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..

Sunday Express - - SUNDAY STORY - In­puts from Ni ru pa ma Vis wan an than, C Shiva ku­mar, R Si va ku­mar( Chen nai ), and Man ik and an( Na ga patti nam)

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.”

D SAMPATHKUMAR

Chil­dren walk across an in­un­dated Ma­rina Beach as dark clouds loom on Saturday |

MARTIN LOUIS

A man tries to nav­i­gate around a pot­hole on a flooded road in the city |

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