Monsoon fury unleashed in the last few days has brought to closer scrutiny our economic development model in urban settlements as well as rural areas. A few days of heavy downpour have affected workaday life in several states and far flung rural areas. The National Capital Region has not escaped the wrath of the monsoon. Silted and clogged drains, uprooted trees that block roads, walls caving in and, in some cases, collapse of buildings leading to loss of life — as happened in the Vasundhara area of Ghaziabad in the NCR.
Being hit by the monsoon has usually meant the collapse of civic administration with citizens being left to fend for themselves to meet their basic necessities. But they have also to deal with poor hygiene and power failure and the threat of disease. These scenes get repeated every year during the monsoon but politicians continue with their blame game. Not merely in the NCR, similar stories have come in from Mumbai, Lucknow and Chennai. Life in Mumbai —— the country’s business and financial capital — has pointed to added problems like piled up garbage of over 1,000 metric tonnes, of which 650 metric tonnes is plastic alone. Closed down airports, ports and telecom networks apart from localised blackouts only added to woes of the people.
The same kind of civic mess extends to smaller towns and cities in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. Foremost would be for the central and state governments to prioritise saving lives. There were floods or flood-like conditions in about 20 medium sized cities in which over 100 people reportedly died in the last few weeks. These have thrown up several questions. It is important to know why disaster management teams cannot access flood-affected areas in time to help people and move them to safety. It is also important to know why pre-emptive warnings are not issued so that people can be evacuated from vulnerable areas.
Going forward, there seems very little indication of governments having foolproof plans to minimise the damage to both private and public assets and saving lives. Before embarking upon the 100-smart cities project, for instance, the centre and states should together plan better living conditions in the existing urban settlements that obviously double as centres of economic activity. Leveraging technology and entering into partnerships with countries experiencing similar natural disasters can help India evolve a long-term strategy to handle such crises. A multi-disciplinary taskforce may have to be constituted on mission mode to deal with monsoon fury or any natural disaster head on while a dedicated revolving fund supports execution of its plans.