised colonies without sewer lines, puncturing of storm drains, garbage dumping on roads, plastics cans, construction debris, street hawkers and roadside stalls are all contributing to clogging of the drains,” said the official.
“Pul Prahladpur, which became the talk of town this month, is located between two slums — Sonia Gandhi camp and RJD Colony. The effluent water from both slums flows into the main road’s storm water drain at the underpass. Two manholes on the Badarpur-Saket sewer line is also near this underpass. Hence, when it rains, all effluent water from Badarpur-Saket sewerage overflows into the Prahladpur underpass due to which it gets heavily clogged.”
Even the Drainage Master Plan prepared by the IIT-Delhi suggests that sewarage and solid wastes should not be allowed to seep into the storm drains.
Encroachments are another troubling factor. According to Delhi government’s Irrigation and Flood Control Department, Delhi had 201 big drains for carrying rainwater to the Yamuna, which are mentioned in the Drainage Master Plan 1976. Of these, 44 are now “missing”. Experts say the missing drains were either encroached to raise high-rise buildings or filled up to construct roads.
Minto Bridge success story
Government authorities, IIT-Delhi’s ‘Drainage Master Plan’, urban experts and all other stakeholders agree on the need for a centralised authority for better coordination and fixing responsibility. “A centralised system/department is needed. The PWD should be made the nodal authority,” said a PWD official, adding that this will result in better coordination and the onus also will be on one agency to find a solution.
During a recent meeting on the city’s drainage system, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also proposed that the PWD should be made nodal authority, citing lack of coordination between DJB, MCD and other agencies. He cited the Delhi government agency’s success in resolving the waterlogging problem at Minto Bridge.
The Minto Bridge underpass, a problem point in the last few years, neither submerged in the rainwater nor saw any traffic congestion this month. PWD engineers this year conducted an exclusive assessment study of the drainage system of the underpass and the catchment area and redesigned it with new techniques.
Apart from four CCTV cameras and censor-based hooters/alarms, 12 pumps have also been installed to pump out the water as soon it reaches a certain level. The engineers and other officials concerned closely monitor the waters levels directly through their mobile phones.
While praising the PWD at the meeting last week, the Delhi CM had also said that a similar system will be adopted for other areas, too.
Solution to waterlogging woes
The Delhi government had commission a study of the city’s drainage system by IIT-Delhi in 2016 and it submitted its Drainage master Plan’ in 2019 recommending a slew of measures to keep the story water drain free of sewage and encroachments, among other suggestions. But the plan has remained on paper.
Prof Sewa Ram, Head of Department, Transport Planning, School of Planning and Architecture Ram, said, “At many places, the sewerage are released into storm water drains which should be stopped. When things can improve at 60-year-old Minto Bridge drainage system, why can’t it be done at other places? The drainage system infrastructure needs to be revamped. The government should also revisit the clauses of high-rise buildings and strictly implement the water conservation policy for all the drains.”
“It’s high time that the monsoon is not taken as an event because of waterlogging and traffic jams. Commuters may face problem once in a year but the consequences are serious. Roads crack and caved in and people die every year. Like they check fire safety system of every building, they should strictly check drains, too, and a completion certificate should be issued to agencies when the work is done. Multiplicity of agencies is also a major reason for the waterlogging problem. The government should form a committee and representatives from all the departments concerned should report to it,” he said.
Dr Ravindra Kumar, Principal Scientist at Central Road Research Institute, said, “There is a need of technological intervention. They should come up with censor-based system with CCTV cameras and an alert system and LED display should be installed. If you introduce such system at 10-12 major arterial road hotspots, it will help manage traffic better.”
IIT Delhi report’s recommendations for fixing waterlogging woes
- Storm drains should be treated as key public asset. No encroachment should be allowed. Any encroach-ment should be immediately removed
- Department managing storm drains should be made responsible for keeping them encroachment-free. Special drives to remove encroach-ment should be taken up
- No natural or artificial storm drain should be allowed to carry sewage. Only treated sewage of acceptable quality as per CPCB norms should be allowed in these drains
- All drains that are entering the NCT of Delhi (from Haryana, UP etc.) should be only carrying storm water and treated sewage of acceptable quality as per CPCB norms
- No solid waste should be allowed to be dumped into storm drains. Construction waste should not be allowed to be dumped in storm drains or depressions
- The practice of DJB of puncturing sewer lines and draining sewage into storm water drains in the event of blockage should be stopped. DJB should use latest mechanisms such as supper suckers for de-clogging the sewer lines
- No sewage should be allowed to enter the storm water drains even from unauthorised colonies
- No silt from the road (before or after road sweeping) be allowed to be dumped into drains. Road sweeping process should be completely overhauled
- No solid waste or construction & demolition waste be allowed into storm drains
- Weight/volume of silt received after street sweeping should be recorded
- No construction should be allowed inside any storm water drains