Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXI No. 15, November 16-30, 2021
It seems as though it was only yesterday that the 2015 floods happened – the deluge, the filling up of waterbodies and then the much-delayed release of surplus water, causing unprecedented flooding of much of the city. There was then an outpouring of rage (and plenty of public-spirited help too, it must be acknowledged) – against the Government, the politicians, the bureaucrats, the builders, the contractors who are awarded tenders for public works, encroachers on waterbodies and corruption in general. What was largely forgotten was that we as people were complicit in every one of the above. And then, the waters subsided, the anger cooled and we went back to our usual ways. Sure enough, the water has come back, this time with added vigour.
In the last six years, it cannot be denied that some good did happen – a new reservoir was built to store surplus water, there was some attempt at desilting tanks and plenty of awareness was built up. None of this was clearly enough. Nature is changing at a much faster rate. That we were complacent was quite evident – such floods as witnessed in 2015 happen only once in 100 years was an oft-heard argument. It was also said that the floods were a man-made disaster, chiefly because a key decision to relieve reservoirs of water was not taken until too late. This would not happen again, it was said. True, there was better management of reservoir levels and regular release of water this time (once again a good learning from 2015) but the floods have come again, within six, and not a hundred, years. It also seems likely that such heavy rainfall will only become an increasingly frequent occurrence.
Chennai is after all a coastal city – that endangered breed of metropolis which will soon be branded a climate change hot spot. It is common knowledge that cities by the sea will face the danger of submersion owing to rising water levels as a consequence of temperature increase. More importantly, they will be subject to more frequent bouts of heavy rainfall. We in Chennai are already witnessing this phenomenon. What are we going to do about it all?
It is high time that we as citizens realise that we have some responsibilities towards the city and it cannot be a simple question of just rights all the way. If we are to leave behind a metropolis that can survive well into the forthcoming centuries, it is high time that certain codes of conduct are adopted. The first is a Government code of conduct that puts an end to all piecemeal and quick fix solutions to our drainage problems – there has to be a master plan for drains that will need to be implemented with vigour. There can be no scope for shortcuts. If massive corrections need to be done and past mistakes need to be rectified, these will have to be taken up, no matter what be the cost. Elsewhere in the world we have instances of rivers that have gone underground being restored, of flyovers and underpasses being corrected for alignments and of massive blocks in the way of water flow being removed. The Government will have to take this up.
Both those who issue tenders and those who receive them will need to realise that there cannot be compromises on public works in the interests of corruption. How many more layers of road will be piled up one upon another even as the neighbourhood sinks lower and lower? We have become experts in topping up, instead of relaying roads. This has caused alignments to go haywire, resulting in flooding. And can the public adopt a code of not encroaching on public space, not releasing untreated sewage into stormwater drains and rivers and above all, not purchasing lands that were once waterbodies?
If we do all of this, our city has some hope. But somewhere something tells us that all of this is quixotic and may never happen. What is certain then is more instances of 2015, 2021 and so on, until one final deluge. After all, cities have been known to vanish off the map. Nature can take only so much disrespect.