It's been seven years since more than 400 people were killed in Mumbai's worst-ever natural disaster. Reeling from the massive scale of destruction wreaked by the unprecedented deluge, authorities were quick to draw up ambitious and expensive plans for what they vowed would be a complete overhauling of the city's storm water drainage system.
As the clouds part again this year, MiD DAY did a little bit of digging to find out how many of the deadlines were met, how many of the promises were kept — only to make the alarming discovery that the city is as ill-prepared for a deluge as it was years ago. The question that now remains to be answered is this: is seven years not long enough for the city’s guardians to act on the lessons they learnt in 2005?
Two of the most crucial projects to keep the floods in check — Brihanmumbai Storm Water Drain (Brimstowad) project and development of Mithi River — remain incomplete.
After the catastrophic deluge in July 2005, the civic body prepared a project report for what it promised would be a complete overhauling of the city’s drainage system — this report improved upon the existing Brimstowad report of 1993, and added recommendations from the fact-finding committee appointed after the deluge. The report aimed to deepen and widen various nullahs in the city, and also eight pumping stations.
The project report was submitted to the Centre in 2006, which then sanctioned 100 per cent funds for its execution. The project’s estimated cost then was Rs 1,200 crore. Today, after many elastic deadlines have come and gone with successive monsoons, the projected cost has shot up to Rs 4,000 crore.
A senior civic official said, on condition of anonymity, “The Centre has released the funds in installments and we are haven’t received it all in the past six years. The BMC itself took the initiative and allotted work. Work worth Rs 2,200 crore is underway, but we have only received Rs 1,000 crore from the Centre.”
He added that the BMC had written to the Centre about the need for additional funds about a year back, but did not receive it. “The Centre put forward some queries about our demand, and we are working on these now,” said Laxman Vhatkar, director, engineering services, BMC.
Another leg of the project is running shamefully behind schedule. BMC has managed to complete only two of the eight pumping stations planned in the Brimstowad project — at Haji Ali and Irla, Vile Parle. Pumping stations play a crucial role in keeping floods at bay, especially when heavy rainfalls and high tides strike simultaneously — they prevent seawater from entering the city’s drains and flooding their surroundings. They also help pump out floodwater directly into the sea. The original plans had included pumping stations at Lovegrove, Cleaveland Bunder, Britannia outfall, Guzdarbandh, Mahul Creek and Mogra Nullah.
This river has been at the centre of the great flood debate, ever since it overflowed its banks and flooded areas like the Air India colony, Santacruz and Kurla in the 2005 floods. After the debacle, it was decided that the river would be developed in order to avoid future floods. While the deadline for the project was set for 2008, work is still inching along today, that too at a snail’s pace. While the first phase — involving deepening and widening of riverbeds — has been completed, the second phase includes construction of a retaining wall, of bridges, beautification and construction of service roads along the river. The responsibility of the project is shared by the BMC and the MMRDA – of the 18.5 km stretch, 11.5 km falls under BMC’s jurisdiction while the rest is overseen by the MMRDA.
Currently, the estimated cost of the project is over Rs 1,600 crore including construction of 11 bridges. Rs 900 crore has already been spent. The Centre refused to comply to a request for funds from the civic body, maintaining that Mithi was a nullah and not a river.
Another of the ambitious plans made were that of regional command centres, which were planned in different zones, including Borivli, Marol, Byculla, Wadala, Mankhurd and Vikhroli.
This was requisitioned to quickly mobilise firefighting and disaster management resources, in case of emergencies. But till date, only a single command centre — the one in Wadala — has been completed, officials have revealed. Rs 66 crore was allotted for this project.
An official revealed that the centre at Marol was still a distant dream, as the building existing at the spot first had to be demolished. “The construction of the buildings is taking time, but all of them will be complete by the end of this year. We can then place some of our resources there to initiate action during emergencies,” he added. SS Shinde, joint municipal commissioner (disaster management) said, “All the centres are almost ready, except for the one in Marol. They will all be functional next year.”
This is one of the few legs of the project that the BMC appears to have implemented successfully. The civic officials promised that 24-hour helplines 108 and 1916 are functional, with 20 lifesaving platoons distributed across the city’s wards. Ward control rooms are being manned in 19 wards, and five municipal schools in each ward will act as temporary shelters. Moreover, 36 lifeguards will be deployed at six city beaches.
The disaster management cell has installed 35 rain gauges at 29 locations, all of which are connected to by WAN, for live rain updates at intervals of 15 minutes. The rain gauges were installed in 2006, at the cost of Rs 2 lakh each.
The civic body claimed that it is already in the process of installing dewatering pumps which will force stagnant rainwater out of low-lying areas into storm water drains. 230 dewatering pumps have been placed at 213 flood-prone zones in the city, at the cost of Rs 12 crore.
The Indian Meteorology Department, Colaba, had planned to set up a Doppler radar at Colaba station, at a cost of Rs 10 crore. This equipment can predict heavy rainfall, and agencies can then be alerted.
Prakash Sanglikar, retired deputy municipal commissioner, said, “The provisions made by the BMC and other authorities are inadequate. The city needs at least 38 pumping stations, as the city lines the coast. There is wide scope to improve the provisions.”
Nandkumar Salvi, retired chief engineer of the Storm Water Drain department, said, “It is true that the nullahs have been cleaned well. But until and unless all pumping stations are commissioned, the city will not get adequate relief from floods.”
The work started in 2006 and was scheduled to be completed in 2008. The project cost has escalated to Rs 1,600 cr from Rs 1,200 cr.
The cost of the storm water drain project has escalated to Rs 4,000 cr, from Rs 1,200 cr.
Work started: 2006
Scheduled to complete: 2010
Original cost: Rs 1,200 crore
Cost escalated to: Rs 4,000 crore
Status: 55 per cent completed
Funded by: Central government
New deadline: March 2014
Mithi river development project
Work started: 2006
Scheduled to complete: 2008
Original cost: Rs 1,200 crore
Cost escalated to: Over
Rs 1,600 crore
Status: Phase I completed, phase II under way
Funded by: BMC, MMRDA
New deadline: March 2014
Regional command centres
Total cost: Rs 66 crore
Status: Out of the six planned centres, only one in Wadala has been completed
Number installed: 35
Cost: Rs 70 lakh
Pumps placed: at 230 locations
Cost: Rs 12 crore
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