Last fortnight saw unprecedented rains in the city of Bengaluru. There was widespread flooding, and a crisis of severe proportions unfolded, exposing the woefully inadequate and faultily developed infrastructure of the city. There followed the usual barrage of angry posts and articles by social media warriors from the city. And then came posts from other cities, scoffing at the way Bengaluru claimed to be a world-class metro when in reality it was not. Speculations followed on which city of India could replace Bengaluru as the IT capital – what was surprising was the number of posts that felt Chennai was one of the contenders. There could be nothing more delusional than that.
We are all for positive thinking and being ambitious. In fact, when it comes to championing Chennai there can be none more enthusiastic than us. But we do feel that this was rather going over the top. Have these people forgotten what happened in 2015? Let us refresh their memories – in December 2015 came the famed Chennai floods when the city witnessed torrential rains. The administration, especially the Chennai Metrowater and Sewerage Board and the PWD, was clearly caught unawares. The decision to release surplus waters in the Chembarambakkam Reservoir was delayed until too late, some say because the chief minister was incommunicado, and her ministers were unwilling to take a call. The floodwaters entered the city and caused untold misery and havoc, though with surprisingly very little loss of life. Chennai which over the years had been consistently building over its lakes, wetlands, and reservoirs was paying the price, but it could have been avoided under a more vigilant administration. The same angry posts flooded social media – there was a hue and cry from armchair warriors – those who had built on reservoirs were named (whether they were shamed is another matter). There were cries of never again.
And then life went back to its old course. Came 2016 and we had Cyclone Vardah. And then after a couple of years respite, floods were back – in all the new areas. Before the older parts of the city could smugly reflect on their good fortune there came the floods of 2021, when they became the victims, including a part that is now a VIP locality. And on December 30, 2021, there occurred a freak cloudburst that not one weather system could predict – the older parts of the city were lashed and within a few hours, Chennai had had more rain in 2021 than what it had experienced in 2015. Call it a consequence of global warming on whatever but the fact remains that the city reeled under the onslaught. And our infrastructure collapsed.
The fact is, there is no Indian city that can claim to be superior to others when it comes to systemic failures. For that matter, no international city is capable of fighting weather phenomenon when they happen in excess. Indian cities, as in any third world country (and let us face it, we are one), are even more prone to collapses of this kind because of the endemic compromises, corruption and callousness that goes by the name of town planning and development. Chennai is no exception to this.
Before we begin rejoicing over what happened to Bengaluru, we need to reflect on the fact that there is a monsoon just around the corner and the roads are in an advanced state of excavation. The next two months will show what has been the result of the drain-laying exercise. And we would like to extend a word of caution – it is best not to expect some superlative solution.