There hardly is a world city – a title which Mumbai aspires to – that can come to a halt the way Mumbai does, almost every year during the monsoon. That it gives the city – financial and business capital - a bad name is another thing; just like the Shiv Sena did routinely by calling for bandhs.
One does not need to opt for a PhD thesis to unravel why this horrid experience visits upon the city. The real reasons are as follows, best provided in bullet points for easy understanding.
One, the city has a drainage problem. Every time it rains when the high tide is on, the rainwater does not flow out of the city. It backs up and inundates every low-lying part.
Two, among the low-lying parts is the railway tracks, said to be a few feet below the mean sea level (MSL) and that explains their submersion. The compounding is by the garbage that chokes the escape paths.
Three, the storm water drains, over a century old in the island part, have not been completely renewed though a big-ticket project, BRIMSTOWAD, is underway at snail’s pace – the costs have escalated, and the pace is not improving. Read about it here. However, the poor drainage system is not the only reason. It’s the intensity of the precipitation and its timing, coinciding with the high tides. It has a lot to do with the way solid waste is managed.
Four, though it is a routine requirement to be routinely attended to, contracts for clearance of drains – nallahs as we call them – are issued late. The work starts after a lag, and the contractor hopes the muck not cleared would somehow get washed away, and he is saved the expenditure of having to clean them up.
Five, the contractors who failed and hold the city to ransom are not punished. They, in fact, continue to be bidders for the work year upon year, and no one bats an eye. In fact, it is a routine. So live with it. The city has a habit of calculating the loss of business or the impact on the economy. It may make sense to impose an equivalent as fine on the contractors.
Six, the elected ward representatives, who are there because they chose to be in civic politics, do not give a damn about the management of the solid waste management in their bailiwicks. They do not inspect the drains, except when a bigwig of their respective party stirs out for a photo-op, oops, inspection. The biggie issues instructions, the officials nod their heads, and then wait for the next year for the theatre of the absurd.
It gives the impression that the politicians are hand-in-glove with the contractors mainly because the city residents are not of the go-lynch mindset. So what’s a heavy rain and a disruption? The city has learned to live with except that the media hyperventilates on it, and then waits for the next breaking news.
Seven, It is not understood that solid waste management is not only a piece of work to be taken up before the monsoon. They need to be kept constantly clean because there are health hazards of not attending to them.
Eight, some 10 percent of the city’s garbage is plastic, which means 650 metric tonnes per day. Each plastic bag weighs a few grams, even a plastic bottle. Imagine the abandon with which plastic is thrown. It is possible that the weight estimated is of only the garbage collected. The plastic bags are the real culprits while the other solid wastes, including construction material and thermocol to add to the crisis.
The city, like others, have banned plastic bags under 30 microns. Stores are asked to charge customers for plastic carry bags to dissuade use of plastic and encourage return to the cloth bag. However, small stores use plastic of all dimensions with impunity, and big stores have made a racket of it. They print their store names for publicity. If Sachin Tendular charges a brand for carrying their logo, why should a customer do it for free? Ok, let us grant them their mischief simply because of our presumed concern for environment.
They charge for the carry bag, but use plastic with abandon for every other item. In fact packing in plastic is the norm, and in a supermarket kaddhu is bought, they don’t barcode it on its skin. It has to be in a plastic bag. The amount of plastic coming out is more than the quantity of plastic as plastic carrybags. And 99 percent of shoppers do not carry their reusable cotton bags.
No store owner, petty or otherwise, has been punished enough to make a difference. Nor have authorities managed to prevent plastic bags of thicknesses below the prescribed standards that are brought in from Vapi.
Nine, the officialdom of the civic bodies are culpable too. They approve the poor work done by the contractors, and are responsible for the delayed contracts because the standing committee takes it own time for venal reasons. Settling cuts is more important than getting the work done speedily.
Ten, above all, the city resident is a culprit too. He throws the garbage anywhere, but he is helpless as he is careless. Helpless because there are no convenient garbage bins, and even if the claim is of 7,500 tonnes of garbage per day, it is the collected garbage. The quantity of the uncollected garbage is anyone’s guess but they are what choke the drains.
Walk through the slums, which accommodate half the city’s population, and the picture about the solid waste management practices emerge – no bins, careless flicking of the garbage as far away from one’s dwelling. However, the well-heeled are not innocent. They run shops and throw the garbage out on the sidewalk. They throw them out of the window. They are nonchalant about it, till the city is disrupted.
But Mumbai believes in karma and commentators brandish it as the spirit of Mumbai. So strong is the belief in karma that the city had forgotten that it has a river called Mithi till the 2005’s cloudburst wrecked unprecedented havoc upon Mumbai. It was a drain till then. Unfortunately, even that has not been unclogged a decade after the rediscovery of a river.
Updated Date: Jun 20, 2015 10:07 AM