Despite promises, Chennai flood control room can do little to save city from debacle; here's why

tamil-nadu | Saturday, October 28th, 2017
Pallavi Sengupta
Highlights
  • All storm water drains have been cleared.
  • Schools have been identified as relief centers.
  • A 294 km line has been built to prevent stagnation of water.

Veteran actor Kamal Haasan earlier had rightfully voiced concerns over the encroachment of the Ennore creek and its repercussions on the drainage system of the city. Just a few hours after the reeling debate arising out of it, Chennai's flood control room blatantly says that the 2015 Chennai debacle would not be repeated.

While we appreciate their level of confidence, it is to be seen what is the source behind their opinions. 

Assuring media, activists and the common man is G Devdoss, Executive Engineer, Flood Control, who says, "The 2015 floods will not repeat in Chennai. We are completely prepared for all eventualities."

Here's the catch. Did the Flood Control Room just talk about the eventualities and not the prevention? Which means, they agree that floods will happen, but the state is prepared to face it. Incidentally, this implies two things-the state was not prepared for the eventualities in 2015 and no infrastructural changes have been made in the past 2 years to prevent such 'eventualities'.

Nevertheless, here is a list of things that the control room reportedly banks upon (although irrelevant to all the possibilities):

  • The corporation is said to have identified 176 relief schools and community halls, which will function as relief centers. 
  • 75 officials will work in three shifts to handle the task at hand.
  • The city has been divided into 20 zones and 17 IAS officers will be roped in to oversee the relief efforts that will take place.
  • The transport department will also be looped for ferrying of flood victims
  • Interestingly, when it comes to infrastructural development, barely anything has been done. Different media sources quote senior authorities claiming:
  • All the storm water drains have been cleared
  • A 294 km line has been built to prevent stagnation of water

A reality check

That's it? The encroachment bit seems to have been completely ignored. The Executive engineer, in fact says that the "storm water drain will handle the pressure". Now, consider this. According to a skymetweather.com report, Chennai had reportedly received 539 mm of rain in December 2015, visa vie the monthly average of 191 mm. This had broken the record in the last 100 years. If Chennai faces similar rains this year, if not more, will the storm water drains suffice to drain the excess water out?

Perhaps not. Pooja Kumar of the Coastal Resource Centre says, "Storm water drains are fine to carry water till the catchment area. Bbut once the water reaches there, it will try and move toward the sea. That is natural. However, the encroachments anc the clogging caused by the North Chennai Thermal Power station and the Vallur Thermal plant will block the path."

There is more to it. Dumping of earth by the Kamarajar Port has effected the salt pans, wetlands, and the mangroves in the region, reducing their capacity to absorb water. Oil deposits from the Bharat Petroleum and the Hindustan Petroleum lend to the problem.

When asked, the executive engineer agreed that Manali, North Madras, Madhavaram, Tiruvottiyur, Valasaravakkam and Sholinganallur are still on a list of 306 vulnerable place in Chennai. Now, let's come to the main question- has anything else been done since the 2015 debacle to prevent future floods? Perhaps not. Here's a point-wise reality check of the urban planning and development in the city:

  • Illegal construction and encroachment: Almost nothing has been done, despite the need for a task force to keep a watch on the illegal construction in the city. The real estate industry is still booming, beyond the population capacity of the city, putting a lot of pressure on the drainage systems. 
  • Commercial construction: Incidentally, owing to the success of the thermal power plants here, the government is planning to build the third stage of the North Chennai Thermal power station, irrespective of the fact that it is yet to get the consent. This, despite the fact that the existing one is already blocking the way of the Ennore creek. 

The Chennai debacle, it seems, proved to be a momentary awakening for the authorities here. Because, the files relating to the quota of development projects, commercial and settlement projects, the need for no-go eco-sensitive zones that can serve as catchment areas, all are just changing tables and have not yet made their way into the assembly.

According to an Indian Express report, what is even more worrying is the fact that the city is already home to over 1.5 lakh illegal structures and the numbers are spiralling. Despite several HC orders pertaining to their demolitions, the buildings still stand, thanks to the innumerable appeals to the Supreme Court, and the inefficiency of the CMDA’s legal wing. Hundreds of stay orders have been obtained by both business houses and individuals. Encroachments continue and so do the fake promises. 

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