Encroachments on hills, hill slopes and flood lines of river banks; cementing of nullahs, small streams and aquifers during construction; absence or wrong design of storm water drains and; plastic litter choking water bodies, has led to a grave situation in Pune, which surfaces as life threatening water logging (as was seen on 5th and 25th September); during torrential rains that have been lashing Pune due to climate change.
These grave concerns were raised at the 300th RTI Katta organised by the RTI Katta group and Moneylife Foundation on Sunday. The expert panel comprising civic experts Sarang Yadvakar, Vinod Bodhankar, Abhijit Ghorpade and Vijay Kumbhar, stated in unison and in a note of emergency that, it is time for Puneites to raise their voices and put pressure on the Pune Municipal Corp (PMC), in large numbers, as their lives are being threatened due to illegal encroachments and criminal mismanagement of the civic authority.
Mr Yadvadkar gave a detailed presentation of the havoc created due to unholy nexus of civic authorities, local political leaders and builder and developer body that has led to illegal building permissions and encroachments since the last two decades. This has led to a “catastrophic” situation, he said.
He further warned that the two days of heavy rains on 5th and 25th September this year, which resulted in deaths of several citizens is but a trailer. “As per the climate change report provided by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI), on behalf of the PMC, which assigned it the task, the city will face the maximum amount of rains in short spells that will lead to dangerous flash flooding, with every passing year. Hence, it is essential now for citizens to come out in large numbers to protest against PMC’s disastrous acts and put pressure on it to stop development on hills, hill slopes, put in place an effective storm water drain system, clear water bodies of debris and halt construction in flood line demarcations of the Mula and Mutha rivers.’’
Abhijit Ghorpade, senior journalist and academician who has written extensively on this issue stated that, “first and foremost, we need to establish a communication and warning system by which citizens are immediately forewarned, about the areas, chowks and roads where flooding has taken place and warned that they should not go there. Presently, a commuter comes to know of rising waters only after he or she has almost reached the spot amidst great traffic chaos. The sudden rise in water levels catches them unawares, which has resulted in people being washed away, while driving in their two-wheelers and four-wheelers.”
Right to Information (RTI) activist Vijay Kumbhar says, “It is written in the Pune Smart City Vision document that sophisticated intelligent systems would be put in place for quick communication where citizens of one corner of the city will instantly come to know of any disaster or information required to be disseminated within minutes, but little has happened so far. So now the onus has come on citizens to do ground work and help themselves in being forewarned about areas of deluge during rains.”
In the 5th September torrential rains, Victor Sangela and Salim Shaikh, were washed away – in all 26 people died. While Salim’s body was located after a few days later, Victor’s body has yet not been recovered. The WhatsApp messages put up by their families, when they went missing, will give you gooseflesh and will make you realise that you could well be the next victim.
Victor’s family member stated in the WhatsApp message: “Victor Sangale, our cousin has been missing for over 8 hours. He was driving to Wanowrie, when his car was swept away due to floodwaters at the bridge near Ganga Satellite and Raheja Gardens. He was driving a white Tata Tiago with license plate MH 12 RK 8732. If anyone has more information please inform the family members and or the emergency numbers.”
Salim Shaikh’s brother sent this WhatsApp message: “Saalim Shaikh, my brother has been missing for over 12 hours now. He was driving to Wanowrie when his car was swept away due to floodwaters at the bridge near Ganga Satellite and Raheja Gardens. He was driving Honda Civic car. If anyone has more information or has seen anybody there at the spot then please contact emergency services and also the family members on their mobile numbers.”
Vinod Bodhankar, who has done extensive work and campaigning in schools and housing societies of the hazards of plastic waste and how to control it at individual and community levels, stated that “plastic litter blocking pipes, nullahs, river beds, bund gates and roadsides of Pune has further accentuated flooding during rains.”
He said that controlling plastic litter can play a big role in controlling flooding and hence, every citizen should get involved in collecting plastic trash in a bag and giving it to organisations like his which pay to give collected plastic trash for proper reuse and recycle.
The immediate way forward to taking this issue forward is to share the presentations made by Mr Yadvadkar and Mr Bodhankar with friends, housing society members, community groups, educational institutions and social organisations, so that citizens know the intensity of the alarming situation. Also, to collect data of which roads and chowks to avoid during heavy rains so that citizens are forewarned. This information would be shared through social media. Each one in the audience was requested to make individual efforts to put pressure on the PMC by writing an email to the municipal commissioner demanding action.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”