By Biswaraj Patnaik in Puri, August 17, 2018: Most cities of India and urban centres keep snarling under terrible conditions of flooding. The woes are even more acute in newly developed urban locations which are horrendously vulnerable to rain flooding because of insane town planning. All this is man-made. Urban development authorities have never taken onto account how water flows on a vast stretch of land. Maybe they are dull in the head or perhaps they have made some personal gains by agreeing to or making designs that are fantastic recipe to never-ending disaster.

Only two days ago, coastal Odisha was beaten down by a low pressure rain which poured between midnight and dawn. The temple town of Puri got nearly washed away with a fifty year record rainfall of 400 milimetres of rainwater across only six hours. Puri is a flat land surface without much slant or tangent. It is kind of a pancake city forced to push all the unnecessary or waste fluids to the sea. The sea has its own moods and whims. If it is in high tide, it does not accept any; on the contrary it pushes back it’s on water swelling like mad and looking for downhill path.

Cuttack is a permanently sad city only because of mad expansion of the city limits particularly onto the ancient riverbeds which is divinely designed by the creator to accommodate water from elsewhere and send it down the stream. The CDA project by itself is a sinful one. Even great judges have settled down there without realising once that their grand dwelling structures will be submerged one day for sure. Furthermore, they have occupied the basin which is meant to contain the water flowing from human settlements on higher planes.

Rivers and streams take millions of years to find their natural path. One fine morning the state authorities declare an uninhabited expanse of land as the next dwelling project without scrutinizing the existent contours, slants and slopes, the beauty of natural drainage streams and the ancient grain fields to provoke people with little money to rush to occupy plots at whatever price decided.

The growing urban centres have this malaise growing alarmingly. Every other village dweller is crazy to be branded as an urbanite. The children are accordingly indoctrinated into the city-loving culture and abandon the rural homes with a sense of false pride. Consequently, cities become clogged and grain fields turn barren.

Once the city proximate grain fields are levelled with layers of earth, greedy builders and property developers buy them for sings and the water absorbing land mass that gave food and absorbed flood waters are gone for ever. Any government permitting grain fields to be converted to homestead land is only committing the most unforgivable sin. Because the properties coming up there will take permanent beating from the rains, anyway.

Urban sprawl — meaning low density development over a large area — has limited the natural drainage capacity of most cities. The reasoning is pretty simple: When concrete is poured over green space, the city loses capacity to absorb water. Sprawl has been exacerbated by the constant population booms and development growth in the urban centres. We’ve had a lot of early-on development in the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s that created this rampant urban expansion. The building practices were like those of the 18th century. So drainage didn’t keep up. It’s today a developer-run community everywhere. This means concrete has gotten priority over maintaining green space, where vegetation and soil could have helped soak up the water like a sponge.

Even worse than this, the new wide road veins, cutting across the length and breadth of the urban expanses, more dangerously the so called flyovers have come up as great barriers to free flow of water as per the paths determined millions of years ago. Scarier is the engineering idiocy that recommends wall type load bearing structures rather than widely spaced slimmer pillars that permit huge quantities of water to flow from one side to the other if the contours are ‘up and down’ type.

Bhubaneswar is suffering horribly because of flyovers with grave engineering errors. The half baked engineers copy structures from elsewhere without using heads to ensure rain water flows without obstruction. Wise engineers imagine outcomes across a full year on the basis of extreme heat, humidity and rain water flow. The Odisha engineers seem never to have taken that little care.

In the good old days wise engineers built water storage units or reservoirs on the down side of cities to protect the city central area from flooding. But as the cities have grown madly without any safety regulations, water related structures or storages are put up anywhere.

Similarly, town planners never allowed urban expanses to grow beyond particular points, only with a view to making sure all civic facilities including transport and household support systems remained nearby and at peace.

It is ordinary news to hear big global cities like Houston fully submerged under flood water due to storms. The west was not exposed to torrential rains like in the tropical regions. But now global warming dumps any disaster on any location. Houston is the fourth largest happening city in the USA, which has suffered like the coastal Odisha did in 1999. The western countries are waking up now and redesigning cities with wisdom acquired and burrowed. But Odisha and other coastal states of India do not seem to have picked the skills despite constant beating ever since time immemorial.

Simple nonnegotiable principles of not raising the roads above the lowest household plinths in an area are merrily violated or ignored. People across the state are suffering because unscrupulous road contract builders keep piling layer after layer of road thereby pushing household levels down causing ultimately home flooding with rain water flowing from the roads.

No matter how many drains you construct, if roads are above house plinths, water is bound to run into living space. All road reconstruction budgets include the component of removing the damaged surface and relocating the debris. Then only fresh refilling upto the old height becomes possible. Lately the cement concrete roads have caused havoc. Contractors appear all on a sudden and dump concrete made of rotten quality cement and after placing two wooden planks on each side pour down the mix to dry without adequate curing. The rods show up with sharp edges and wear off in months. Blacktop roads are finer and longer lasting but require machinery to lay. The politically – connected rogue contractors therefore choose the concrete job that require only poor quality materials and headless workers.

The drains that exist do not let water flow because non-degradable garbage including bundles of plastic and such other objects are mindlessly consigned to the drains by lawless residents. Exemplary punishment by way of hefty penalty alone can wake up the people to act in their own interest.

The rivers or rivulets, natural streams, age old ponds have to be revived if lost. The water bodies used to be the moat effective containers to take in the rain water. They had their full, promoted growth of aquatic life including edible species, provided water to the people around there and added to beauty of the surrounding.

All this beauty is gone now. But all is not lost. Dread and woe can go and every beauty can spring back to vibrance and life provided town planners begin with demarcating boundaries for towns and cities. In the name of growth, they permit cities too indiscriminately to touch the next, thereby killing the individual cultures and causing social strife all over. Most painfully, the grain fields between the cities and townships are gone for ever. The huge tracts of God created water absorbing bodies that also fed millions are buries for ever- only to make room for stupid ones rushing in there to set up homes that are bound to be submerged during the rainy days.

So town planners, engineers and policy makers, and more particularly the national highway authorities beware! Unless ways are mended, terrible flooding times are in store. Lately, everybody is getting to know everything. Modern technology is splurging critical information everywhere.

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