That sinking feeling…

After sitting on an ‘action plan’ for months, Thiruvananthapuram corporation scrambles for pre-monsoon sanitation drive at the last minute
The Amayizhanchan canal that passes through the city is in a sorry state, with many stretches chock-a-block with garbage. A scene from Pazhavangadi
The Amayizhanchan canal that passes through the city is in a sorry state, with many stretches chock-a-block with garbage. A scene from PazhavangadiPhoto | Express

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Erratic weather patterns and unprecedented volumes of rainfall have made the state capital dangerously vulnerable to flash floods throughout the year. Unfortunately, it seems the corporation and other departments concerned haven’t learnt much from past mistakes.

Thiruvananthapuram faced one of its worst urban flooding last October. It left residential areas submerged, displacing hundreds of families.

This year, despite directives from the High Court and the local self-government department, the civic authorities have failed to launch an effective pre-monsoon sanitation drive in all hundred wards under its jurisdiction.

Pre-monsoon sanitation drives, it must be noted, are crucial to prevent urban flooding and the spread of communicable diseases. Unclogging drains, eradication of mosquito sources, cleaning of public places, and removal of waste heaps are some of the measures taken during such drives.

The Indian Meteorology Department (IMD) has issued a rain alert for the capital from Thursday, and the monsoon is expected to arrive on time. Predictions caution of above-normal rainfall this year.

Ideally, the civic authorities should have carried out the pre-monsoon sanitation drives during March-April. However, it is learnt that the civic authorities have been sitting on an ‘action plan’ for months, thanks to the Lok Sabha elections.

“It is disappointing that neither the government nor the corporation took the effort to carry out the pre-monsoon sanitation drive. Now, it’s too late,” said P Jayadevan Nair, president of the Fraternity of Residents’ Association Thiruvananthapuram (FRAT).

An open sewer clogged with garbage near Enchakkal Junction
An open sewer clogged with garbage near Enchakkal Junction

“We expected prompt action from them, considering the severity of flooding we faced last October. People were forced to leave their homes during the wee hours because of rising waters.”

Many densely populated residential areas in the core of the city – including Gowreesapattom, Marappalam, Pattom, Murinjapalam, and Kannamoola – were inundated in October. Following the flash floods, the corporation requested IIT Roorkee to conduct a flood mitigation study for the city. However, according to official sources, the civic body is yet to officially engage them.

“Following our request, an IIT Roorkee team visited the city. However, because of the elections, nothing happened after that, We will be writing to them this week, to draw up the terms of reference for the study. The study is crucial for mitigating recurring urban flooding. They will be coming up with short-term and long-term solutions,”” said a corporation official.

Meanwhile, FRAT has submitted a memorandum to the state government and other authorities concerned, highlighting concerns and demanding action.

The dug-open roads in the city are among the major concerns raised by FRAT. Several roadworks undertaken by the Smart City Thiruvananthapuram Ltd (SCTL) have been dragging on, missing multiple deadlines.

“The road work is progressing at a snail’s pace, and the rain is going to worsen the situation. We have raised such pressing issues,” Jayadevan added.

Councillors, too, have been voicing concerns over the delay in launching the pre-monsoon sanitation drive. As of now, the corporation has scheduled about 985 works in the hundred wards as part of the pre-monsoon sanitation drive. However, the action plan was approved by the corporation council only a day ago.

“Now, the ward-level sanitation committee meetings should be convened; the drive will take off only after that. It’s going to take another week,” said senior BJP councillor P Ashok Kumar.

“We had highlighted these issues ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. They could have just approved and started executing the work. This is an annual exercise, and the election code of conduct is not an excuse for not doing their job.”

Non-biodegradable waste collected by Haritha Karma Sena left at Kaithamukku. Timely clearance of such junk seldom happens, according to city residents
Non-biodegradable waste collected by Haritha Karma Sena left at Kaithamukku. Timely clearance of such junk seldom happens, according to city residents

Though the corporation council has decided to release more funds for carrying out the drive, many councillors believe there is not enough time to execute it effectively.

“This action plan is just an eyewash.The sanitation and waste management activities are not happening effectively. The government has launched this campaign, but nothing is happening on the ground. The activities of Haritha Karma Sena are not satisfactory. They are just collecting waste from households, taking money for their services, and dumping the junk elsewhere within the respective wards. This is not the way,” said UDF councillor P Padmakumar.

Tonnes of silt and garbage removed from the canals, stormwater drains, and sewage network is another challenge. Kunnukuzhy councillor Mary Pushpam said that the cleaning work by the irrigation department was shoddy.

“They are removing and piling the garbage and silt removed from the canal network on the roadsides,” said Mary, who is a member of the corporation’s health standing committee.

“When it rains, this junk goes back into the canals. They have the machinery and funds to do the work, but they are not utilising them effectively.”

Mary added that a coordinated effort from the corporation’s health wing was lacking. “Two council meetings were called after the elections. Instead of discussing such issues, they were playing politics over petty issues not concerning the citizens. I wanted to raise these issues in the previous council, but it ended in a ruckus without discussions,” she said.

When asked about the mess-up, corporation health standing committee chairperson Gayathri Babu said the pre-monsoon sanitation drive “will be in full swing in the coming week”. The situation, she added, “is under control”.

“We are confident that the work will be completed by May end,” Gayathri said. “A large chunk of work will be completed in the coming days. The work has already kicked off in some of the wards.”

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