The sixth such gory incident, where open drains have again turned death traps for the denizens of Smart city, in as many years puts a big poser - How many more?
The serial monsoon deaths in Odisha's Capital city keeps popping up regularly since 2015. And the repeat in 2021, where 15-yr old Jyoti Prakash Behera was swept away by the drain swell on Sunday, puts the glare on the 'chalta hai' (let it be) governance dominating the power corridors.
The 'grave' poser here is who is accountable for six man-made deaths so far in Odisha's Capital city?
Even the SC appointed Road Safety Committee headed by Justice (retd) K S Radhakrishnan, while recommending an increase in the compensation payable to Rs 5 lakh for the death of individuals owing to a fall in open-drain or manhole/pothole, had emphasised fixing the 'accountability' on the civic bodies.
Why Civic Body Accountable?
Since the streak of deaths in open drains continued in Bhubaneswar, and as the city's drain network administration and management have been vested with the BMC, the onus rests on its shoulders to make the city drains death-proof.
"This is utter negligence of the BMC, despite repeated appeals on account of the risks the drains hold during heavy rain led waterlogging, the authorities paid no heed to cover the open drain," alleged an irate resident of the area.
Opposition trained their guns directly on CM Naveen Patnaik, " Drains across the city continue to remain open despite Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announcing a Rs 1,000 crore package for their improvement in March 2019," Suresh Routray, Cong MLA, fired.
On the other hand, the main Opposition party in Odisha Assembly, BJP, bayed for BMC Commissioner's head and lodged an FIR at the Khandgiri Police Station.
The Drain-Death Map
- Death of a minor in an open drain in Nayapalli (natural drain) in 2015.
- Death of youth in Sailashree Vihar (natural drain) in 2016.
- Death of a senior citizen in Ganganagar area drain (natural drain) in the year 2018.
- Death of another senior citizen in Ekamra Vihar Salia Sahi (natural drain) in the year 2019.
The BMC Take
"This is a natural drain. And as it has many inlets opened into it, covering the drain with concrete slabs is not feasible, " said BMC city engineer Arun Nayak and added that guard walls can be erected along the horizontal drain channel to prevent such unfortunate mishaps.
As per the Indian Road Congress (IRC) manual, drains below 2 meters wide can be covered with concrete slabs or steel grade mesh. But drains having a diameter of more than 2mt cannot be covered by concrete slabs.
Moreover, NGT in an order in 2014 cited the unanimous observation of expert group, where the view has been stormwater drains should not be covered. Because, the work of drain clearing and identifying choked sources will then get hindered.
A Reality Check
According to the BMC city engineer, since the drain at Siripur locality ( where the drowning mishap occurred ) is a natural drain, therefore, as per NGT Wetland Rules (Conservation and Management) 2010, the drains need to be demarcated by pillars or fencing. Also, a buffer zone of 50 mt has to be maintained from the primary (natural) drains.
"Adhering to the rule will not only prevent such unnatural deaths but also protect the drain space from getting encroached," the NGT rules maintained.
Besides, NGT is against the concretisation of natural drains. "Concretising natural drains will adversely impact groundwater seepage. Also, there is a high probability of slit deposition that can lead to obstruction of free flow of rainwater," an NGT order observed.
If viewed in the light of NGT orders/rules, if the BMC had followed NGT orders on stormwater drains, the City would not have witnessed a repeat of the gory incident of Sunday.