ARE WE READY?
With inadequate infrastructure failing to bear the brunt of the weather gods, various parts of Chennai have been plagued by waterlogging. Express takes a look at the preparedness of the State, and the road that needs to be taken for avoiding the problem..
Every time thick clouds hover over the city, dark forebodings of 2015 come rushing to our minds. Images of an old lady on a makeshift raft, a dog on a boat being rowed to safety, thousands displaced, and the aerial view of a marooned Chennai flash by like a nightmare. The wound is still afresh despite a year of drought last year. Those nightmares of rushing water in the silence of the night still keep us awake, not just here, but in Cuddalore and Nagapattinam as well, every time it rains.
Even now, when the Northeast monsoon is yet to release its fury over coastal areas, the potential threat it evokes is still nightmarish. There have been places where roads have been submerged, and there are places where water has entered rooms. Especially in those places that were built on waterbeds or wetlands. Because of the drought last year, the threat of an apocalypse is still way ahead. But as things stand, we have to ask ourselves this: have we done enough to escape the peril?
Vanishing water channels and water bodies, and structures on water bodies have made Chennai vulnerable to floods. The city has an 1,894km-long storm-water-drain network. But rather than flowing into it, rainwater has seeped out and inundated roads, streets and homes. As per Greater Chennai Corporation, 338 areas in the city have been flooded, many of which were waterlogged during premonsoon showers.
This despite the fact that desilting has been taken up in 1,204km of the city’s stormwater-drain network, and the near completion of Integrated Stormwater Drain (SWD) works in Adyar and Cooum basins.
Although desilting of stormwater drains is key to prevention of water-logging, activists state that their design and geography need an overhaul.
Said A Veerappan, retired special chief engineer, PWD, “They have not been designed to let gravity do its job. The drains should have circular concrete pipes to help water flow easily. The civic body has adopted a rectangular design instead.”
He added that without proper connection to canals and water bodies, the water that flows into these drains flow back onto the streets as it has nowhere else to go. A Comptroller Audit General (CAG) report that was tabled in the assembly in July had identified that the storm-water drains that were constructed in extended areas between 2011 and 2014 had been built without “topographical, meteorological Audit Report (Local Bodies) and hydrological data”.
The report stated that the data “essential for construction of SWDs was neither available in the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of Chennai Mega City Development Mission (CMCDM), nor from records made available to audit”.
SWDs under CMCDM were not planned based on ultimate linkage to natural waterways or water bodies for efficient disposal of stormwater runoff. Satyarupa Shekhar of the Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG) said, “The city corporation does not have an updated connection map of stormwater drains, at least one that is available in public domain.”
She added that roads are not cambercorrected either. On Friday, 1,425 corporation staff were on the ground night and day, bearing the brunt of infrastructure — executed based on poor planning — damage.
However, authorities may be waking up to the need to change infrastructure at a fundamental level rather than focus on maintenance of existing infrastructure that may by design be flawed.
K Satyagopal, Commissioner for Revenue Administration (CRA) and Relief Commissioner, said, “As the Chief Minister has instructed, we are contemplating creating stormwater drains using ducts beneath roads to let the water flow without entering habitations.”
He also noted that a `25 crore project for widening Adyar River and restoration Vegavathi helped avert flooding in several places. The other issue being blamed by experts is the vanishing of water channels and water bodies, both of which act as flood carriers.
The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) was caught unawares when in a reply to query under the Right to Information Act, the body stated that it did not have the list of water bodies in the city. The RTI was filed questioning if the CMDA had come up with the masterplan with respect to the complete list of water bodies, to which the urban-planning authority had responded saying that it did not possess a complete list.
“With the corporation also admitting to having no map of water bodies, what are the approvals granted by the CMDA and the corporation based on?” questioned Satyarupa.
A former CMDA town-planner blamed water stagnation on non-implementation of Section 22 A of the Registration Act, which prevents registration of sale deeds for plots in unauthorised layouts. This may have been a reality check had it been implemented nearly a decade ago.
The sale of unauthorised residential plots is one of the challenges the state has been facing. Subsequent regularisation of unauthorised plots on water bodies on catchment areas had emboldened property developers to sell plots in unauthorised layouts, even in the absence of planning bodies’ approval.
The blame lies with planning agencies and revenue department authorities who are turning a blind eye towards conditional approval being given to maintain water channels. These water channels are turned into built-up area, and during rains water fails to run down to water bodies.
Planners also feel the violation of masterplan and land-use plan has made the city vulnerable to floods. The redesignation of large tracts of land in the city, which were identified as low-lying in Chennai’s First Master Plan, as residential areas in the Second Master Plan was a major cause for floods.
“Going by history, places like Mudichur have been floodplains. Due to urbanisation, layouts have come up on them. Naturally these places are vulnerable for flooding,” said Satyagopal.
RL Srinivasan, leader of the Kaatukuppam Fishermen’s Cooperative Society, said while other parts of the city like Mudichur were constantly in the news, northern parts of the city, including Ennore, have been ignored time and again. Areas like Ennore, which had perfect natural drainage, ran the risk of being flooded due to structures built by Government agencies, said Srinivasan.
The bone of contention for fisherfolk and activists in Ennore is a road built by TANGEDCO that blocked the point where Kosasthalaiyar river met the Bay of Bengal. Interestingly, their stance stands vindicated as a report submitted by the Union Environment Ministry found that the road was indeed increasing the risk of floods in the area, block- ing the backwater.
According to the fisherfolk, water from the Pazhaverkadu side is unable to drain out. “Although the Union Ministry has said that the road is blocking the drainage, we have received no information as to when the road will be removed,” said Srinivasan. He added that this had affected shrimp fishing in the area over these two months.
Inundated crops tell own tale
While urban infrastructure may be to blame in cities like Chennai, areas like Nagapattinam — at the tail end of the Cauvery — have their own tales of woe.
The Nagapattinam district administration has claimed that 58,000 hectares of crop was inundated, but farmers are convinced that at least 70,000 hectares of samba crops aged between 10-20 days were left inundated in the district.
Speaking to Express, Cauvery S Dhanapalan, General Secretary for Cauvery Farmers Protection Association said, “After dengue, the government is trying to hide the accurate data on crop inundation. In Nagapattinam district, the Northern part is called Cauvery sub-division, and the southern part is being called as Vennar sub-division. In Vennar division alone we are facing 40,000 hectares of inundation. In the Cauvery subdivision, about 70,000 hectares of crops have been hit.”
According to him, it all started with the delay in release of water from Mettur Dam. Samba season should have ideally begun by the end of August, and the crops would’ve been around 40 days in age by October, reaching enough height to withstand monsoon showers. This time, water was released from Mettur Dam only on October 2, and the crops are still too young.”
Dhanapalan further accused the government of improper de silting in A,B,C,D type channels of Cauvery, which was the cause for flood in Sirkazhi and Tharangambadi Taluks of Nagapattinam district. When Express contacted officials of revenue department, they said, “Three canals, namely Thirunagari, Kovilaan Vaaikkal and Rajendran Canal, have witnessed breaches. They have been fixed. About 1,202 people who resided on the banks of those rivers are being shifted to three shelters.”
Children walk across an inundated Marina Beach as dark clouds loom on Saturday |
A man tries to navigate around a pothole on a flooded road in the city |