India's recurring monsoon tragedy

While city roads become raging rapids, drainage flows into one's drawing room, and people start cursing the rain, in villages, the floods wash away homes and livelihood.
Kolkata Municipal Corporation workers cut a tree after it got uprooted and fell on a car following heavy rain, in Kolkata. (Photo| PTI)
Kolkata Municipal Corporation workers cut a tree after it got uprooted and fell on a car following heavy rain, in Kolkata. (Photo| PTI)

Throughout the sultry summer, we wait for rains with a longing that borders on insanity. The romance of rains is a recurring theme in both classical Sanskrit poetry and cheesy Bollywood songs. Rain is love, lust, sex, indulgence, romance and nostalgia, all rolled into one. That is until the monsoon hits Indian shores. After the first euphoria dies down, the romantic flick turns into a horror story. Roads become cesspools, pavements cave in, swallowing pedestrians, and buildings collapse.

People get electrocuted from faulty power lines. City roads become raging rapids, drainage flows into one's drawing room, and people start cursing the rain. In villages, the floods wash away homes and livelihood. Many parts of the country experience landslides, burying many. Dams burst, and the sea swallows swathes of coastal land. All forms of transportation rail, road and air get affected. Then the cycle of infectious disease starts. Dengue, malaria, influenza, tomato fever and many others play havoc. 

India has been receiving monsoons since the dawn of time. Still, every year, our civic authorities respond to it as if they are seeing it for the first time. Politicians give big shoutouts about the monsoon preparedness in the last week of May.  And the first rain often exposes the hollowness of such boasts. By the end of June, we all live in watery hellholes, cursing the rain, the country, the authorities, and our fate. Year after year, the horror story repeats. Many die, many are rendered homeless, and the media gets its visuals and TRP. Eventually, the monsoon retreats and drought grips the nation. The wait for water tankers, water in irrigation canals and drought relief package commences, along with the wait for the next monsoons.

Global warming is a culprit. The pattern of the monsoon has changed. All such excuses are paraded for the catastrophic failure of governance, year after year. No one can deny global warming and its effects. But the choking of drains has more to do with indiscriminate plastic usage than with any El Nino. One major contributor to plastic in cities is milk packets. Why is milk allowed to be distributed in plastic packages? Why should multinationals be allowed to serve beverages and water in plastic bottles? Coca-Cola produces an estimated 2,00,000 plastic bottles in a minute.

The figures for the competing brands would be the same. Add this to the plastic waste produced by other food industries such as chips, condiments, biscuits etc. Observe any landfill, and we can find most of this plastic waste ends up there. But the quirky rule to reduce plastic consumption is that the customer should shell out Rs 5 or 10 to get a so-called reusable plastic cover from the supermarkets.

Everything in that cover would have a plastic wrapper, including vegetables and even coconuts. All those would end up either in landfills or in the city drains. And who pays for cleaning these drains and picking up these waste? The hapless citizens' tax money is used for the same.

Profit is for the private firm; the responsibility of saving the environment is for the public. Isn't it time to heavily penalise the companies who refuse to find an alternative for such plastic wrappers and use it for our pre-monsoon preparations?  Landslides have become common in many parts of the country. Last two years, the monsoon brought disastrous floods to Kerala. Experts warned about the degradation of the Western Ghats. One would expect a state that faced such colossal loss of lives and property to be taking steps to reverse the degradation.

On the contrary, it seems nothing, not even another flood, can quench greed. The state government plans to come up with a law that would allow felling of old trees in the plantations and revenue land. As many as 1,800 rosewood and teak trees were cut recently from the revenue land. Farmers, who have been allotted forest lands for cultivation, have been demanding that they cut the public trees and take the profit. Since these form a significant vote bank, there are proposals to bring in a law to allow the felling of trees. This is in a state the Madhav Gadgil report had declared highly fragile.

But vote banks and some money in the bank are more important than lives, livelihood and nature. Much of the Himalayas have lost the green cover. Many foothills have vanished thanks to quarries. Like in every story of private greed, it is the poor who pays the price. Landslides have rarely killed the CEOs or page three celebrities. Sewage water doesn't usually gush into the kitchens of bungalows in posh gated colonies. The short-sighted policies, greed and vote bank politics leave millions of Indians, especially the poor and marginalised, defenceless. If we don't get our act right, the future looks ominous.

(The writer is author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy and can be contacted at

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