Why do our cities get flooded as soon as monsoon arrives? Who is responsible for waterlogging, know what is the way forward

Ananya Shroff
7 Min Read
Why do our cities get flooded as soon as monsoon arrives? Who is responsible for waterlogging, know what is the way forward

Author: K.K. Pandey

Monsoon arrived in Delhi yesterday and with it came waterlogging, traffic jams and disruption of normal life. This happens every year and in every major city in India. Why does this happen? Because our approach to the problem is not right. Every year, we deal with it after the city has come to a standstill. Issues like regular repairs, replacing drainage/sewage systems, keeping public spaces (roads, streets, pavements) free of encroachments are pushed back when there is still time for planning and management. India's urban population of 416 million (2019) will reach 461 million by 2047. This means that without timely and concerted action on the part of all stakeholders, the problem will get worse in the years to come.

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What is the reason for this chaos?

The problem of waterlogging in our cities is due to unplanned urbanisation. Here, unplanned urban areas are expanded without taking into account space for planned circulation. The drying up and destruction of lakes, ponds and water bodies due to dumping of construction and demolition waste is also a major cause. Apart from this, construction of houses and people living in areas occupied by lakes and other water bodies is also an issue. For example, half of the 519 water bodies in Gurugram have disappeared in 40 years. The story of Bengaluru is similar.

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Who is responsible for it?

Water management is the responsibility of three stakeholders: planning agencies, urban local bodies and specialised agencies for water and sewage. The three rarely work together, and jurisdictional issues frustrate their efforts. While solid waste falls within the purview of urban local bodies, water and sewage often do not. This scattered planning does not allow for holistic management of vast urban areas like the NCR. You cannot tackle water issues, sewage or drains by working in silos represented by urban bodies like the NDMC and MCD or satellite cities like Gurugram and Noida.

Town planners play a vital role in running urban systems, but we do not have even one planner per 100,000 population. Compare this with 38 in the UK and 23 in Australia. Even in our larger cities, this number is far below the standard for modern global cities. If planning is poor, execution is even worse. Lack of proper drainage is common in our cities. Most Indian cities do not even have a dedicated drainage scheme. One spell of heavy rain is enough to disrupt the flow of existing drains and cause waterlogging. What makes matters worse is the solid waste that municipal bodies fail to collect. This waste clogs the drains of our cities.

Why does the problem of waterlogging arise?

Urban planning means predicting the future. Even after planning in advance, things move so slowly that by the time action is taken, the plan fails. For example, the last time the master plan of Delhi was notified was after 8 to 10 years of preparation. While the 2041 master plan was ready on time, it took the last four years to be prepared. However, citizens of every income group are equally responsible for the problem of waterlogging. Is it not common to see educated people in high and middle income group colonies illegally occupying the footpaths outside their homes? Or leaving little space for traffic by parking their vehicles on the roads? If we look at the condition of low income group areas, they are completely congested, leaving very little space for movement.

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What is the way forward?

First, there is a need for a complete rethink on how plans are implemented. For example, MPD-2041 has a provision for blue-green development and the use of slopes for waste segregation. This must be strictly implemented. Second, we must prepare proper drainage plans, or reconsider them if they have proved inadequate. Take the case of waterlogging at ITO in Delhi. This can be solved by detailed restructuring of the sewage network, linking it to the water level of the Yamuna. Third, water and sanitation plans must be prepared in accordance with the 15th Finance Commission devolution package for 44 urban agglomerations covering 1115 urban local bodies. Fourth, safety audits of roads/lanes and footpaths must be done regularly. Such audits identify works required to clear space for the movement of water, goods and people, especially illegal encroachments and obstructions.

Fifth, authorities need to engage with communities to remove encroachments from pavements and roads, and also clear spaces occupied by government departments for their own use. Sixth, agencies dealing with water and sanitation should be made accountable to the ULBs. Most importantly, the ULBs should have extensive powers over all agencies responsible for urban maintenance. Finally, there should be regular maintenance of drainage and sewage networks to minimise the chances of an unforeseen event derailing urban life.

(The author is a professor at the Indian Institute of Public Administration. Views are personal)

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