Chennai Flood Exposes Urban Development in Era of Globalisation
The Adyar river, which intersects the city in a serpentine path before terminating at Adyar estuary in the Bay of Bengal, had a peak flow capacity of about 50,000 cubic feet per second (cusec) nearly 50 years ago. But due to encroachment and dumping of waste by different local bodies, dumping of debris by local civil contractors, the capacity has been reduced to 10,000 cusec. During this monsoon, the river was carrying about 60,000 cusec water. Now one can imagine the intensity of damage it caused to its surrounding areas.
The CPI(M) office is located in an area which was among the worst affected. The Virugambakkam area committee office was submerged under eight feet of water. Ever since the onset of northeast monsoon, we anticipated water-logging in low lying areas and our party units were well prepared to help the people in any eventuality. Particularly, we anticipated serious disturbance to normal life of the people living on the south bank of Adyar river that falls within Virugambakkam area committee. During the second spell of heavy raining that completely submerged the areas on the south bank of Adyar, our comrades were involved in evacuating the people to safety. We also distributed food among the people in relief camps. During food distribution, we observed that people, irrespective of their economic status, were longing for food and other necessary items. This prompted us to get involved in relief work. We saw the relief as the right of the people, hence decided to take the material to the door of individual dwelling units. The Party reached out to thousands of families with relief in areas like West Jafharkhanpet, Sathiyamorthy Block, Anna Kudiyiruppu, Rajiv Ghandhi Nagar, Erikkarai Salai, Bharathidasan Colony, Annai Sathya Nagar, Navalar Colony, Doctor Kanu Nagar, Choolai Pallam and MGR Nagar.
People living in these areas are mostly migrant workers from southern districts. This is one among the very densely populated areas in Chennai. Majority of the people here are daily wage labourers. Our Party has been effectively functioning in these areas during the past three decades and we are well aware of their issues and needs. We conducted many struggles to improve the infrastructure of this area. Our comrades did a quick survey of these areas and identified the essential items immediately needed. Unlike other relief agencies, we visited door-to-door to deliver relief materials. We categorised people as badly affected, worse affected and worst affected, based on the depth of inundation of individual dwellings. Houses that were submerged under 21-11 feet water were classified as worst affected, under 11-6 feet worse affected and those under 6-1 feet water were categorised as badly affected. Considering the capacity of mobilising fund and volunteers, we focused on the worst affected people. People watched our dedicated services and soon the number of volunteers started swelling in, along with relief materials and fund. We estimated that we could mobilise and spend around Rs 5 lakh but when we plunged into action, it reached Rs 1 crore and mobilisation of about 200 volunteers. We gave a call for donating relief materials, and not money. We focused more on women and children. Our volunteers were mostly persons hailing from software industry, cinema industry and other white collar professionals without direct association with any political party. The distribution of relief materials were done by small teams of volunteers, headed by one ‘red shirt’ comrade. The Party has been continuing the relief work and is now organising medical camps. The lesson we learnt from this relief activity is that people are willing to work with and accept the Left, apart from the fact that fund is not an impediment to do any social or political work. The trust we earned is much valuable than anything else and we become an acceptable group in the locality.
Party general secretary Sitaram Yechury visited this area on December 13 along with Tamil Nadu state secretary G Ramakrishnan and state leaders Soundararajan, Kanagaraj, Beema and Bakkiam. After this visit a press meet was conducted by Yechury where he explained the situation to the reporters and the initiatives of the Party in relief operations.
LARGER ISSUE OF CIVIC
Looking on Google map, one can find the starting point of the Adyar river at Chembarambakkam Lake, which is located at about 60 meter above mean sea level. It means the discharge from Chembarambakkam into sea should have been a simple laminar flow if the river bed is smoothly sloping down to sea. Unfortunately this is not the case. During this 42-kilometre stretch, there are many spots where the elevation in terms of mean sea level is higher in downstream side than upstream side in the riverbed that causes the turbulence during high discharge above 10,000 cusec. The turbulent spots surges water into the adjoining area. This issue has to be studied scientifically and remedial measures to be taken immediately. There are various agencies that conducted study to record the geotechnical data of the terrain. However, the water resources department (WRD) of Tamil Nadu didn’t do any such thing. The WRD must undertake the task immediately. After taking remedial measures, it should also conduct a study of level in the river versus the flow in the river to warn people in advance in case the flow exceeds the danger limit and prepare a detailed mitigation plan.
We have observed a complete failure of the system-in-place. No early warning was issued before raising the discharge from Chembarambakkam Lake to 25,000 cubic feet per second. Police officials don’t know what is going to happen and what precaution need to be taken from their side. The revenue officials have no idea of forthcoming flood. No coordination between different arms of the government and there is no mitigation plan before opening the sluice gate of Chembarambakkam to 25,000 cusec. The entire area was without power for 24 hours even before the rain and there was no communication facility to warn the people. We demand that a mitigation plan be prepared by the revenue department in coordination with different agencies.
Apart from this, there are area specific civic issues for which our Party has organised struggles. One important issue is the improper sewage collection network in this area. There are about 5,000 dwelling units (from Velmurugan Theru to Kanu Nagar) that have been denied sewage connection to the collection network, and as a result they are directly discharging the sewage into the Adyar river. The reason for denial is that the sewage collection network in this area cannot be gravity main and they have to establish a lift station at the bank of Adyar river and pump the sewage water into a force main to take it to the Nesapakkam Sewage Treatment Plant (STP). Our requests to Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewage Board (CMWSSB) fell into deaf ears. After prolonged struggle, the authorities conceded to our demand and identified a place, Avvaiyar Theru, for constructing a lift station and evacuated 17 families from there and moved them to Chemmancheri, 20 km away. Even five years after of this evacuation, the construction work for the lift station has not been started.
Ever since the Nesappakkam STP has been handed over to a private agency for operation, the primary treated sewage is not further treated to “save energy bill” and is directly discharged into the river. The outfall of this STP is connected to a stormwater canal that runs up to a couple of kilometer through residential areas in a serpentine path before joining with the river. This open stormwater drain is about 15 feet width and is used to carry untreated effluent discharge of about 25 million litres a day from the STP, posing grave danger. We demand the authorities lay a separate pipeline at the outfall of the STP to the river. We also demand the operation of this STP be immediately taken over by CMWSSB and allow the local welfare organisations, NGO to inspect the STP. We demand the CMWSSB to form a board of governance for this STP that should include the local welfare organisations.
Another stormwater drain channel extending from KK Nagar police station up to the Adyar river is bisecting MGR Nagar and it is also a open channel of width 30 feet. Many dwelling units are discharging the wastewater into this channel. This channel is dumped with plastic wastes. This need to be cleaned and used only for carrying stormwater. We demand the restoration of width of the Adyar river and remove the debris from the river bed to restore to its original level so that its flow capacity is re-established to at least 25,000 cusecs, apart from correcting the territory to keep the mean sea level at each spot ramping down from Chembarambakkam to Adyar estuary.
Whenever we demand solution to civic issues for people living near water bodies, the state used to take the approach of displacing them to a distant place. MGR Nagar is no exception to this. Now the government is planning to construct 10,000 houses at Chemmencheri, located 20 km from MGR Nagar. The government conveniently forgets the fact that a few streets in MGR Nagar house people displaced from Manthoppu Colony, a place 2 km from MGR Nagar, by the same government to construct luxurious houses on behalf of Tamilnadu Housing Board (THB) about 32 years ago. We are opposing the current move by the government to displace people to Chemmancheri as the livelihood of these people is depending on the surrounding places. If the government is really have intention to provide them a good and safe house, they can stop the construction of luxurious flats costing around 1 crore a unit near KK Nagar Bus stand on behalf of THB and develop this spot for alternate habitation for people living on south bank of Adyar. The same was observed by us when we are doing the relief work near Virugambakkam Canal near Virugambakkam burial ground. The stormwater canal starting from this place is joining with the Cooum river after 5 kilometer. This is now occupied by the government for construction of luxurious houses for IAS/IPS officers. As a result we find deep inundation of the adjoining areas where the low income people are living. They are unable to clear water from their area for a month as the canal is occupied by the government. Now the government is talking about shifting them to a distant place as well. In the name of development, beautification, solving of water-logging issues, correction of territory to have desired mean sea level, the government is targeting economically weaker section and thus faithfully implementing requirements of globalisation policies.