By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
Last week we saw the terribly disturbing tragedy of a young lady techie, losing her life, when she got trapped in her cab, that became submerged in rainwater, at the K.R. Circle underpass in Bengaluru. This is not the first time that such a thing has happened, either in the city or elsewhere.
We regularly read reports of people getting trapped on water-logged roads, or even getting washed away into storm-water drains, from many other cities too, with perhaps the worst being low-lying Mumbai, which is now bursting-at-the-seams too. The monsoon horror stories from there, sound almost unbelievable. But we all know that they are all very true.
Just a few years ago, an advocate friend of mine, while commuting in his car, from his office in downtown Mumbai to his house in Borivali, was trapped for a full three days, mid-water. My family and I were appalled to know of his ordeal and almost near-death experience. But instead of being deterred from living there, he narrates the story of his misadventure with a grin and like the millions of his fellow Mumbaikars, he still prefers to live there and nowhere else!
Bengaluru too has become almost just as notorious for such occurrences and their incidence has been growing at a pace greater than the growth of the city itself. As things stand now, it is a well-known and documented fact that just one centimetre of rain is enough to bring life to a halt on its roads, in many parts of the city. Even the most premium areas of the city, like the famed Commercial Street, become a nightmare during the slightest rain, with shoppers huddled at shop-fronts for shelter, while their owners are seen desperately bailing out the rainwater gushing into their cellars!
Some areas of Bengaluru are so notorious in this respect, that people who dwell there or who have to pass through them, as they go about their daily lives, live in constant fear of either the rainwater flooding their houses or of getting trapped in the water-logged roads of those areas. Although the loss of life is thankfully only occasional, the unimaginable distress and the heavy losses ensuing from this recurrent occurrence, are shamefully frequent. And, the reasons for this are not hard to find.
With the way the city has been allowed to grow, both legally and illegally, over the past few decades, every one of the natural waterways, once called Raja Kaluves, that ran between the elevated areas of the city, have been badly encroached upon or even completed obliterated. And, all the natural water-bodies, interspersed across the city too, that were the natural destinations of these channels, have met the same fate and now they all but cease to exist.
But, while they existed, these were the natural conduits and destinations respectively, for the rainwater and it would flow away quietly and quite harmlessly and stay there, constantly replenishing the surface groundwater for miles around, for the rest of the year, until the next monsoon. It was a beautifully balanced natural arrangement that did much good while doing no harm, even occasionally, to the people. That is why, every one of the thousands of open wells across the length and breadth of the old city, had its perennial stock of clean drinking and washing water.
Now, with no pathway to take and nowhere to go, the rainwater is simply forced to stay put on the streets or overflow them and enter low lying houses or the basements of even the tallest apartment blocks. Having done this self-inflicted bit of irreversible harm, the question that we are now forced to ask ourselves is how best we can put an end to this misery on our roads?
To begin with, to a great extent, our road engineers have to re-plan the way they want our rainwater to flow away from our roads and keep all its conduits clear, all through the year. This process has to start well before the sometimes-untimely summer rains too. And, they have to unfailingly learn from each passing years’ experience, year after year. This has to be a continuous and ongoing process if it has to do us any good. And, every one of the solutions that they come up with, should be practicable and result-oriented.
I am saying this because there are innumerable examples of both our netas and babus, burning their hands and our funds too in the process, while dabbling with outlandish and sometimes even ludicrous curative measures. One such glaring example is the most recent one that they would install, at the entrances to our underpasses, retractable boom-barricades of the kind we see at the entrances of some hotels and apartment blocks. Police personnel manning these junctions are supposed to operate these marvels of technology whenever rains are anticipated.
Now, has anyone given a thought to how these electrically operated barriers are going to work when there are the almost ever-present, power outages during the rains, as a result of trees falling and bringing down electric power lines with them? And, in the melee of pedestrians and vehicles trying frantically to beat the rains and rainwater, where will you find the Police personnel, being free enough to rush to the scene and activate these barriers?
So, these are all suggestions which just will not work in practice, although they may momentarily help to assuage the outraged sentiments of citizens, whenever there is the unfortunate, disturbing accident. The solutions lie in keeping the water outlets at all underpasses and low-lying roads free of all obstructions like silt and garbage and checking constantly to see that they stay that way.
And, citizens too should be sensible enough to see that in their hurry to get home in the rain, they do not resort to foolhardy adventurism like getting their vehicles to wade across flooded areas. It was exactly these two mistakes that were responsible for the tragic death in our most recent case. If the rainwater outflow from the underpass had been ensured, with proper and periodic maintenance by the authorities and if the cab driver had not attempted to take the perfectly legal but highly risky short cut across the junction, the tragedy could have been averted.
The sad part is that in this particular spot the underpass was not the only way for him to take. Come rain or shine, that junction has always had a very safe alternative route, just alongside. But for such alternative routes to work, we need to take the common sense route too!
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