While the monsoon signals relief for most, Mumbai’s residents brace for impact. Parts of Maharashtra have been paralysed this week with non-stop rain, which has caused massive flooding, a wall collapse in Malad east and Kondhawa, a dam breach in Ratnagiri, and a continuously rising death toll.
In the last 72 hours, Mumbai has logged over 1,000 mm of rainfall—the heaviest in 45 years. The Maharashtra government also declared a public holiday in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, and along the Konkan coast on July 2, asking residents to remain indoors.
To make matters worse, a wall has collapsed in Malad east, killing 24 and injuring 78. The compound wall of the Sinhgad Institute in Pimpripada fell and crushed slum dwellers adjacent to it, provoking action from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
The NDRF said a team with a sniffer dog, the fire brigade, and local police is investigating the case and working on search and rescue operations in Malad.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis offered condolences and an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh each to families of those killed in the Malad accident.
Mumbai lifeline—the suburban railway network—also crashed; the Central Railway was shut was nearly 15 hours on Tuesday, July 2, and other long-distance trains to Ahmedabad were cancelled. Some stations on the Western Railway were flooded, but trains managed to run.
Officials said Palghar, Virar, and Nalasopara were especially drenched with 550 mm of rain—more than double last year’s volume—and several main train lines there were cancelled.
Around 203 flights at Mumbai’s airport were cancelled and others delayed for at least 30 minutes. Aircraft were also in danger of skidding on the main runway, as one Spicejet carrier did on July 2, getting stuck on a grassy patch.
Why does Mumbai flood every monsoon?
In 2017, Maharashtra, home to India’s financial capital, was the richest Indian state by GDP. Mumbai’s share markets account for 70% of the country’s stocks and is the fourth most prosperous city in India.
Why then is Mumbai always a victim of devastating floods every monsoon?
Vice India explains that the city has 2,000 km of open drains and 440 km of closed drains that have over 30,000 water entrances with 186 outfall points into the Arabian Sea.
While this stormwater drainage system may seem extensive, it cannot support the city’s current and consistently growing population.
This colonial-era system can only handle 24 mm of rainfall per hour at low tide, says Scroll. The pipes are also narrow and clogged with trash, like plastic packets and bottles.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation tried to circumvent its poor drainage system by widening the pipes and installing powerful pumps to push water out regardless of high volume of rain or high tide. However, only five of the proposed eight pumping stations and other development projects have been completed till date.
Another cause of flooding is the loss of mangrove cover.
Over the years, the government has engaged in large-scale deforestation of Maharashtra’s mangrove forests that protected the coastline.
The Wire says the state will chop down 13.36 hectares or 54,000 mangrove trees for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project.
State Transport Minister Diwakar Raote said the government will compensate by planting five times more trees than it removes and paying reparations to communities that might be displaced.
Still, mangrove trees take about 10 to 15 years to fully grow, leaving the city vulnerable to natural disasters in the meantime.
Mangroves not only absorb 50% more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than rainforests do, they also have deep roots that calm waves and prevent flooding. A World Bank study showed that mangroves can also mitigate, and often prevent, the devastating impact of cyclones.
The state government is also planning to cut down 33.17 hectares (four times the size of Oval Maidan) of mangroves for the coastal road project.
The coastal road project will also displace 11,000 fishermen, create more traffic and pollution, and irreparably destroy marine life breeding grounds.
Many activists have slammed the Maharashtra government for not being transparent about the environmental cost of development projects, and many of Mumbai’s residents are wading through the consequences every year.
The struggle to stay afloat
Other parts of the state are also in trouble because of the raging monsoon.
The Tiware Dam in Ratnagiri has been breached, killing eight and displacing 15 people, who are currently considered missing.
After the dam flooded, seven villages—Akle, Riktoli, Ovali, Kalkavne, and Nandivase—were flooded and 20 vehicles were washed away.
NDTV reports that despite authorities flagging the dam for structural weakness and leakage, no repairs were conducted. The NDRF also is conducting search and rescue operations in Ratnagiri.
Also read: Why Mumbai traffic is the worst in the world
“Using drones, we have located six dead bodies, and over 18 people are still missing,” said NDRF spokesperson Alok Awasthy.
Pune has also been fielding accidents due to inclement weather. The city received 73.1 mm of rain in the last 24 hours—the highest volume since June 2010.
Fifteen people died in Kondhawa where a wall in a residential complex collapsed on shanties around 2 am.
Mumbai’s forecast for the coming week
Mumbai’s Regional Meteorological Centre (RMC) said the city will receive “heavy rainfall” on Wednesday, July 3, as the southwest monsoon winds are strong over the Arabian Sea. Maharashtra will also see “squally” or stormy weather conditions on its northern coast.
Fishing communities have been advised not to venture out to sea between July 3 and July 6 as “rough to very rough sea conditions” with winds reaching speeds of 40 to 50 kmph will prevail.
On July 2, the RMC said, “Monsoon remains widespread, vigorous over the entire North Konkan belt, including Mumbai, with heavy to very rainfall over most places and extremely heavy in a few places.”
For July 3, the forecast predicted more moderate to heavy rainfall in some isolated areas.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius
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