The ‘Smart City’ had never seen anything like it before. Marooned people being rescued by fire and ODRAF personnel; bikes, cars and even buses with passengers floating in water bang in the middle of busy roads; people having to move upstairs after inundation of the ground floor and going without electricity, food and drinking water for days on end; pumps being pressed into service to drain out accumulated water .. you name it. As a wag commented, the day is not far off when stranded people in Bhubaneswar will have to be airlifted and food packets would have to be air dropped for marooned people!
Keeping pace with the flooding of large parts of the city, social media has been flooded with jokes, wisecracks and memes – all of them with a mandatory reference to the ‘Smart City’ – aimed at civic authorities for their failure to save the people from inundation of streets and homes. Someone suggests the city authorities should withdraw town buses and introduce a boat service – a ‘Smart Boat Service in the Smart City’, as a joke on a FM station put it tellingly - instead. Angry at the civic authorities for their apathy to this recurring problem, someone else says the ‘’kumbhakarna sarkar’ would wake up only when Naveen Nivas is flooded.
Not everyone had time for humour though. Most people were just too busy draining out water from their flooded houses and saving their precious belongings from damage. Pramod, who lives in ‘posh’ Jayadaev Vihar, woke up on Friday morning to find his bed room flooded; the fridge, washing machine and even a fully stuffed almirah spread-eagled on the floor. What he saw after wading through knee-deep water and coming out was even more bizarre. The lock on the gate had been broken open! It was as if a thief had barged in. But no, it was only the force of the storm water that had done this to the lock. The bike had been dislodged from its stand and swept off some 100 feet away and was lying in front of a neighbour’s house! There was a beep in the car which a mechanic later identified as a short circuit in the battery. Cooking was clearly unthinkable in this situation. When asked about the cooked food the administration says it is providing marooned people, Pramod broke into an angry retort. “I haven’t seen any in my area,” he said.
Pramod’ ordeal was typical of what thousands of others in the ‘Smart City’ had to endure during the last three days. But things were much more difficult for those living in the numerous low lying slums that dot the city because unlike their middle class fellow victims of rains, they lost their livelihood apart from their belongings.
It is hard to believe it is the same city that did not know what water logging is some two decades ago. Given its topography, there is no conceivable reason to explain this newest phenomenon called ‘urban flooding’. In fact, one of the factors that influenced the shifting of the capital from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar was the latter’s undulating terrain that ensured that rainwater got drained out in next to no time and did not accumulate in residential areas or roads. I remember the days when rainwater, even after a prolonged and heavy downpour, cleared out of roads within minutes. Little did one know then that there would come a time when it would take days for rainwater to drain out after just an hour of rains. It is clear that it is entirely a man-made problem created by a combination of unscientific planning, blockage of the main drainage systems, indiscriminate construction of high rises and proliferation of shanties. The flyovers cutting through the middle of the city have only made things much worse.
Past experience of grappling with this problem suggests piecemeal efforts like pumping out water, clearing clogged drainage lines and making trenches for accumulated water to drain out would not do. It would need a holistic, long-term plan to solve this problem, which is bound to get worse in the days ahead given the constant rise in the city’s population and the uneven pattern of rains. Fixing this problem would obviously require some harsh, unpopular decisions that may cause some temporary disruption too. But that is the only way we can save our city from going under water in future.
Smart City can wait. Let us fix the drainage problem first.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).