Mumbai: On 19 June, 300 mm of rain lashed the country’s financial capital Mumbai in the span of just 12 hours and the city’s lifeline that is the suburban train system collapsed. All arterial roads saw bumper-to-bumper traffic as both the suburban railway tracks and roads became flooded. However the rain that lashed the city on 19 June was still three times less than the 944-mm downpour of 26 July 2005. The result was almost identical — except for loss of human lives — and everything in the city was shut down.
Ironically, Shiv Sena which has been controlling the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) since 1985 except for few years in the early 1990s had to cancel its 49th foundation day celebration which was to mark the beginning of year-long celebrations organised by the party to mark its golden jubilee year.
In the early 1990s, a scheme was drawn up to improve Mumbai’s British-era stormwater drainage system which was capable of flushing out rain water, even if it poured at 25 mm per hour. The new system aimed at doubling this capacity. This new project was called the Brihanmumbai Storm Water Disposal System or Brimstowad.
One of the two major reasons behind the increasing incidence of water clogging was changes in the monsoon pattern. The average annual rainfall has remained the same but instead of a monsoon that is well-spread over four months, the city now witnesses fewer rainy days and more heavy downpours.
Apart from this, by the 1990s, the number of open spaces which used to act as a buffer and hold the rainwater had shrunk — occupied by legal and illegal constructions, including slums. However Brimstowad remained on paper until the city was submersed by the 26/7 deluge of 2005.
The scheme had several components like replacing old drainage pipelines and building eight new pumping stations. But out of these eight pumping stations only four have been completed so far and two were opened just two days before the 19 June downpour.
The implementation of a single scheme is perhaps good enough to highlight the quality of governance provided by the Sena and its alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the city.
However one cannot put the entire onus of the city coming to a grinding halt at the Shiv Sena’s door. The blame should be shared equally by the state government, controlled by Congress-NCP for last 15 years. The real power in MCGM lies in the hands of the municipal commissioner and five additional municipal commissioners who are senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officials sent on deputations by the state government.
And as these officials are not all accountable to the general body of the MCGM and as they know their future postings and promotions depend on their political masters sitting in the Mantralaya (Maharashtra’s secretariat), they only pretend to listen to what the Mayor and other elected representatives have to say but do exactly what the chief minister and urban development minister want them to do.
So the lesson for the Sena from 19 June is that instead of becoming the target of criticism after every shutdown during the monsoon when it is not fully in charge of things, it should perhaps stop opposing the proposal for the creation of a separate state of Mumbai along with other areas of Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).
There is no official proposal to create a separate state of MMR but many political and economic affairs commentators have suggested that often. But every time such a suggestion is made, the Shiv Sena has opposed it and called the person suggesting it a traitor.
Shiv Sena is not going to lose politically by supporting such a demand, as it can win a majority on its own easily in this new state. The fact that the party currently controls a majority of the eight municipal corporations and nine municipal councils in the MMR should give it the confidence to support such a demand.
And people also can assess the Shiv Sena on its performance as it can then no longer blame the state government for its failures.