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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Unending battle to keep Mumbai’s drains clear against rains, silt and garbage

Narpat Kumar Purohit’s Mumbai dreams ended when a Shiv Sena MLA dumped garbage on him. The 26-year-old’s story is just one more chapter in the unending battle to keep the city’s drains clear against rains, silt and garbage

Written by Laxman Singh | Mumbai |
Updated: July 4, 2021 1:00:59 pm
Unending battle to keep Mumbai's drains clear against rains, silt and garbageBMC workers remove garbage, a big cause of clogging, from drains in Kurla. (Express Photo by Pradip Das)

A Letter From Sunder Baug, Kurla, Mumbai

A stone’s throw from one of Mumbai’s biggest malls, Phoenix Marketcity, in Kurla, Shiv Sena MLA Dilip Lande made a ‘supervisor’ overseeing cleaning of drains sit amidst dirty water and dumped garbage on him. It was Lande’s way of “punishing” his employer for “failing to clean” the Sunder Baug nullah, which he blamed for the waterlogging in the area, and also for not taking his calls.

Following the incident, Narpat Kumar Purohit, 26, a temporary supervisor, was hospitalised, with breathlessness and a skin allergy. A day later, he quit his job and went home to Rajasthan. His associates say his family kept calling him to come back.

Kumar had joined only recently at a salary of about Rs 10,000 monthly.

Sunder Baug Lane, meanwhile, has returned to its mess — like every monsoon. Prachi Polekar, 35, a ground floor resident of Doshi Building, says this year has been the worst. “Human excreta started flowing into my bathroom this time. I was stunned… Couple of years back we raised the flooring about 2 feet to prevent water from entering our house… Now we can’t even raise it any further.”

There are three two-storey buildings in the compound, with 144 tenants. When it rains, the houses on the ground floor are submerged in at least 2-3 ft of water. Residents say water takes longer to recede now due to construction in the area, which has left many drains narrower than before.

“With this and the elevation of roads, the building compound is like a saucer,” says Shashikant Kapadi (49), a resident. “We use a huge dewatering pump, but from all four sides water comes in.”

Local BJP corporator Harish Bhandirge says “crores have been spent”, but very little has improved. “The Shiv Sena and BMC administration claim 104% nullah cleaning, then why is there waterlogging ?”

In the last two years, spots identified as prone to flooding in Mumbai have increased from 386 to 405. Last year, the rains submerged some areas for the first time, including gated housing societies in South Mumbai.

Officials from the Storm Water Drain Department say unprecedented rainfall and development works, including Metro and housing projects, are to blame for the increasing flooding. “Last three monsoons, Mumbai saw more than 200 mm rain in a couple of hours. Parallelly development works like Metro, Coastal Road construction are on,” says Additional Municipal Commissioner P Velrasu.

Before the rains, BMC hires contractors to de-silt the drains — split into ‘major’ and ‘minor’ — like at Sunder Baug. The contractors say that while they do their bit diligently, “as BMC records show”, what leads to waterlogging is residents throwing garbage into drains.

“Especially for major nullahs, there is no way to dodge the BMC as everything is recorded. Still, when there is waterlogging, we are blamed. In many areas flooding is due to geography, not because of cleaning,” says a he contractor, not willing to be named.

This year, as per BMC records, 3.24 lakh metric tonnes of silt was removed pre-monsoon from the major drains — “more than the target of 3.11 lakh metric tonnes”, says an official. Besides 90% of the minor nullahs, including Sunder Baug, were cleaned, with 3.09 lakh metric tonnes of silt removed till mid-June.

However, says Manish Valunje, Assistant Municipal Commissioner, L-ward (that covers Kurla), “One finds garbage in these nullahs the very next day of cleaning, even articles like beds, sofas, tables are dumped in them.”

As per the contractor quoted above, what happened at Sunder Baug is another aspect of the job, and that they face constant harassment from local politicians.

A senior BMC official says they are not aware of this. “If there is any problem, then they can file a complaint with police and BMC.”

However, even Purohit’s employer didn’t contact them over the incident with the MLA, Valunje admits. He found out from the media that Purohit had quit, he says.

While MLA Lande did not respond to calls and messages, Shiv Sena sources said his act hadn’t gone down well within the party. “Dumping garbage on a supervisor is inhuman. He should have asked BMC to blacklist the contractor if the cleaning was not done properly,” said a corporator from Kurla.

Mayor Kishori Pednekar had earlier said Lande should have dealt with the issue patiently, even if it is politicians who are blamed for lapses by contractors.

As for Purohit, a fortnight later, his phone remains switched off.

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