Monsoon set to flood city with fresh troubles
Delhi's record high temperature this summer meant heat-related ailments, flooded hospitals and lakhs of people facing crippling shortages of electricity and water.
While monsoon that's likely to hit the city this week will bring the obvious relief, it will also open floodgates for new problems, thanks to inadequate preparation on the part of government agencies.
As things stand now, Delhiites will again have their daily lives paralysed because of massive water-logging and subsequent traffic jams. This is because a large number of drains that were supposed to have been cleaned by now remain clogged with filth.
Last July, an image of passengers being rescued from a bus submerged in water under Central Delhi's Minto Railway Bridge after a heavy downpour explained the crisis that spirals every monsoon.
This year too, not much has changed. Lakhs of commuters, particularly those in Central and South Delhi, will be worst hit as most drains there are yet to be de-silted.
The Capital has 2,846 drains, running into 3,692 km, which are managed by different agencies such as the AAP government's Public Works Department (PWD), three BJP-ruled municipal corporations, besides New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and Delhi Development Authority (DDA) that come under the Centre's jurisdiction.
A Mail Today reality check found that the civic bodies in North, East and South Delhi and PWD are still to meet the targets for unclogging drains. Choked drains mean water-logging on roads during rain.
The corporations had set June 15 as their deadline to de-silt 645 drains spanning over 540 km. PWD was to complete the unclogging of its 1,375 drains running into 2,064 kms by June 20. The task is not fully complete even after these deadlines.
For example, the municipal corporation has cleaned only 80 per cent of its 287 drains in South Delhi areas such as Vasant Kunj, Vasant Vihar, Saket, Hauz Khas, Green Park, Neb Sarai, and Sainik Farms.
"Most drains in these areas are under ground and hardly have are space for cleaning," said an official. This has left residents worried. "Most drains are covered with concrete slabs. Municipal bodies, despite tall claims, have no tools to clean them," said CS Rao, general secretary of Green Park Residents' Welfare Association (RWA).
"We have initiated a campaign to avoid throwing garbage and plastic materials into open drains as they choke water flow," he said.
Surender Singh Dhillon, RWA president of Gautam Nagar, is worried because of a huge sewerage network shortfall. "Rainwater and sewage mix and enter houses in low-lying areas. This spreads water-borne diseases."
A 43-YEAR WAIT
It was in 1976 when the city's drainage master plan was last updated.
In the last 43 years, the population has increased by 280 per cent, up from 5 million to 19 million, but the new plan is yet to kick in.
About three decades after the first plan, the then Congress government in Delhi formed a committee to review the drainage system in 2005, but hired IIT-Delhi as a consultant only in 2012.
The Rs 80-lakh study that also includes an action plan for time-bound execution was to finish in 18 months. But the draft version was submitted in 2016 and the final plan in 2018, mainly because of unavailability of relevant records.
The new plan does not look at building new drains. It will instead quantify the volume of water to be drained out, and increase the width and tweak the design of drains to make them more effective.
Apart from the obvious task of uncovering and de-silting of drains, it will provide area-specific plans based on drains' carrying capacity. The plan aims at making Delhi free of water-logging for the next three decades.
Construction projects, sewage flow-half of the city is outside the closed sewerage network-and subsequent lining and covering have killed many storm drains, causing floods and wasting millions of litres of storm water. This also made the Yamuna shallower and dirtier.
The new plan is yet to be accepted by the Delhi government.
"If the state government does not implement the plan, it cannot prevent water-logging on roads. The drainage system has engineering flaws at many places that lead to accumulation of more silt and flooding on roads," said Professor AK Gosain, who headed the IIT team that devised the master plan.
The plan was submitted to the Delhi government's Irrigation and Flood Control Department in December 2016 for responses from different agencies. The final report submitted in July 2018 was almost the same.
Last month, there was a meeting of an expert committee that is vetting the plan. There are some more meetings planned, said an official.
"The drainage system of Delhi is based on a 1976 plan and since then the city has witnessed huge changes, especially concretisation. In the past, we had open spaces and adequate natural slopes which are blocked now. I have recommended slope from roads to adjoining parks so that rainwater could collect in lowlying areas and directly recharge groundwater," said Professor Gosain.
He said most roads are currently connected to drains. "In case of choked drains, this leads to spread of contaminated water on roads," he said.
But even if the plan is implemented now, its results will start showing on the ground only about 30 months later, said Gosain.
Water expert Manoj Misra said multiplicity of authorities has worsened the problem of water-logging in the Capital.
"The drainage system should be looked after by one governing body, but unfortunately, the city has various agencies responsible for maintenance of drains.
Whenever roads of Delhi get flooded during monsoon, a blame game begins," he said. Misra says the paving of open areas in Delhi has increased exponentially.
"Development funds of MPs and MLAs have been brazenly misused. This is the time to seriously start to look at unpaving and uncovering of some of our drains," he said.
Studies show that only half of the rainwater used to be run-off and the rest would seep into the ground.
"Because of rapid concretisation, the amount of this run-off has gone up to 85 per cent, causing massive flooding," Gosain said.
"Covered drains have heightened urban flooding. Defence Colony is a classic case. Poor designs of underpasses and flyovers also lead to urban flooding," said environmentalist Manoj Misra. Gosain also said blockage was a major issue.
"Another problem is many residents have linked their storm run-off to sewer lines. This also causes backflow and flooding. This has to stop," said Gosain who heads IIT's department of civil engineering.
"The plan is to divert rainwater to parks and water bodies; de-concretise pavements and areas around trees for better groundwater recharge. Rainwater harvesting is a critical component of this plan," he said.
'NO DIRTY PICTURE,PLS'
PWD Minister Satyendar Jain said that as of June 12, 77 per cent of de-silting of drains had been done and the rest will be completed before monsoon sets in.
On Tuesday, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, while admitting to shortcomings in tackling water-logging, directed officials to take all possible measures to ensure that residents do not face much inconvenience.
The CM also directed Chief Secretary Vijay Dev to ask all departments concerned to provide a list of water-logging hotspots within a week. Dev has in turn told officers that "ugly photographs and visuals of water-logging" are simply not acceptable.
NO FUNDS FOR CIVIC BODIES?
East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) officials said that they had cleared more than 91 per cent of the 182 drains spread over 140 kms.
The north body said it has de-silted 75 per cent of its 176 drains spread over 122 km. In South Delhi, officials said that 80 per cent of the 287 drains over 258 kms have been unclogged.
Jai Prakash, standing committee chairman of North Delhi Municipal Corporation, admitted that some work is pending due to inadequate funds. "Municipal bodies are facing a fund crunch. The Delhi government has not released adequate amounts," he said.
A Delhi government spokesperson said that CM Kejriwal and Deputy CM Manish Sisodia have informed Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman about insufficient funds for civic agencies.