The torrential downpour in Bengaluru, that flooded parts of the city including the information technology hub, is no doubt a wake-up call for policymakers and the India Meteorological Department to deal with climate change on a war-footing. While they are well aware of the linkages of extreme weather with global warming, Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, IMD’s chief, admitted that there is scope to improve forecasting for urban flooding episodes in an interview to FE. Such extreme events are impacting metropolitan India with greater frequency: Hyderabad (2000), Mumbai (2005), Leh (2010), Uttarakhand (2013), Srinagar (2014), Chennai (2021), and Ahmedabad this year, among others. Metropolitan India, for its part, is woefully unprepared for such unusual events. The runaway pace of urbanisation has resulted in a frenetic pace of house and road building encroaching upon lakes, ponds and wetlands. It takes only a drizzle to bring metros to their knees as storm water drains are rarely de-silted in time and rainwater inundates roads and habitations. When rainfall is incessant and reservoirs overflow, where will the discharged water go? This has been happening in Srinagar. Over 300 water bodies have disappeared due to illegal construction in Chennai. Construction on lake beds in Bengaluru resulted in flooding.
Clearly, metropolitan India needs to better prepare for extreme weather events. While there is an improvement in IMD’s predictions in this regard, accuracy is not high at a location-specific level. To provide advance information about flooding events, the IMD chief said there is a need to install more Doppler radars than the 34 that are currently in operation to at least 67 all over the country by 2025. The IMD started to use radars 20 years ago and in the next four years they were in place in Visakhapatnam, Machilipatnam, Kolkata, and Chennai. Mr. Mohapatra outlined plans to install Doppler radars in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune, Bhubaneswar, and Ahmedabad. While such plans are to be welcomed, there is already a considerable amount of information with IMD and state governments about rainfall patterns and which urban areas are prone to flooding to take the necessary steps to minimize the suffering of people. Ahmedabad, Vadodara, and Surat, for instance, are highly prone to floods because major rivers “pass through a wide stretch of very flat terrain before reaching the sea.” according to the National Institute of Disaster Management’s report, Floods Challenges and its Management: Case Study of Gujarat Floods 2017. Will radars provide more information than is already known to brace for heavy flooding?
For such reasons, flood-resilient infrastructure is the need of the moment. All this talk of smart cities can wait as metropolitan India needs to upgrade its drainage and rain water harvesting facilities before the monsoon arrives. The lack of risk-proof spatial and urban planning that can check uncontrolled housing expansion on lake beds and wetlands needs to be addressed. Gaps in the civic administration need to be plugged. Many of the concerned departments are highly prone to corruption. Tamil Nadu has spent thousands of crores of rupees on storm drainage projects but it has gone down the drain! In Chennai, there is a need to maintain rivers and canals which can absorb the flood water. The travails of flood-hit Bengaluru call for a similar policy response. There is also the need to coordinate relief efforts with NGOs and social media-friendly private initiatives to survive the ravages of climate change.