THE ELECTRONIC machines in the 300 square feet room belonging to Easwaran N V (62) are all mounted on metal frames, all three feet off the ground. If his unit floods again, at least his machines will not be damaged. He sustained losses to the tune of Rs 1 crore when water rushed into his ground floor factory in Navghar near Vasai during the heavy rains and subsequent floods that rendered Vasai, Virar and Nallasopara almost marooned for a few days in July 2018.
“I have been in the metal fabrication business for more than 25 years. Everyone tells me to retire now, but what will I do at home,” Easwaran, whose only daughter is settled abroad, said. “In the past, I had never made an investment bigger than my produce. However, in May 2017 we bought a machine worth Rs 80 lakh. It was imported from China,” he recounted. Just when he thought he would be able to get bigger orders and produce better quality materials, the three satellite cities saw massive flooding from July 9 to 12.
“I rushed to the factory on July 10, but there was no way we could even cross the road to reach the factory. I finally assessed the damage three days later,” he recounted. His machine had been submerged for three days, and an integral part was damaged. “We immediately decided to send the machine to the workshop in Bangalore. They told us that we would have to replace the part, the cost of which was around Rs 22 lakh,” he said. To make matters worse, his bank loan had not been repaid. “The factory was shut for nearly two months. I wondered if I am going to die a pauper,” Easwaran said.
Most small businessmen in Vasai-Virar faced similar issues. While those with damaged houses received a small sum of Rs 5,000 as rehabilitation money, small factories were completely ignored, said Sanjeev Jain, secretary of the Industrialists’ Association in Vasai. “Most of us have faced damages in lakhs. Because of the water-logging, we couldn’t open our shops for weeks. Several people lost big orders and even staffers started quitting and relocating,” Jain said.
Easwaran decided to not give up and spoke to the bank. “I told them my story, showed them the pictures of the damage and asked for a new loan. With the money, I replaced the defunct part. After borrowing money from the family, I made some changes in the factory. Now we are back in business. We are not breaking even yet, but my factory and hope are restored,” he said.
Grace Engineer, another small businessman, claims that he learnt a great deal from the floods. “When we went to claim the insurance worth over Rs 75 lakh, I realised that the insurance agent had never bothered to check with me how much was spent on each object. I realised that my machines were not insured, but the building was. Since there was no damage to the building, I didn’t get a single penny in insurance,” he said. Engineer, who borrowed from other businessmen and also his church, said, “I am deep in debt, but now I know that my machines are insured.”
All of them say 2019 is when they hope to start making profits again, having seen the worst in the end of 2018. Vasai-Virar City Municipal Commissioner Satish Lokhande said, “We are working to ensure that the situation that arose in the monsoon of 2018 is never repeated. We have already started working on ensuring that natural channels are cleared for water to move out of the city into the sea.”
In September, the Vasai-Virar City Municipal Corporation (VVCMC) roped in IIT and NEERI to understand what caused the flood and measures to avoid it. The municipal authorities also conducted several public hearings. “We had taken insights from residents. Our engineers are working on assessing their responses after which a report will be compiled,” said Ramesh Lad, executive engineer, VVCMC.
The NEERI report suggests that other than doing in-depth research of the floodplain, steps need to be taken to ensure that a flood-like situation is averted.