With a cyclonic storm inching towards Gujarat and the city having witnessed an intermittent shower on Saturday, Vadodara city is on tenterhooks as the municipal corporation is struggling to finish its annual pre-monsoon work of cleaning debris and silt from the storm water drains and the three streams or ‘kaans’ — Bhukhi, Ruparel and Masiya — which are vital for draining the rain water from the city.
Last year, Vadodara witnessed heavy flooding on two occasions due to erratic heavy rain and the persisting issue of encroachments on natural course of the Vishwamitri river, after which Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had announced a rejuvenation project for the river from its origin in Pavagadh to its end in Khambat. However, with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown, the work on the project that can mitigate the floods in three districts of central Gujarat has taken a back seat.
On Monday, the storm water drains as well as the streams in Vadodara showed little sign of preparedness for the onset of monsoon. The cleaning of the storm water drains, which is undertaken by each of the 12 administrative wards, has to be completed on schedule by May 31 each year, according to the VMC project timelines. However, with the lockdown on since March 22, the civic body has cited unavailability of labour as the reason for the delay.
Deputy Municipal Commissioner (East Zone), Dhiren Talpada, who is also the in charge Additional City Engineer (Drainage Project) as well as the head of department of the ‘Futuristic Planning Cell’ of Vadodara, said that the civic body will need at least three weeks to complete cleaning of the streams, storm water drains and other pre-monsoon activities.
Talpada said, “We have only about 40% labour as compared to other years due to the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown. The labour went back home once the lockdown was announced and have only just begun returning. Therefore, the work on clearing the silt and accumulated blockage from the kaans and drains has begun now. Usually we finish by May 31 but this time we are lagging behind due to the unprecedented situation. The work should finish by June 20.”
Talpada says that the civic body is aware of the perils of having a flood like situation during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. “We usually receive rains in Vadodara in the third or fourth week of June by the 25th of the month. So we have set ourselves a delayed deadline of June 20 due to the unavailability of as many hands as needed right now,” he said.
Talpada added that the work on the project announced by Rupani to mitigate floods has not yet taken off. “We had issued a tender inviting the bids for consultation in March and the deadline for the tender was May 8. But it was extended to June 8 due to the lockdown. The project will start only after a consultant is appointed,” he said.
Environmental experts and activists in the city cite fear that the lack of work on cleaning the major natural storm water streams and drains in the city could spell doom during monsoon.
Congress Corporator Ami Ravat, who is also an environmental engineer, has warned the district and city administration about the risk of flooding in Vadodara during the times of the ongoing pandemic in a letter written in May.
In her letter, addressed to District Collector Shalini Agarwal and VMC Commissioner Nalin Upadhyay, Ravat has demanded that the administration must remove all encroachments from the three major natural storm water drains Bhukhi, Masiya and Ruparel Kaans as well as other ponds in the city, which have seen illegal construction in the last few years.
Ravat, who has raised the issue in the General Board of the VMC that met before the lockdown, had asked Mayor Dr Jigeesha Seth to take a ‘strong decision’ in favour of the city’s ecosystem.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines