Inundated roads and streets, waist-deep water inside homes, and angry residents waiting for help — these scenes played out in Nagpur, the city facing the aftermath of incessant rain and cloudburst which left at least four dead and hundreds without power and drinking water for a day.
The incessant rainfall has brought to the fore the plight of the rivers and lakes which are dying a slow death due to rapid, unchecked construction. These include the iconic Nag River and Ambazari Lake, the city’s largest waterbody.
In Ambazari, one of the worst-affected areas, residents complain about the lack of help from civic authorities.
Rishi Dubey, an engineering student, echoes her views. “We lost everything. My father runs a catering business and we had a few orders lined up, the grains and vegetables which we had kept for the same were swept away in flood water,” says Dubey as he cleans up silt in their house.
Dubey says Nagpur Municipal Corporation officials visited the area two days later to assess the damage but didn’t provide any help.
“I have never seen floods in my entire life in Nagpur. No arrangements were made by the authorities. My son went to get a chattai (mat) for us to sit and some new clothes. No help was provided by the officials,” says 56-year-old Mridula Mishra.
Panchsheel Square Bridge, constructed during the British era, connects Jhansi Rani Square and Panchsheel Square, one of the two busiest streets of Nagpur. The bridge partially collapsed on Saturday, hours after heavy rainfall and waterlogging.
Gurwinder Singh Saddal, who runs a shop near the bridge, says, “The Nag River in the area has turned into a nullah, people regularly throw garbage in the river and nobody questions them. The NMC officials clean the river and keep the garbage and the debris along the river bank causing garbage to enter into the stream again. The river has not been cleaned this year.”
Once a river, now a nullah
Surrounded by mango trees, Ambazari (amba means mango in Marathi) is a popular hangout spot. But it now overflows every monsoon season thanks to the construction of cemented roads around the area.
The iconic Nag River too has turned into a nullah as industrial and household waste is dumped into it.
Residents blame the newly constructed cement roads in the Ambazari area for the recent waterlogging and floods. Officials, however, say unprecedented downpours and not rapid construction led to the flooding of streets and homes.
While the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) maintains the nullahs were regularly cleaned, residents and shopkeepers say the civic body and the PWD did not remove the debris of the damaged pier from the Nag River. This debris has been obstructing the flow of the river since April last year, they allege.
Dr Abhijit Chaudhari, Commissioner, NMC, says all rules are being followed while granting the nod for new constructions. “The main reason for floods was the heavy downpour in a short span of time. Unclean nullahs can be a reason but not a major contributing factor. I am not denying the fact that there are certain areas where the nullahs were not cleaned. Another major factor could be the heavy rain in the nearby Wadi area too,” he says.
Manoj Kumar Suryawanshi, Chairman, Nagpur Improvement Trust (NIT), an urban development authority, says, “The amount of rainfall that Nagpur witnessed on Friday was never seen in the last 40 years. Yes, there are illegal encroachments and those are being removed according to the High Court ruling. The NIT has started working on the DPR (Detailed Project Report) and will soon share the same with Nagpur Municipal Corporation.”
Perils of expansion
Dr Kalyani Ingle, an urban planner and co-founder of IT company RunCode, says rapid urbanisation is to blame for flooding in the third-largest city of Maharashtra.
Illegal encroachments on the banks of the river have been legalised, Ingle says. “The city faces environmental challenges due to dwindling vegetation, treated and untreated sewage discharge into the river, inadequate desilting before the rainy season, and changing topography caused by rapid urban development,” she adds.
Pandhrabodi Lake, one of the major lakes of Nagpur, has almost disappeared now, she also points out.
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In a 2022 research paper, Methodology to identify the anthropogenic activities influencing vulnerability of communities to urban floods – A case of Nagpur, Ingle writes that the land cover of the city has increased and so has impervious areas. The majority of the bungalows in some of the posh residential areas of the city are constructed on nullahs.
Environmentalist Kunal Maurya says while road widening is being carried out at a fast pace, the city is still operating on old sewage lines. The cleaning of the Nag nullah, which is a major carrier of sewage in the city, is done only a couple of times and that too in a few areas.
Another environmental activist, Sandeep Pathe, points out that most of the sewer lines in the old city are the ones that were laid during the British era and should not be relied upon now creating a need to construct new sewer lines.