IS MUMBAI prepared for an urban disaster? While officials and agencies highlight many measures initiated after the floods in 2005, environment and urban planning experts almost unanimously say no.
Mahesh Narvekar, chief officer of disaster management at Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, told THE WEEK that Mumbai was far better placed now than it was in 2005. “We have initiated engineering as well as non-engineering measures to prevent a repeat of 2005-like situation.” In 2006, a fact-finding committee headed by Madhavrao Chitale studied all water carriers in Mumbai and gave recommendations to the government. The committee had recommended immediate completion of BRIMSTOWAD project which was done on a war footing, and Rs.3,400 crore was spent to augment the city's drainage system.
The capacity of the Mithi river, which had wreaked havoc in 2005, was increased four times. “The river has been widened up to 100 metres and deepened up to 60 metres,” said Narvekar. “We now have three heavy-duty pumping stations which lift 6,000 litres of water per second; a fourth one will be commissioned in 2016. Four more are planned and land acquisition process is on.”
The hidden rivers of Mumbai—Dahisar, Oshiwara and Poisar—have also been augmented by widening and deepening. “The entire city has been contour mapped at the interval of 20cm. Prior to 2005 we had just two automatic weather systems; now we have seven,” said Narvekar.
Environmentalist Girish Raut, however, thinks the preparedness will be futile against the force of nature. “When we have committed unscientific and unethical development, better planning will not be able to correct it,” he said.
As torrential rains crippled Chennai, Stalin D., a prominent environmentalist in Mumbai, wrote to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, warning him that Mumbai would be 'submerged even in a normal monsoon thanks to the relentless concretisation, and reclamation of flood plains and low lying areas'.
Raut said the 2005 floods were not caused by high tides as commonly believed. In fact, Mumbai had low tide on that day. “We have reclaimed 70 per cent of mangroves in the last 75 years and every reclamation has disturbed the basic assumptions of the system,” he said. “Whenever there is reclamation on one side, it pushes the sea on the other side more forcefully. Our protests during the construction of Bandra-Worli Sea Link made them stop the reclamation at Taj Land's end. Otherwise the 2005 floods would have been five times worse.”