Bi­har, Amer­ica

Wa­ter­log­ging in Patna ex­poses poor ur­ban gov­er­nance – and Sushasan Babu

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Epiphany Of Ideas - ASHOK KU­MAR GHOSH, Bi­har Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board

What hap­pened in Amer­ica? This is what Bi­har chief min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar snapped back when asked about the flood­ing that has bat­tered the state cap­i­tal. To the ex­tent that ex­treme weather events ex­ac­er­bated by cli­mate change have bought mis­ery to var­ied parts of the world, in­clud­ing the rich­est coun­tries, he is cor­rect. But in sug­gest­ing that his gov­ern­ment should not there­fore be quizzed on what it has done to mit­i­gate such dis­as­ters, he is thor­oughly mis­taken.

In­dia has seen its wettest Septem­ber since 1917. Where the mon­soon usu­ally be­gins to re­treat early this month, it con­tin­ued rain­ing heav­ily in dif­fer­ent states. So much so that be­sides Bi­har, where over 40 peo­ple have lost their lives, over the past week deaths have also been re­ported from the low-ly­ing ar­eas of Ut­tar Pradesh, Gu­jarat and Jhark­hand. As for the city in the eye of the storm the wa­ter­log­ging in Patna has been de­scribed as un­prece­dented, as if it had suf­fered a cloud­burst.

It has bared there the in­ad­e­quacy of ur­ban de­sign and in­fra­struc­ture, a fate shared with Chen­nai, Mum­bai and many other cities. Ac­tu­ally so poor is the over­all plan­ning and co­or­di­na­tion that states like Bi­har, Kar­nataka and Ma­ha­rash­tra swing from drought con­di­tions to flood­ing in the same year. When rain is abun­dant they can nei­ther store enough of it nor drain it prop­erly. There is an ur­gent need for ca­pac­ity en­hance­ment on both fronts. This in­volves com­plex chal­lenges like un­der­stand­ing the shift­ing flows of rivers, with huge pop­u­la­tions al­ready in­hab­it­ing vul­ner­a­ble flood­plains. But some of this is ba­sic mu­nic­i­pal up­keep, such as un­clog­ging the stormwa­ter drains that are choked with plas­tic and other waste ma­te­ri­als.

One VIP vic­tim of wa­ter­log­ging this year was deputy chief min­is­ter Sushil Modi, who was stuck in­side his house for three days be­fore be­ing res­cued. This is again il­lus­tra­tive of why ev­ery­one should join forces for cli­mate mit­i­ga­tion, be­cause ev­ery­one is af­fected by it. What Patna is suf­fer­ing to­day any city could suf­fer to­mor­row. So ev­ery chief min­is­ter should be proac­tive. In­stead of de­flect­ing by point­ing fin­gers far and away, help fix your own back­yard. Im­prov­ing dam and reser­voir man­age­ment, pro­tect­ing the Western Ghats, recharg­ing aquifers, re­claim­ing wet­lands, de­silt­ing rivers, in­creas­ing lo­cal ac­count­abil­ity … the so­lu­tions are many, they only await a will to act.

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