“The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So we have to hand over to them at least as it was handed over to us.” —Mahatma Gandhi
Chennai, a beautiful blend of tradition and modernity in Bharat, is deluged under the water due to unprecedented rains. As per the estimates 269 people have lost their lives and 400,000 are displaced. We have seen similar situation in the cities like Mumbai and if global environmentalists to believe, with such temperature rise all port cities will be under threat by 2050. When the world leaders are negotiating the crucial climate change issue, the delusions of development and urban planning are exposed in Chennai. There are essentially three types of delusions that are deluging us.
The first deluge is rooted in the economics of urban planning. In our approach to rampant urbanisation, general belief is economic resources can compensate for natural resources. We have accepted the fact that with growing aspirations and dwindling opportunities in agricultural sector, mass migration towards urban centres is inevitable. That does not mean we show general apathy towards rural development. Metropolitan centres have limitations of natural resources. The distorted concept of peri-urbanisation, which has killed the adjoining villages around urban, centres is creating havoc for future generations. According to a study published in Indian Journal of Science and Technology about the overall health of Chennai City, it is estimated that there is a gap of about 25,592 dwelling units with 64% deficiency to meet the demand of household, there is a gap of about 3816 public water supply facilities with overall deficiency of about 14% and there is a gap of about 21.08 km of roads indicating an overall deficiency of about 28%. These numbers are indicative enough. That Monetary resources cannot replace the physical resources should be the basis of our thinking while considering integral urban planning.
Another delusion is, science can provide solutions for all the problems created by human beings. Victory over nature is essentially a western approach rooted in the modern scientific thinking. Technological advancement can ease your life for the time being but if not used judiciously it can endanger your life. In Chennai, the Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR ), the seat of urban expansion, is considered as an IT corridor. This has engulfed several fishing and agricultural villages and hamlets. Incidentally, this technological hub is the worst affected area during the recent floods as massive concrete structures created for technology parks have choked the flood source areas.
Politics of urban dwellings is another deluge. In this politics, illegal colonies are considered as vote banks. According to the official data of Chennai Municipal Corporation, out of the 242 slums within the area, 122 slums are classified as objectionable. It means these slums are formed in lands like river/canal margins, catchment of drains, greenbelts, etc.. This happens in connivance with the local politicians and officials. This approach can win you couple of elections but cannot ensure safety and security for your locality.
Reasons for suffering of Mumbai, Srinagar and now Chennai are the same. Encroachment on wetlands and waterbodies, inadequate drainage system, insufficient water works and rampant construction clearances & corrupt civil-administration. We need to evolve a flood mitigation approach in urban planning, which involves structural and attitudinal changes. At the same time, there is a need to rekindle the approach of live with nature rooted in scientific and spiritual approach of Bharat. For which, earlier we come out of these economic, technological and political delusions is the better, otherwise inundation is inevitable.