Just how 'natural' are the floods in Chennai?

As the state paddles hard against the rising waters, the government's apathy is shocking.

 |  4-minute read |   05-12-2015
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Over two hundred and eighty people dead, thousands marooned with no electricity. In some instances, people have been without any food and drinking water for days. We have all seen the aerial shots of submerged cars and homes. We have seen on the ground footage of hapless women in nine-yard sarees trying to scramble onto floating barrels and men swimming through filthy brown water holding aloft precious plastic bags containing meager rations.

When the city was lashed by heavy rains, it was initially exciting for school children to miss their classes. Now however, they are looking at the real possibility that their school may not open for months and that too is a best case scenario.

In the midst of all this, the Tamil Nadu government holds a press conference in which chief minister Jayalalithaa hides behind her cabinet ministers, not even making a statement of condolence for the bereaved victims. Unfortunately, it is not just just the floods, but this lack of concern which is more shocking, along with the fact that the Chennai state government proved to be under equipped, and totally incapacitated in the face of a 'natural calamity'.

It took the combined efforts of the Indian Navy and the Army which always come to the rescue in the face of state apathy.

In fact, as thinking people, we have to question how natural are the floods in Chennai given the glaring evidence that it was due to the gross mismanagement of the city’s waterways.

The nexus of greed between politicians and builders resulted in the building of colonies over several naturally reclaimed water bodies and a poor, if at all existent, system of storm water drains. With nowhere to run-off, the rainwater got accumulated and rose to over ten feet high. The Cooum River, Adyar River and Buckingham Canal, which serve as the main rainwater drains for the city, have all been encroached upon.

The building of a sprawling bus terminal in flood-prone Koyambedu, a mass rapid transit system constructed over the Buckingham Canal and the Pallikaranai marshlands added to the worries. Expressways and bypass roads were constructed with no attention to the tendency of water to flow. When asphalt replaces earth, the water has no where to go and it is only 'natural' that it will lead to flooding.

In a pro-active step, the Kasturba Nagar and Indira Nagar Residents Welfare Forum, seeking the removal of encroachments on the Canal Bank Road along the Buckingham Canal, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). In their petition, they said the encroachments were not slum dwellings but concrete structures directly affecting the flow of the canal.

Given all these factors, one must also take into account that it was, however, the worst rainfall witnessed by the capital of Tamil Nadu in 100 years.

The meteorological department has cited El Nino, a cyclonic depression, as the cause for the heavy rainfall. However, this disaster is aligned with global warming and unchecked urbanisation, a thinning of the ozone layer and a shift in climate patterns - all reasons that point to mankind's disrespectful and self destructive trash-and-burn approach to colonising nature with asphalt and concrete.

It is not an anti-developmental stand when the warning signs are raised by environmentalists who are often dubbed as anti-progress-green-hippies. We have to grow with nature and not against it, or else we will find an increase in natural disasters. Floods like these will soon become common place in costal areas like Chennai and Mumbai - cities that have been over populated and over developed with no heed to maintain a safe distance from the shoreline of the river or the sea.

Every single flood-hit area in Chennai is clearly and glaringly linked to ill-planned construction, whether it is Anna Nagar, Porur Vanagaram, Maduravoyal, Mugappair or Ambattur. This should spell out very clearly to those who are looking only at short-term profits that this approach needs to change. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the obvious steps that have to be taken to curb such man-made disasters. It is a humble appeal to Amma: come out on the streets of Chennai, feel the pulse of the people and pass stringent laws restricting the greed of builders running amok over warning signs meant for curbing unplanned and ill-planned development.



Archana Dalmia Archana Dalmia @archanadalmia

The writer is a columnist for Mail Today.

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