Is Mumbai prepared for another deluge? (Lead)

July 26th, 2008 - 1:45 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

Mumbai, July 26 (IANS) It was exactly three years Saturday since the great deluge that claimed over 400 lives in this metropolis. But very little has been done to ensure that a similar disaster does not recur. There were promises aplenty by authorities after the floods, but few of these pledges have been kept. Desilting work on three rivers hasn’t even started and a large financial aid announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is yet to reach the state government, says former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Kirit Somaiya.

According to state government estimates, the floods on July 26, 2005 caused damage to the tune of Rs.120 billion (nearly $3 million), destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, businesses and other public and private properties.

While over 400 people died, many are still untraceable as the city observes the third anniversary of the worst floods in living memory.

After the deluge followed a flood of reports, committees and recommendations on ways and means to avoid a recurrence, including the redevelopment of the Mithi River in Kurla, an eastern suburb.

Once a river with fresh water flowing, it was transformed into a huge gutter and dumping site over the past three decades. This was considered the main reason for flooding in large suburban areas.

Somaiya pointed out that the Mithi river redevelopment work has been delayed and barely 50 percent has been completed so far.

“In the current year, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority has removed 1.64 million cubic metres of silt from the river, of which nearly 80 percent has been shifted to dumping grounds,” he said.

Similarly, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has removed nearly 800,000 cubic metres silt from the river and has begun the construction work of a retaining wall in the river running 11.8 km in its jurisdiction.

The wall is set to be complete next year. The total project, including widening and deepening of the riverbed and the wall, will cost Rs.2.9 billion.

The Mithi river is being widened on a 19-km long stretch, of which the remaining two kilometres is likely to be completed by 2009-end.

Somaiya said that work on other important rivers in the city, including Dahisar, Poisar and Oshiwara, whose silting led to severe floods in the northwestern suburbs, has not yet been started despite several announcements by the state government.

He said that the soon after the flooding, the prime minister had announced a grant of Rs.1.2 billion for work on the Mithi river and Mumbai in general.

“However, till date, three years after the floods, the grant has not been received. The centre even rejected the state government’s demanded for relief of Rs.120 billion,” Somaiya said, showing official communication received through a right to information (RTI) query.

While the authorities and politicians fight it out, Mumbaikars still recall the floods with fear.

“Though three years have passed, the memories are still fresh and each time it rains heavily, I shudder and apprehend a similar situation,” Bashir Makhdoom, a swimming instructor in the northwest suburb of Kandivali, recalled to IANS.

Diamond merchant A.S. Shah said he has now given standing instructions to his wife to pick up their two children from school at the first sign of heavy rain.

His fear stems from the fact that he was stranded for eight hours in his vehicle and was then compelled to walk for four hours to traverse a four-kilometre stretch from his office to home at Malabar Hill.

Manasi Powale also had a terrible experience that day. She walked for three hours from Vile Parle to Andheri, a distance of three kilometres to reach her brother’s home that evening.

“My husband and in-laws were also very worried and I finally reached home the evening of July 27,” she said.

Like many other Mumbaikars, her family has asked her to rush home at the first signs of heavy rain and she dutifully obliges them.

Makhdoom, Shah and Manasi were lucky as they survived to tell their tale. Families of many who died in the deluge will Saturday hold a ‘Maha yagna’ (special prayers) on the banks of the Mithi River in remembrance of their loved ones.

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