Draining India’s misery

Dry Is Wet, Wet Is Dry

By Poonam I Kaushish

It was Manic Friday as one woke up to an incessant downpour which embraced the Union Capital Delhi in a devastating hug leaving a deadly trail of waist-deep water on roads, stinking sewage streams seeping into houses, water clogged vehicles, some floating in water like ducks in a pond and choked drains followed by cataclysmic days of anger and anguish, despair and desperation.

As us minions grapple with the calamity our politicians cursorily go through the ritual political circus preoccupied as they are with the ongoing tu-tu-mein-mein between Government and Opposition in Parliament. All lament the crisis and vouch to help people. In Delhi, the Lieutenant Governor visits colonies with a retinue of officials to analyse the   situation, gets workers to clear the mess and a photographer to take pictures in blink-and-miss visits and sets up a crisis management team. Everyone’s ideas and remedies as water-logged as the downpour under discussion, all pat themselves satisfied that they have done their bit.

It is not only Delhi, the story is the same all over the country. Reports of water-logging across States nation-wide are rampant. Punjab is facing the brunt as flooding has submerged many areas. Chandigarh perhaps one of the best planned cities is witness to traffic snarls, disrupted water supply etc. Last year two floodgates of Sukhana lake were opened 5ft after water level crossed the danger mark.

Rajasthan known for being dry and arid is reeling from heavy rainfall in four districts. Around 11% tehsils in the bread basket had less South West monsoon rainfall, 80% Tamil Nadu tehsils, 44% in Telangana and 39% in Andhra Pradesh got more rainfall from North East monsoon. Plainly, while the country’s dry areas are getting more rains, the agricultural belt which used to get more is getting less.

Not just that. Rains aren’t evenly spread through the season. It falls in short bursts punctuating dry spells. Over 318 days the country recorded extreme weather resulting in 3287 deaths, 1,24,000 animal loss and 22,10,000 hectares of crop area were damaged last year. August last was the driest in over 100 years with a rainfall deficiency of 36%.

In May North India wilted due to increase by 125% of heatwave days leading to extreme low level water levels in reservoirs which serve as source of daily water usage. According to Central Water Commission live storage availability in 150 reservoirs in just 21%. Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu 42 key reservoirs have collectively reduced to 17% capacity. Any wonder water scarcity in Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Shimla etc.

Bihar which is in the critical Indo-Gangetic plains known for its agricultural bounty wherein districts should be lush green with transplanted paddy saplings today stands testimony to dusty brown land with deep cracks which screams not arable due to rainfall deficiency in June-July which has become the norm. About 64% tehsils in the State are witnessing decreased rainfall.

In Maharashtra 80% of the State which is rainfed, the onset of monsoon is late specially in Marathawada and Vidarbha. West Bengal, Bihar and UP too are witnessing the same pattern of little rain in June-July.

Thanks to man-made reasons: massive infrastructure development, unplanned and runaway construction of roads, houses, hotels, multi-stories, sub-standard drainage, roads, tunnels, hydropower projects in ecologically sensitive regions and dams alongside overpopulation et al are increasing pressure.

Raising a moot point: Does anyone really care?  Given that rain, cyclones, cloudbursts and flash floods are an annual affair. Why does the Government only react when mayhem results in lakhs being rendered homeless and property worth crores is lost? Millions of words have been written and millions more will continue to be written. But it’s like water off a duck’s back.

Bluntly, everything is kaam chalao! See the absurdity – food grains arrive at their destination days after the calamity has struck, thanks to cumbersome bureaucratic procedures. Rations are air dropped. Never mind if half land in water and the remaining spark off food riot and killings.

So cocooned are our netas in their puffed up self esteem oblivious of how vulnerable the aam aadmi is. So why can’t the powers-that-be implement basic suggestions? Why do they not develop a long-term response to rains, cloud-bursts, earthquakes and floods, which are annual predictable crisises?

Moreover, why do politicians feel that merely sanctioning monies will solve the problem? Little do they realize that, neither the Central Disaster Management Authority nor the State Disaster Boards implement any project properly. Who will be held accountable for the Administration’s ineptitude? And which head will roll?

Worse, it is a tell-tale of total apathy of insensitive Administrations under various State Governments and Union Territories that do not spare even ecologically sensitive zones to satiate their greed thereby making them more vulnerable to climate change. Of rulers who ignore experts who in turn, blame it on lessons not learnt by successive Administrations.

In 2022 cracks in Uttarakhand Joshimath and flooding of Bengaluru’s elite tech parks have not taught us any lesson. Scandalously, new flyovers remain louder priorities than more drain works or sewage treatment plants. A new study by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found mountains globally, including Himalayas, are now seeing more rainfall where it has mostly snowed in the past. Besides, there is mismatch between haste in commissioning projects in the ecologically fragile zone which has rung alarm bells among glaciologists.

Undoubtedly, Governments need to highlight its priorities, formulate policies based on needs and find solutions. Time it spent more resources in monitoring our region better so that it has more information about the change process whereby it could develop better adaptation practices.

Our leaders need to involve experts and environmentalists to evaluate the ecological problems in the country, rethink the current development model, study its context and be involved in decision and policy-making. With special emphasis on problems created by burgeoning population and its impact on the local eco-system, growth of hap-hazard housing, environmental  insanitation and decay.

Time our netagan acknowledge their development model is faulty. Underscored by a Parliamentary panel report which advised a one-size-fits-all approach to environment clearance for projects should not be followed. Given our infrastructure has fallen far behind today’s needs, let alone tomorrow’s. We all know what happens if one unduly eggs on the goose that lays golden eggs.

It is now imperative to weigh up our management strategies, see how effective they are, establish responsive early-warning systems including radar-based technologies along-with approaches to safeguard the environment, build infrastructure, improve service delivery, establish close links between research and service with the aam aadmi at the centre of development.

The writing is clearly on the wall. Development cannot happen at the cost of the environment. Our polity needs to pull up their bootstraps and focus on long-term rather than short-term planning. One needs neither a bleeding heart nor blindness to know what should be done. For if we still elect to do nothing about disaster it only holds out promises of more misery, more wrenching news bulletins and more cries. Bringing to mind words from an old comic: We have seen the enemy and it is us. —- INFA