Rains wreak havoc on our our cities: who is to blame?

Mumbai is on high alert. Unrelenting rain has held the city in a vice-like grip the past few days with even more forecast for the remaining week. Just last month, heavy downpours threw life in the metropolis in total disarray, reviving bitter memories of the July 26, 2005 deluge that claimed almost a thousand lives and left lakhs stranded away from the safety of their homes.

Mumbai’s story is not unique. Other major cities in India – already bogged down by snarling traffic, poor roads and clogged drainage – suffer as gravely each time the heavens open. Just a fortnight back, Bangalore came to a crippling halt as an evening thundershower threw life into utter chaos. The situation was so bad that commuters, even those on two-wheelers, took the better part of two hours to traverse a distance as short as a kilometer. Some office-goers spent almost 4-5 hours on a commute that normally takes less than 60 minutes.

That was not all. Hundreds of houses were flooded by stinking sewage water and several lost their lives as they were flushed away into swirling, open drains.

Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata – the picture is almost the same: most of urban India reflects a thorough unpreparedness to deal with the monsoon, year after year. A political leader in Gujarat, which was battered and thrown out of gear by rains last month, defended his administration by citing a similarly grave situation in Texas, US. If it can happen in America, he implied, it can also happen in India.

But can the blame be placed squarely on the authorities? Is there a limit to what foresight and planning can achieve in the face of a natural calamity? What can state governments do to lessen the impact of such seasonal torrents? Can we, as citizens, also play a part in making our cities and towns better?

Tell us in the comments section.