Sig­nal, in­ter­rupted

By al­low­ing high-rises around an ad­vanced weather radar in Mum­bai, IMD sets a bad ex­am­ple for the rest of the coun­try


July 26, 2005, was a water­shed in the his­tory of Mum­bai.The city re­ceived an un­prece­dented rain­fall of 944 mm in just 24 hours, lead­ing to flash floods and mas­sive loss of lives and prop­erty. In the wake of the city’s worst-ever floods, the Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ment de­cided to in­stall a Dop­pler Weather Radar (dwr) in Mum­bai for ad­vanced weather fore­cast­ing. Af­ter some tech­ni­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive glitches, the radar fi­nally be­came func­tional to­wards the end of 2011. It was in­stalled on top of the 18-storey Ar­chana build­ing in Navy Na­gar area in south Mum­bai, in­forms an of­fi­cial of the In­dia Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment (imd) on the con­di­tion of anonymity. The build­ing al­ready had imd’s con­ven­tional radar in­stalled.

For its proper func­tion­ing the Dop­pler radar re­quires the area around it to be free of tall struc­tures. Now ,in a ma­jor set­back to the state-of-the-art dwr, imd, un­der pres­sure from real es­tate de­vel­op­ers, has de­cided to do away with the re­stric­tions on con­struc­tion of high-rises around the radar. Two years ago, the Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion of Greater Mum­bai (mcgm) had made it manda­tory for any high-rise project greater than the height of the Dop­pler radar (68 me­tres) to have imd’s manda­tory no-ob­jec­tion cer­tifi­cate (noc) be­fore work could be started.

Last year, a group of pri­vate de­vel­op­ers moved the high court against the con­tro­ver­sial noc clause, which they claimed had stalled cru­cial devel­op­ment pro­jects in the me­trop­o­lis. For ac­cu­rate data gath­er­ing, the area of 10 km ra­dius around the radar should not have high-rises. Builders in­formed the court that such a con­di­tion was re­gres­sive in a land-locked city like Mum­bai.The court di­rected both imd and the pe­ti­tion­ers to work out a so­lu­tion, say­ing, “A bal­ance needs to be struck between the need for devel­op­ment and having a Dop­pler radar.” On July 14 this year,i md in­formed the Bom­bay High Court that project de­vel­op­ers will no longer have to seek the depart­ment’s noc be­fore ap­ply­ing to the civic body for clear­ance of tall build­ings.

“Yes, we have in­formed the court that imd’s noc is no longer required. Tall struc­tures can come up around the Dop­pler radar in Mum­bai,” Su­nil G Kam­ble, direc­tor, Re­gional Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Cen­tre, Mum­bai, in­formed Down To Earth, re­fus­ing to com­ment fur­ther on the con­tentious is­sue.

Till 2011,Mum­bai had con­ven­tional radar, which could only study the height and

dis­tance of the cloud. Its black and white po­lar di­a­grams had to be man­u­ally plot­ted by a fore­caster and then faxed to the au­thor­i­ties con­cerned. The Dop­pler radar func­tions 24x7 and gives fresh 3D coloured images ev­ery 10 min­utes, which are avail­able on imd’s web­site.It can pre­dict a weather event, such as the 2005 floods, six hours in ad­vance, giv­ing enough time to warn and evac­u­ate peo­ple (see ‘How dwr works’).

G Pan­dithu­rai, a sci­en­tist with the Punebased In­dian In­sti­tute of Trop­i­cal Me­te­o­rol­ogy, ex­plains that dwr emits beams to col­lect weather data and re­quires at least a 10 km ra­dius free of tall struc­tures. “Oth­er­wise it can­not see at­mo­spheric tar­gets, such as clouds, and in­stead re­ceives re­flec­tion from the high-rises,” he says.

Dop­pler v high-rises

imd’s manda­tory noc had af­fected sev­eral high-rise pro­jects in the past two years. In De­cem­ber 2013, Red­stone Group dragged the state gov­ern­ment, mcgm and imd to the Bom­bay High Court de­mand­ing shift­ing of the Dop­pler radar, which had stalled the com­pany’s un­der-con­struc­tion high-rise in Maz­gaon. The Ma­ha­rash­tra Cham­ber of Hous­ing In­dus­try (mchi-credai), too, in­ter­vened in the mat­ter.

“The 10-km ra­dius area prac­ti­cally cov­ers the en­tire south Mum­bai and cen­tral Mum­bai, thereby af­fect­ing both devel­op­ment pro­jects and re­de­vel­op­ment of old build­ings. This con­di­tion had wide fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions and hence, we chal­lenged it in the court,” says S S Hus­sain, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, mchi-credai.

When imd in­formed that it was not fea­si­ble to shift the radar from Navy Na­gar, the pe­ti­tion­ers pressed for a sec­ond dwr to com­ple­ment the func­tion­ing of Co­laba’s Dop­pler radar. “Let imd in­stall an­other radar at a suit-

In­stalling ex­pen­sive Dop­pler radars and not check­ing the growth of high-rises in their vicin­ity will af­fect ac­cu­rate weather fore­cast­ing

able lo­ca­tion to get more ac­cu­rate data and do away with the manda­tory noc,” rec­om­mends Hus­sain. Ac­cord­ing to sources at imd, the depart­ment and the state gov­ern­ment plan to in­stall an­other Dop­pler radar in Raigad district,40-50 km from Mum­bai.

Pan­dithu­rai of­fers an­other so­lu­tion. “Rather than a Dop­pler radar, imd can in­stall X-band radar, which is smaller in size and con­ve­nient to set up. It can also be shifted, if need be.” As against dwr, which has a range of 500 km, the X-band radar has a range of only 50 km.

Bad prece­dent for other states

In or­der to ac­com­mo­date high-rises in Mum­bai, the Union Min­istry of Earth Sciences— imd comes un­der its ju­ris­dic­tion — re­cently tweaked its guide­lines and clar­i­fied to the Bom­bay High Court that th­ese rules “now on­wards need not be­come a hin­drance to the com­pelling devel­op­ment needs of mega cities like Mum­bai”.

This change of stance is go­ing to have wide im­pli­ca­tions as dis­sent against Dop­pler radars is sim­mer­ing in other In­dian cities as well. Chen­nai’s dwr was in­stalled in 2002 on top of the Port Trust Cen­te­nary build­ing in Ge­orge Town at a height of 53 me­tres above the ground.In 2008,the then state chief sec­re­tary, L K Tripathy, told imd to shift the Dop­pler radar out­side the city lim­its so that high-rises could come up.The radar re­mains in place. Both the Chen­nai Metropoli­tan Devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (cmda) and the re­gional imd of­fice are tight-lipped on the is­sue. On be­ing con­tacted, N Usha, se­nior plan­ner with cmda and in­charge of dwr, re­torted: “Come to Chen­nai to meet our mem­ber sec­re­tary, else no in­for­ma­tion will be shared.”

At present, imd has a net­work of 15 func­tional dwrs across In­dia. One Dop­pler radar costs between 10 crore and 20 crore,

` ` ex­clud­ing the daily func­tion­ing and main­te­nance cost. In­stalling th­ese radars and not con­trol­ling high-rises in their vicin­ity may negate the rea­son for their ex­is­tence, which is ac­cu­rate weather fore­cast­ing.

The stage is al­most set for sky­scrapers to mush­room around Mum­bai’s Dop­pler radar, which may even­tu­ally be re­duced to a white ele­phant.

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