The record rainfall in the last more than 48 hours has exposed Bhubaneswar’s shortcomings in its preparedness. It happens every year and it happened this year too. The sun will shine brightly soon, there will be a nip in the air and like every year, the city’s resilient people will forget the vagaries they suffered when their houses got deluged and when they had to wade through knee-deep water.
A few feel-good messages on social media and carefully crafted words to pacify the people will soon make this a distant memory – till the next monsoon.
However, it is high time that the government sat down to do some serious thinking to prevent this from happening year after year. It is not enough to sit on laurels because the city’s demands are increasing by the day but the civic amenities have not been in tandem.
First and foremost, the city’s natural sponges have been lost owing to the mushrooming of concrete structures as a result of bad urban planning. Both sides of the Daya Canal, which once acted like sponges are now lost to constructions, filth and neglect. The canal should be developed and linked to the natural drains in Bhubaneswar through a ring system to prevent the submergence of low-lying areas in the city.
We must also factor in bad and outdated engineering that does not take into consideration climate change. For example, the city no longer gets 200 days of rainfall in a year. The number has reduced to less than 90 days but the amount of rainfall remains the same or more. Very recently, 200mm of rainfall in 30 hours is an example of how unprepared Bhubaneswar is. It is time for the city’s drainage system to be redesigned and remodelled as per new dimensions of rainfall patterns than outdated models. As more heavy rains in a short duration are in store.
A lot of the chaos this week could have been avoided with some good administrative steps. Even though the city has India’s largest command centre under SMART City Mission, no proactive measures were taken to divert the traffic in the worst affected areas.
It is indeed astounding that such a large city neither has an elected Mayor nor a full-time Municipal Councillor to monitor such situations. The onus of taking care of the city’s civic amenities also rests with the state government. Much of the good work it has done on other fronts can get washed out if people remain disgruntled at the ground level.
Hopefully, after the last 48 hours of marathon water logging incidents, people and the government will stop comparing the city with Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam etc. Let us shift the focus from a Smart City to just a city.
Bhubaneswar will host the Hockey World Cup once again in a couple of months. Let us be prepared to showcase our best side to our foreign guests.
The truth is that no Indian city is fully equipped with urban water management. But Bhubaneswar is better equipped to deal with urban water management. Let this not be an excuse rather an opportunity to plan, execute and build a better Bhubaneswar.