Why rains caught Jaipur nappinghttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/why-rains-caught-jaipur-napping/

Why rains caught Jaipur napping

3 decades with little rain had allowed govts to let city’s drainage system fall into neglect.

Since 2009,when a campaigning Rahul Gandhi sold Jaipur a “world-class city” dream,residents had been under the impression that such a city had almost arrived. Touristy Jaipur soon had a Metro system approved; its Jantar Mantar was inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage Sites list; a new master plan for Rajasthan proposed several provisions for the capital,with a 2025 deadline.

Then this year’s rains came,exposing how far Jaipur has still to go.

“Who says this is a world-class city? It is on its way to becoming one. Such things take time,” Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said. And principal secretary,urban development and housing,G S Sandhu said,“It was said Jaipur has the potential to become a world-class city. We are working towards it.”

One of the reasons the flooding of Jaipur caught everyone unawares was that no one was used to it. The state’s rainfall had been low for 30 years,and this year it was in fact bargaining with the Centre for drought relief when it began to pour.

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“[There was a lack of perception and maybe also lack of resources,” concedes Sandhu. “We could not foresee that it would rain this heavily. It has never rained like this in the last three decades.”

The last time it did was in 1981,when several roads and buildings caved in,killing scores of people. The government then started work on two new drains,the 5.5km Brahmapuri Nalla and the 11km Nag Talai. By the time they were completed in 1985,the deluge was only a memory and the two drains,along with the rest of the drainage system,had fallen into neglect. Officials admit that not once in the last three decades were they taken up for cleaning. This led to accumulation of so much debris and garbage that local civic bodies were intimidated by the monstrosity of the job and did not even attempt any sort of cleaning.

Amid criticism from the opposition,the Centre built pressure. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called on August 22 to enquire about the situation following reports of inundation after a night of torrential rain. UPA chief Sonia Gandhi came calling on the worst hit areas in Jaipur,something the chief minister had not done for one full week after the rains.

The state government set out to identify the loopholes and try plugging them. It found several.

Damage and control

Jaipur’s showcase Walled City,which flaunts the City Palace and Hawa Mahal and is a tourist’s dream shopping destination,was found to have 1,600 unsafe buildings. With cracks on walls and foundations detected,the local civic body put up signboards warning people against entering seven of the buildings. For the rest,which were found partially or fully damaged,there was no rehabilitation plan.

The worst shock came when hundreds of dead mice were found in the water-logged Walled City. Samples were sent to a laboratory in Bangalore for tests while a massive cleaning drive was launched.

A wall holding back the Jal Mahal lake waters gave way,flooding the area around it. A visitor at the Nahargarh Fort’s step-well drowned.

Water entered the basement of Sawai Man Singh Hospital,the city’s largest,and the children’s hospital Jaykay Lon. All low-lying areas of the city were inundated.

After a week of heavy inundation,the government decided to overstep the local civic bodies that were blaming one another and formed an empowered committee to approve funding and award the contract for cleaning the two 1985 drains. Eight contractors were called in and split into teams for four,both with a deadline of December to fix the respective drains.

“We decided to take up work on a war-footing and agreed to forgo the normal tendering process as it takes a long time. Man,machinery and resources were engaged within hours and work is now on in full swing,” Sandhu says.

“Now there are five to six other drains that are being taken up one after the other. An amount of Rs 100 crore has been sanctioned for the drainage repair project. We had drawn up a master drainage plan about six years ago that had an estimated cost of Rs 1,300 crore that was sought from the JNNURM fund. The revised figure is now Rs 1,600 crore,” he added. “Unfortunately we could not gather funds from there and the project was not initiated. The state government has now decided to begin work on it with whatever funds it can generate on its own.”

The state also has an ongoing project,Rajasthan Urban Infrastructure Development Project,assisted by the Asian Development Bank. It has already spent Rs 3,200 crore in two phases. The first covered Jaipur,Jodhpur,Ajmer,Bikaner and Kota,where the project sought to improve infrastructure such as sewerage,roads and flyovers. The second covered 15 smaller towns including Jaisalmer,Barmer,Nagaur,Bharatput and Dholpur. For the third,the state plans to take another soft loan of Rs 3,000 crore and this time it hopes to invest some of it in Jaipur’s drainage system.

Obstacles

Matters have not been helped by a growing migrant population,which has led to the mushrooming of illegal settlements. Political parties have come to power and gone but none has shown the will to remove the encroachments. The Amani Shah ka Nalla (dry riverbed) is now home to the largest number of illegal residential colonies. The settlements have obstructed the flow through the drain.

With rainfall scanty every previous year,the water had caused the settlers no trouble. In the last one week,this locality has been the worst hit. On Monday night,Gehlot directed that no new power or water connection would be provided in the area and in a meeting with the disaster management team he discussed the possibility withdrawing existing supplies to the encroachers.

Arun Chaturvedi,BJP state president,says,“There is no political will to remove the encroachments. The government in power has allowed the encroachments to come up and now that they are threatening to disconnect power and water supply to the illegal colonies. It is just a farce.”

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Gehlot maintains the government is serious about its low-cost housing projects and schemes such as the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana to rehabilitate the slum-dwellers and rid the city of encroachments. “You cannot just ask them to leave or remove the encroachments overnight. We have to provide them an alternative and we are working on it,” Gehlot says.