BY Vijay Darda
Rain in Mumbai..Mumbai helpless! Rain in Nagpur..Nagpur helpless! Rain in Delhi..Delhi helpless! Whenever any city experiences a little more than average rainfall into cesspool..! A stampede on the railway bridge in Mumbai last year, a bridge collapsed this year. A few months ago, during the construction of a bridge in Varanasi, a portion of a bridge had collapsed and three years ago, the entire bridge in Kolkata had collapsed killing several people. What is happening in our cities? Has the local government become inefficient or is it that no one bothers to address the problem?
Before trying to find an answer to this question, let us remember Sir Patrick Geddes. May be nobody knows his name in the present era. Patrick Geddes was a person who became famous for preparing master plans of cities all over the world. He made great efforts to improve the condition of the congested settlements of Scotland’s capital Edinburgh and succeeded. In view of his success, the Governor of Madras urged him to come to India and suggest ways for cities here. Patrick Geddes came to India and visited not only the Madras Administrative Region but also the cities of Bombay (now Mumbai) and the Bengal Administrative Area. He had made plans for around 18 cities in India which included one for Mumbai too. Patrick Geddes clearly said that the development of cities should be such that it can ensure a comfortable life to the people there. More important than beauty is the quality of life. He especially emphasized on cleanliness and drainage system of the city. Besides, he stressed that the heritage should be preserved. Indian cities should be developed according to the local needs and not like the cities of Europe!
In keeping with the suggestions of Patrick Geddes and their long-term implications, the British prepared master plans for the cities. After independence it was hoped that our own government would pay attention to the cities because the people from the rural area had started migrating to the cities in search of employment and better life but unfortunately, it was not done. The drainage system which the British had put in the cities was not broadened and we remained with them for many decades. We did not realise that if the population of the city is increasing rapidly then the drainage system will have to be made bigger and better to cope with the rising population. The city started expanding to accommodate the burgeoning population. The natural channels that carried the rain water were encroached upon and multi-storied buildings came up there. No one has imagined that when the buildings stand in the midst of the natural stream of water, people will have to face floods naturally. Its biggest and most serious form was seen in Chennai in 2015, when it rained more than 19 inches in 24 hours, and a large part of Chennai got submerged in the flood.
We have seen rain in Mumbai every year. When it rains heavily, the streets of Mumbai become water-logged. Water enters into thousands of homes. We witnessed the same situation in Nagpur two days ago. The question arises as to why in today’s modern era, there can not be such drainage system which will save the city from trouble even after torrential rains? It could be there but it will need a strong will and huge funds. Now the Central government is also spending huge amount of money to make cities modern and smart. Big claims are also being made, but unfortunately contrary to the suggestion of Patrick Geddes, stress is being put more on beautifying the cities than improving their drainage system. As a result, we are forced to face the situation like the one we did in Nagpur the other day. To all intents and purposes, a formal ritual of making the master plan of cities has been carried out every 10-20 years, but everyone knows that the politicians, the builders and the officers are contravening the master plan together. Most of the city’s population lives in the unplanned area.
Nearly twenty years ago, the 74th Amendment was made in the Constitution so that the entire responsibility of the cities is met by local government but most of the local bodies face chronic shortage of funds. Major cities such as Mumbai and Delhi still get a special grant, but in other cities like Nagpur, Aurangabad, the municipal corporation does not have much funds to repair the roads every year, leave aside laying new drainage lines and better water supply. The fund is not fully and honestly utilised. The nexus between the contractors and officers is so strong that it can not be broken. Under the two schemes of Amrit and Smart City Mission, about Rs. 98,000 crore are to be spent on development of cities by 2020. The infrastructure has to be hi-tech. Let’s hope that this money will not be spent only on painting and beautification. It is important to know how to drain rainwater out of the cities, how to keep the city clean, how to ease up the congested city traffic, and how to ensure that people get clean drinking water.
Before I conclude
The passion of an officer can inspire many people and charge them with courage and enthusiasm. Two days ago, over 600 children were stuck in a school during the torrential rains in Nagpur. Nilesh Bharne, DCP of Nagpur Zone 4 and his team conducted a rescue operation for 6 hours and rescued all the children safely. There were occasions when the DCP had to push the bus. I appreciate the courage of this police officer.
Vijay Darda has been the chief visionary and driving force behind Lokmat, a leading multi platform media company. He is a recipient of several prestigious awards including the Feroze Gandhi Memorial Award for excellence in journalism in 1990-91.
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