Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXIII No. 17, December 16-31, 2023

A time to introspect on our mistakes

-- by Sriram V.

Cyclone Michaung has come and gone. It left behind a trail of destruction. It also seemed tailor-made to expose all our inadequacies. It showed up the city for what it is – built on shoddy infrastructure, with poor planning laid on it, and a willing citizenry that has co-operated with vested interests in bending every rule in the book as far as town planning is concerned. If such a metropolis does not get flooded, what else will?

It was ironic to see the way political parties reacted. The ruling entity, which riding on a weak monsoon last year had touted its so-called stormwater drain rectification a success was left with much mud splattered on it. Of course, politicians being what they are, everything turned into a photo opportunity – councillors jumping into plastic-filled drains to remove blocks (why allow it to get that way in the first place?) and being praised sky high, ministers and others wading through water to offer succour and relief and of course the spin doctors on social media immediately publicising everything. And when everything failed the tone and tenor changed to how Michaung was handled far better than the 2015 floods.

The Opposition begged to differ. Conveniently forgetting that it had thoroughly messed up reservoir management in 2015 and caused untold suffering owing to the consequent floods, this group went hammer and tongs at the Government, accusing it of large-scale corruption in the stormwater drain project, which had failed completely. The social media wing of the Opposition went to town on the Government’s inadequacies. The truth lay somewhere in between these two extremes and the common man/woman bore the brunt of it all.

Will Michaung change the way we handle our city and its environs? Unlikely. But it, and its predecessors have shown that extreme weather systems are going to be the norm in future, and we better be prepared for it. And if we are serious about it, and not placated by sops such as Rs 6,000 per ration card, we need to really demand action. The first of these is a proper stormwater drain plan for the city that considers topography and natural gradients. The second is the immediate stoppage of continuous raising of main road levels. This folly by itself has caused what were once elevated areas to become flood prone. The third is to demand de-silting of drains and water channels and prevent them from being encroached upon. And let us add here that encroachments are not by slums but fat cat industrial establishments. Fourth, the natural sponges that surround our city, by way of the Pallikaranai Marsh and reservoirs need to be left alone. Their continued shrinkage cannot be permitted. Lastly, it is high time Chennai has an inviolable boundary drawn around it, making sure urban expansion takes place elsewhere in the State. There is a certain limit to what a city can bear, and we seem to have reached that.

And so, next time we throw a piece of plastic waste on to the street let us pause. And before we feel tempted to buy that plot of land marked out on what was once a lake let us think twice. And each time we see water bodies being encroached upon let us inform someone in authority and what is more, follow up on action. And when we see our road levels being raised let us not immediately contemplate raising our plinths but go out there and ask as to why road levels cannot remain the same. The future is dependent on us and not the politicians.

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