The overnight heavy rains that pounded Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra have claimed scores of lives and caused destruction of property worth crores of rupees on Wednesday and if the weatherman gets it right, the region will continue to face the threat in the coming days, too. Apart from the loss of lives, the rains left several busy residential areas and commercial streets in Hyderabad flooded and houses and shops inundated. Power supply was disrupted for hours together. Even the road to the airport was washed away in the rains, marooning the city for all practical purposes.
The way the rain fury threw life out of gear in the Telangana capital leaves some disquieting questions about our urban planning. It is unacceptable that one night’s rain can bring the civic life of a growing city to halt. The threat is not specific to Hyderabad: Chennai and Mumbai had similar experiences in the recent past while the others are waiting for their turn. True, the impact of global warming and sudden changes in the weather patterns are tough to handle at the local level but the citizen’s and official culpability should not go unnoticed. It’s a shame that the cities which were built with proper drains decades or even centuries ago now drown in flood waters. Hyderabad had a proper way out for water in the form of River Musi but it has now become a waste dump and a victim of mindless encroachment despite several recovery plans. The smaller ones have been lost forever.
It is not that the planners cannot foresee this happening and ensure that life is not completely disrupted overnight. Adequate warning and advance planning can ameliorate the hardship of the people and reduce the loss of property. The disastrous cyclones that regularly visited the eastern coast, especially Odisha, and claimed thousands of lives no more repeat their dance of death now, thanks to the improved advance warning systems and an efficient governmental machinery that ensures that the cyclone passes its way as is its wont but no lives are lost. Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala, was saved from the devastating floods in 2018 and 2019 after a project named ‘Operation Anantha’ was implemented with focus on clearing the drains five years ago. It was made possible by the determination of a team of officials, led by the chief secretary, and helped by the stringent provisions of the National Disaster Management Act, 2005.
An action plan on a similar pattern which uses technology and concepts of advance planning must be introduced in our cities to save them from such calamities. The bodies responsible for disaster management at the national, state and district levels must be made operational full-time. Laws on urban planning must be implemented strictly, violators punished ruthlessly and bureaucrats responsible for the lapses made accountable. No society which swears by the rule of law can allow the situation where law-breakers thrive at the cost of the lives and livelihoods of the rest. This is the least the government can do for the city dwellers.