Op-Ed: Why ‘Smart City’ Routinely Goes Under Water

It took just a couple of hours of rains on Wednesday morning to show civic authorities of the Smart City their place. Concrete roads turned into waterways; there were puddles all over the place; filthy drain water gushed into houses in low lying areas; traffic was thrown haywire, buses and trains were stranded and even a flight had to be diverted to Kolkata. The ‘world class’ railway station in the capital city metamorphosed into a street in Venice in next to no time. Even Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had to change his route and wade through water to reach his office.

Time was when it took barely a few minutes for all the water to clear out even after torrential rains lasting several hours in Bhubaneswar. In fact, the undulating terrain in Bhubaneswar was one of the major considerations in deciding to shift the capital of the state out of the perennially water logged Cuttack city hemmed in by rivers on all sides. How the same city became a place where water accumulated during a few minutes of rains takes hours – even days – to clear out in just a couple of decades is an example of how not to plan a city. The transformation should be mandatory reading for students of urban planning.

It is not rocket science to identify the reasons for water logging in a city where such a thing was unknown not too long ago. All  the natural drainage outlets that once kept excess water off the roads have now been blocked by monstrous concrete structures. The problem has been compounded manifold by some bad engineering that has seen water accumulate even on steeply sloping flyovers. The fact is those who designed the roads and flyovers never bothered to factor in the drainage requirements. At a time when road construction technology has made rapid advances, we are still using technology that belonged to the 1980s, says well known urban planner Piyush Rout.

Another major reason for water logging is the mindless encouragement of new settlers to build houses in low lying areas of the city in the 1980s and 1990s without any thought on drainage of rainwater. No wonder shanties mushroomed all over the city making the problem more intractable.

Of course, climate change too played its role in the worsening of the drainage system in the city. Like other places in the country and elsewhere, Bhubaneswar now receives in 100 days the amount of rain that used to be spread over 200 days in a year. But our town planners never accounted for this excessive rainfall over a much shortened period. As a result, we are caught napping every time there is unseasonal rain of the kind the city witnessed on Wednesday.

With the city poised for even faster growth, things are only going to worsen in the days ahead. Let our city planners take Wednesday’s cloudburst as a warning signal and put in place a forward looking, scientifically designed drainage system that stands the test of time.

(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.)