The climate in Chennai can easily be summed up as hot, hotter and hottest. However, heavy rains, owing to low pressure in the Bay of Bengal have pushed residents to the brink. With the 350-year-old city in knee-deep water, the civic body’s assertions have gone down its clogged drains, literally. The precarious situation has also put a question mark over the state government’s ability to deal with such crises. The deluge also prompted the netizens to compare the city to Venice and the Bay of Bengal as Chennai rains became a trending topic on Twitter. Images of country boats plying through innundated streets went viral.
While most parts of the country are lamenting over the lack of rains and the resultant drought, Chennai residents are cursing the rain gods for opening the flood gates indiscriminately this time, the heaviest in the last decade. As per the government estimate, 78 people have died in Tamil Nadu in rain-related incidents since 28 October. However, unofficial reports put the death toll at over 250.
Normally, Chennai gets scanty rainfall. As a result, drinking water continues to be a major civic issue. The city even tried to purify sea water to deal with the shortage.
Interestingly, Tamil Nadu has had a history of confrontations with neighbouring states, Kerala and Karnataka, over the sharing of river water. Even now, when it’s raining heavily, almost all the water resources have got contaminated.
The flooded roads have also exposed the tall claims of the ruling AIADMK government as blatant lies. The party controls the Corporation of Chennai, the city’s civic body, with an absolute majority and it had bragged about its preparedness to deal with floods prior to the monsoon.
However, now all those claims have been, literally, washed away by the rain. Particularly the clogged storm water drains (SWD), which showed how unscientific the approach of the civic authorities was. The flooding also exposes the rampant corruption within the civic body as many illegal constructions have choked various water outlets in the city. Both the current AIADMK and the previous DMK regimes are equally responsible for the current crisis in Chennai.
As per independent studies, at least 300 water bodies in the city were converted to residential areas by highly influential realtors. Most waterways, tanks and reservoirs were choked with silt and their flow channels and banks were encroached upon. Around 16 channels and 43 minor drains in the city need to be redesigned, and a grid of SWDs joining the Buckingham canal and Cooum river should be built as a long-term solution to flooding.
Experts also point out that an early warning system prepared by the Anna University still remains on paper. The plan proposed the installation of some 40 rain gauges in the most flood-prone areas that could send signals to the control room. Data from digital maps of the city, showing that missing links in the SWDs and sewage canal, are hardly used.
“The growth of the much-hyped master plan of the city has been haphazard. The development projects have been put together with absolutely no thought to hydrology,” says Nityanand Jayaraman, a city-based environmental activist and writer.