Is Mumbai India’s Sinking City ?

Date: 28 August 2020.
Author: Rahul Kadri

Rahul Kadri in conversation with Rajdeep Sardesai on ‘Mumbai India’s Sinking City?’

India Today, August 06, 2020

Other panellists: Shweta Wagh, Nikhil Anand

Rajdeep Sardesai: We’ve got a situation with the Coastal Road wherein many people like you are opposing it. Do you believe that those who say that the Coastal Road is necessary to ease the traffic burden of Mumbai are part of the problem?

In the time of the British rule, South Mumbai was relatively protected because the British seemed to plan it better than the other areas. Every year, the worst areas are more often than not, the areas which are the so-called ‘new Mumbai’ areas. What is your solution to this?

Rahul Kadri: Yes, the Coastal Road is, in a sense, part of the problem, but a different problem. Firstly, I feel that the Coastal Road is not going to solve any transportation problems. I don’t think that the aim was ever that –– it was more about the optics and how things will look for the city and how things will feel for the elite. I think that the flooding is presently not related to the Coastal Road, it is because we’ve been building inappropriately.

Originally, Mumbai comprised seven islands, which have been filled up today, but there are large parts of Mumbai that still lie below the sea level. These areas were mapped very well after the 2005 floods by the Madhavrao Chitale Committee in 2006, which recommended that these areas are flood-prone and hence, should not be built upon. They also recommended what kind of pump systems should be used; however, in the new DP plan, all of that was ignored. There are lots of reports and numerous works that indicate how the knowledge exists, but the Development Plan 2034 ignores all the recommendations of the Madhavrao Chitale Committee. So, if this committee study is actually taken up and implemented, we can successfully deal with the problem.

Secondly, climate change is upon us and the kind of rain we had is unprecedented. However, this is going to be the new norm and it all depends on what standards we design for now. How can we correct the wrongs that we have already perpetuated on the city, be it the building on low-lying lands, or the cutting of all the mangroves leading to the removal of percolation ponds? There is a way to actually reverse this if there is political will, rather than just looking at short-term gains. Hence, the Coastal Road is not going to solve the transportation problem at all.

Finally, the problem is that the British designed for particular standards. Those standards, however, don't apply anymore because of climate change. What we're going to be dealing with in terms of the weather patterns and the amount of rain is going to be of a much higher order. So, to understand what we need to do for safety is important, and what the government needs to do is wake up and adopt a much higher safety standard. The BMC (Building Municipal Corporation) says that our storm-water drains were designed for 40-millimetre rain within 24 hours, but that standard has to change. So, when are we going to wake up and change our standards and design for the safety of Mumbaikars? When will we take that seriously and say that these are the safety norms we pledge to follow, and people actually follow these norms? Therefore, these norms must be redefined.