Chennai floods more of man’s making than natural, say reports

03 Dec 2015


Environment minister Prakash Javadekar was not entirely off the mark when he said the havoc that untimely rains brought to Chennai cannot be linked to climate change. While climate change would have brought untimely rains the flood that resulted was more of man's making, they say.

Chennai floods

Almost the whole of Chennai city is flooded while the low-lying area between Velachery and Sholinganalur is especially badly affected by the heavy rains. This has only exposed the city's flawed urban planning and illegal constructions and the undermining of its natural waterways, say reports.

The heavy downpour, the worst in several decades, forced authorities to release 30,000 cusecs of water from the Chembarambakkam reservoir into the Adyar River over two days, causing it to flood its banks and submerge neighbourhoods on both sides. The water did not flow as expected as the Adyar's stream is not very deep or wide, and its banks have been heavily encroached upon over the years.

This is something similar to what happened in Mumbai and its suburbs in the 2005, as the Mithi river that used to carry the city's waste water to the sea failed to flow after it got clogged and blocked on its way.

In Puducherri also a similar thing happened - the Cooum River that winds its way through the city got flodded by water released from the Puzhal reservoirs.

While the state government and the centre blame nature for the calamity, they conveniently forget the failure of the administration that allowed mindless construction to go on in the name of development – the damage during the monsoon was ''inevitable.''

The drainage system, especially, storm water drains, that is particularly important in a city, has conveniently been given a go by the authorities, this led to the foiling of low lying areas and this has played a major role in the flooding of Chennai city.

Planning officials say the underground drains got clogged and failed to evacuate water. This may be true, but that cannot be an excuse. The unclogging of drains is also the duty of the authorities. Or they should find fool-proof alternatives.

Reports quoting experts at Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) said the key parameter of rain intensity measure - which ought to be at least 1 inch per hour - has been ignored while planning multicrore drainage projects.

While storm water drains are supposed to be planned on the basis of detailed topographical data, their linkage with water bodies, construction along their course, and the design of roads have rarely been seen as part of a whole. As a result, drains constructed over the past decade have repeatedly proved inefficacious - and showed up problems of poor urban planning nearly every monsoon.

Planning officials said contractors are rarely briefed on the topography or the flood character of sites. A top civic official said even the water log data of the last 10 years are often not considered as officials ''hurry to complete works'' before the allocated funds lapse. Also, another expert was quoted as saying that  mandatory standards based on data on sea level and water flows have not been followed, resulting in situations like Koyambedu, the neighbourhood that saw expensive storm water drain projects, but has still gone under.

Un top of it, illegal construction has taken over areas that have been a tank, lake, canal or river 20 years ago, making neighbourhoods unrecognisable.

A report submitted by CMDA to the Madras High Court puts illegal structures in and around Chennai at 1.5 lakh, and despite several HC orders and after appeals to the Supreme Court for their demolition, the buildings stand.

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