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Vol. XXXI No. 17, December 16-31, 2021

Our Readers Write

A look at the floods Past & present

Rains in Chennai Forty Five Years ago

7th November 2021. Our house in Alwarpet was surrounded by water, which threatened to enter any moment. We learnt later that in 24 hours Chennai had received 25cms of rain. My mind went back to the eventful day forty-five years ago.

I was taking a troupe of dancers and musicians for a tour of Kerala and Tamil Nadu for presenting my thematic dance presentation “Pibare Krishna Rasam.” It had been raining heavily since morning and I had a couple of last-minute errands before I left for the station. I waded through knee deep water on Bharathidasan road to the dance tailor Aiyyellu to collect some new costumes. He was trying to save the costumes and expensive sarees of his customers by shifting them upstairs. (Aiyyellu would meet with worse crises on two occasions in later years, the floodwaters inundating his shop.)

Our troupe consisted of dancers, musicians, make up artists, costumers, stage assistants and others with ages ranging from five to fifty-five and numbering around twenty-five. The departure of the train from central station was at 7.30p.m. People had to come from Mylapore, T.Nagar, Adyar, K.K.Nagar and other far-flung areas. When the first batch reached the station, the clock stood at 7.30 pm. Indefinite delays of departure and arrivals had been announced.

Each batch arrived to recount tales of adventure on the way. Chennai had become Venice. All roads were rivers with swift currents and eddies where manholes lay open.

Central station was in chaos with hardly any dry space and people packed to capacity. Our troupe went upstairs to the waiting hall for ladies while the menfolk hovered nearby. In two hours we had exhausted all the food brought from home and there were hungry people. The five-year-old was running high fever. All the food at the station was exhausted. Fortunately, the medical shop was open and we could buy the required medicines.

A couple of the accompanists braved the floods and went across the road to fetch idlis for us. The rake of the train arrived at the platform around 1.30 am and we were allowed to board. We fell asleep and did not know when the train left. Once it was past Arakkonam there were no rains and the sun came out shining.

When we reached Trichur in the evening we learnt from the newspapers that the Kotturpuram tenements had been flooded up to the first-floor level. Our tabla artist found that his wife and children had to be rescued by boats and were taken to the safety of a relative’s house.

My husband who had come to see us off at the station had to leave the car in a compound on Nungambakkam high road and wade through knee deep water all the way home to Alwarpet in the dark. As a precautionary measure the power had been switched off .

The water drained off in a couple of days and Chennai was dry again. Water did not enter houses other than those on the banks of Adyar and other rivers.

This was on 26th of November 1976. It had rained 45 cms in one day. It was the maximum rainfall recorded in a day.
Forty five years later the city is unable to manage half the amount of rain.

by Sujatha Vijayaraghavan

***

Chennai Floods 2021 – a different one

The recent floods that Chennai faced are different from the floods experienced in 2005 and 2015. One of the reasons for the latter was the release of excess water from irrigation tanks located in the adjoining districts of Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur, in particular Chembarambakkam. Flood water disposal system (Stormwater drains) not being efficient, lack of maintenance of waterbodies within the extended area of Chennai, intense rainfall in a short period of time and urbanisation were the other reasons.

On the contrary, the recent Chennai floods were not because of any excess water being released from the irrigation tanks into the Adyar and Cooum rivers, but only from the rains that fell on Chennai and that too in the first spell of northeast monsoon itself, which pushed up the groundwater levels to surface level.

Before we go on to discuss any further, it should be realised that groundwater is available in two discontinuous layers separated by hard rock – the shallow layer above hard rock and the deep one within hard rock. It is the shallow layer, which gets replenished every year with all our RWH efforts and is therefore a sustainable one. Open wells and shallow tube wells are dug to tap this groundwater source. This layer got saturated completely in the recent floods and remains above ground level, thereby posing a threat.

In a large majority of areas in Chennai the shallow groundwater level was very high even before the onset of the NE monsoon. We at the Rain Centre, witnessed this while implementing RWH in several areas of Chennai. It was imminent that it would rise even in the first spell of the NE monsoon and it happened. Groundwater levels in several areas of Chennai are at ground level leaving no space for any more rains to percolate into the soil. This has led to inundation, water logging and floods in most parts and any amount of pumping may not solve the problem. Any more rains and the flooding will be severe.

Reasons for groundwater level being high this year

Since October 2020, rainfall has been good in Chennai. During Oct-Dec 2020 the rainfall was 1033mm, the fifth highest in 21 years for that period followed by 220mm during Jan-May 2021, fourth highest for 21 years for that period. The southwest monsoon of 2021 during June-Sept contributed 558mm, which was the fifth highest in 21 years. During the first spell of northeast monsoon in October 2021 the rainfall was 216 mm followed by 164 mm during 1st to 6th of November and 250 mm on a single day (7th Nov.).

To cut the story short, rainfall has been extremely good for almost one full year which kept the groundwater levels of Chennai high.

Secondly, the metro water supply was very good during the past one year in almost all the localities of Chennai. Because of this, citizens did not tap their groundwater source and hence their levels remained high.

Way out

There are no immediate solutions for the problem of floods except to pump out wherever possible or remain patient till water subsides. There are of course long-term solutions to be adopted by both the society (citizens) and the state (Government).

Citizens should start tapping the shallow groundwater source through open wells or shallow tube wells and reduce or stop consuming metro water. This will help us to deplete the water table enabling flood waters to recede. Deep bore wells will not help us to do this since they tap a different layer of groundwater source.

The Government (CMWSSB) should install water meters for the domestic consumers also and charge according to the consumption, almost similar to electricity. The more they consume, the more they pay. This will help to motivate the residents to tap their shallow groundwater source and deplete it.

CMWSSB can also adopt a dual pricing policy of charging more during monsoon and a couple of months thereafter and charge less during summer months.

Sekhar Raghavan
Director, Rain Centre

***

Request for relief

Ours is a residential complex comprising 28 flats, located at 31/57 Motilal Street T Nagar. The complex was constructed 25 years ago. Every monsoon, we face flooding in our premises, forcing the residents of ground floor flats to seek shelter elsewhere and the others to endure after-effects.

It must be mentioned that when the residents took possession of the flats, the road level was four feet below the floor level of the building. The relaying of the roads by the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) without milling, over a period of time, has led to the road level going up menacingly. As a result, the floor level of our complex has become far below the road level. In view of the above, rain water flows into the premises, causing inundation. The dysfunctional storm water drains also add to the flooding.

Thus, every year, we have to live with the flooding in our premises. Since the main switches and meters of the flats are installed at the ground floor, these too get submerged in the water, forcing us to turn off power to the premises to avoid electrocution. The power gets restored only when the water is fully receded.

Since the well water and the water in the Metrowater sumps get polluted due to flooding, we have to necessarily pump out the entire water incurring heavy expenditure.

This time too, when it rained from Nov 5, 2021, we faced the situation. Since water had entered the ground floor flats, the residents had to go elsewhere. As the flood situation had necessitated switching off power to the premises, the residents in other floor too had to leave, as it was without power and water.

To make the premises inhabitable, and, to pump out flood water and water from well and sumps, we had to spend Rs.1 lakh. Since the rain has not subsided even on 27/11/2021, our premises is still under water and pumping out water is on. We have to incur additional expenditure of approximately Rs.75,000. Thus, the total amount comes to Rs.1,75,000.

Further, as the flooding had displaced our residents, while those on the ground floor (7 flats) had incurred an expenditure Rs.50,000 each amounting to Rs. 3,50,000 others on first/second and third floor, Rs.30,000 each, totalling Rs. 6,30,000.

As could be seen, a total of Rs.1,75,000 for common purposes, and, Rs. 3,50,000 plus Rs. 6,30,000 (Rs. 9,80,000) by the residents have been spent.

We therefore seek a total relief of Rs. 11,55,000 from the government/GCC. In view of the fact that we face the situation as above due to the gross negligence of the civic agencies, we seek the above relief immediately.

Shreebagh Flat Owners’ Association,
31/57, Motilal Street
T, Nagar, Chennai 600 017

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