Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Chennai floods and story of unplanned development in Indian cities.

Entire world watched floods of Chennai on various news channels, international coverage was not as prominent as it should have been but it was somewhere there in news. Even most of Indian media responded very late to report this natural calamity with attention and sincerity it deserves. There can be various reasons to this, may be they thought that useless debate on tolerance and intolerance going on in parliament was more important, may be they thought Chennai is not Mumbai or Delhi so not many people will be interested in that coverage or may be they had no clue that it was that serious, so we don't know what was the reason but national media was very late to show up on the scene, but finally they did show up. There were reports of severe damage to people's homes and other personal property, day to day lives of thousands of people got affected in a way they never imagined. Some scenarios were terrible and beyond imagination. My few relatives live in Chennai, so from them I know how bad was the situation and how people managed to survive mostly by helping each other. Most of the time government machinery is either unprepared for such massive scale disaster or it gets crushed under the huge demand vs less supply scenario. There were also various stories of common people, celebrities and rescue worker's heroics, their brave acts during these moments of crises which managed to save many lives and helped many in distress. No doubt that these stories need to be highlighted but they should not overshadow the real reasons behind this man made natural disaster. 

We all saw what happened and how people are fighting to overcome the problems caused by this disaster but we also need to ask the important question, why this happened and who is to blame? We all know that we can not control rain, drought or any other natural calamities like earth quakes or tsunamis but can we take some preventive or precautionary measures to minimize the damage and reduce casualties? Can we be better prepared for such type of incidents so that they don't create havoc in people's lives? If yes, then why any government in India whether it is a state or central makes it their priority? To understand why I am saying this please go and visit any growing city in India like Pune, Bengaluru or any other city, its name is not important and observe what is going on in the name of development. It is literally unplanned construction on massive scale, people are building something on each and every vacant land legally or illegally. Not only builders builders but people, various institutions are occupying each and every available piece of land and constructing something on it, it almost feels like these cities are on steroids as far as construction is concerned. Land prices are skyrocketing in each and every city, town or village where even little bit of wind of development has reached. People are selling and buying land and apartments like stocks in stock market, prices fluctuate daily, there are land millionaires who became rich just because they had huge ancestral land which is worth more than they ever imagined. These things are good for economy of any country and its citizens if they happen in planned way but there is absolutely no planning in all this, real estate boom just happened and it exploded. There was no time for any planning and no one was even interested in it and unfortunately no one even now intend to correct this mistake. Actually I lived in one such very crowded neighborhood of Pune for most of my life so I know first hand how these neighborhoods come into existence and grow without any legal sanction or planning. They are so crowded that in many places even ambulance or firetruck can't reach if there is any emergency, so just imagine what might happen in case of flood or earthquake. The amazing part is all these neighborhoods originate and flourish right under watch of government and elected members of legislature of every political party, there are no exceptions to this. These people and corresponding government departments purposely ignore this dangerous situation until it becomes unmanageable problem, there are thousands of colonies like these in each and every city of India. This is not development but this is like having a ticking time bomb which is just waiting for some natural catastrophe to explode. 

So why so much of unplanned development is allowed when they could have chosen to develop city in very planned and constructive way? Two main reason come to my mind, first is pressure of growing population which was and still is migrating heavily towards cities in search of better living and second one is rampant corruption in government offices and political parties are part of this. Illegal construction is massive in all these cities and it is a huge problem. There are colonies where thousands of people live with hundreds of homes, all of them constructed illegally. Does anyone knows how to manage this mess? People already occupied dry lakes, shrunken river beds, hills, canals, even they covered up drainage lines and built their residence on top of it. So whenever there is significant amount of rainfall then where will this extra water go? It has to flood neighborhoods, enter people's homes and damage their properties, can we just blame excess rain for this problem? This water has no where to go as all its natural paths are blocked by massive construction or this so called development. We saw this happening in Mumbai, Delhi and now in Chennai but did we ever bothered to take any steps to correct these mistakes? Did we ask ourselves why this is happening so frequently in major cities? Is nature is screwing us up or we are paying the price for screwing up the nature? Unless and until we ask these questions we are not going to find solution to any of these problems, next time it might be some different city or state but same scenario of destruction and loss of life might be repeated.

Thankfully natural disasters like earthquakes or floods or hurricanes don't strike us every day or every year but that doesn't mean we should not be cautious or prepared for them. Because when they strike and we are not prepared then loss is catastrophic, tragedy is humongous. We can not control the occurrence of the rain or earthquake but I think we can definitely prepare ourselves to minimize the damage. I hope these floods initiate some discussion for need of planned development in Indian cities. I hope people and governments don't forget this tragedy so easily and move on as if nothing has happened. Because if they do this then we all are waiting for another Chennai to happen and I don't think anyone of us want to witness this again.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

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