For Vasai-resident Rachna Devle, cloudy skies and rain are a cause for fear and panic. Her family, Devle said, has been following updates on weather closely, especially reports on monsoon over the past few weeks. Last year, the family, residents of a ground floor house on Ambadi Road in Vasai, had to seek shelter at a neighbour’s house for a week after rain water had flooded their house. “We had returned to wasted furniture and seeping walls,” Devle said.
As the India Meteorological Department announced the onset of monsoon in Mumbai on Tuesday, residents of Vasai, Virar and Nallasopara, which were cut off due to flooding last year, are not leaving anything to the assurances of the municipal corporation. In fact, the Devle family is preparing for the worst.
“We have managed to get new mattresses. This year, we are planning to wrap at least two layers of tarpaulin if it seems the rains are like last year. We have already bought three big sheets of tarpaulin,” she said.
Like the Devles, the Kalsikar family in Virar has also come up with some contingency plans. “We have bought extra cellphone batteries and portable chargers. Even if it rains like last year, we will at least not be cut off. A disaster teaches everyone a lot,” Maya Kalsikar, a school teacher, said. Their residential society, located near the rail station, has also drawn up a plan in case of heavy rainfall – residents of higher floors will accommodate ground floor residents in their house, if needed.
“Everything has been chalked out. We are also going to store dry food and medical supplies. The monetary damages are bearable, but loss of life is not,” Kalsikar said.
Over four days, from July 9 to 12 last year, the area had received an average of nearly 800 mm rainfall. This, combined with clogged drains, blocked natural exit ways for water and high tide, had led to flooding in the three neighbouring townships of Vasai, Virar and Nallasopara, about 50-70 km from Mumbai. There was no electricity and water for over a week in parts of the area, and residents were stranded on terraces and upper floors, while several vehicles were damaged beyond repair.
In Mithagar, where NDRF teams had to be sent in to rescue the salt pan workers last year, Kamla Shambhre, has made a high pen for her livestock, while Jamnadas Patel is ferrying his children and grandchildren to their native village in Daman. “If the rains are going to be as bad as last year, we will leave our houses with our sacks of rice. I am sending every other valuable things to our village, along with the womenfolk and children. I can handle the rains. I will swim out like last time, if needed,” Patel said.
As the salt pan workers wait for the promised compensation, Indu Shambhre (52) said, “This area floods every year. Last year, it was dangerous. I don’t trust the officials claiming that no flooding will happen this year, but I pray that it will not be like 2018.”
The villagers here, mostly Patels from Daman, have decided to go to the village temple once the rainfall increases. “Last year, water destroyed everything, but the temple. While I am not superstitious, I think if the temple was above water last year, it will be fine this year too,” Patel said.
After the floods, the Vasai-Virar City Municipal Corporation (VVCMC) had roped in the IIT and NEERI to study the cause of the floods and what measures should be introduced to avoid its rerun. The municipal authorities had also conducted several public hearings, a report on which is yet to be tabled. While the IIT and NEERI team had submitted a report in November last year, the Vasai-Virar City Municipal Chief Baliram Pawar claims the only recommendations in the report are about nullah cleaning.
“To the best of our ability we have cleaned the existing nullahs. This year’s cleaning has been like never before. But, in case, the rains are torrential, and like last year, coupled with high tide, then we can’t say that a situation like last year will not reoccur,” Pawar said.
However, the corporation has already hired 20 high-power pumps, and is planning to buy 25 more over the next fortnight. “These (high-power pumps) can pump out two lakh litres of water per hour. So, even in worst case we are going to manage,” he said.
However, if residents are to be believed, the 2018 flood was triggered not just due to blocked nullahs, but also because natural waterways had been filled up. “The municipal corporation itself had filled up a part of the Sopara creek in Vasai, near a township. The garden, which exists for the past five years, is diverting and blocking the creek,” Milind Chavhan, a Shiv Sena leader from Vasai, said.
While Pawar agreed that the creek has been partially filled and diverted, he claimed that the garden will not cause flooding.