For a government that has spent crores in advertising the apparent appreciation of its Mohalla Clinics, by a few news agencies from the United States (US), this remark by the visiting US Secretary of State, on the state of Delhi’s water-logged roads, should ring a bell:
“You guys deserve an award for being able to get here today. I don’t know if you came in boats or amphibious vehicles of some kind. But I salute you.”
Mr. Kerry was speaking at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). His motorcade was stuck in traffic for over two hours on Tuesday, and then again for over an hour, on Wednesday. Others- who happen to be our own citizens, did not have the luxury of outraging in front of a packed audience. Nearly all major, and minor roads of the city were severely flooded, leading to the break-down of vehicles, at various places. This has become a common occurrence during the ongoing monsoon season.
One would think that the rainfall must have been unprecedented, for such a situation to arise. But nothing can be farther from truth; for as of now, Delhi is still rain-deficit. So far in the season, from June 1 till August 30, the city has recorded 451 mm of rain, as against the normal average rainfall of 522.8 mm. Torrential downpour like the one experienced yesterday is all but common in this season of shifting monsoon troughs. Handling this much of rain is a challenge that Indian cities are well aware of, given that Mumbai gets almost four times the average rainfall in Delhi, at 2,409 mm.
Who manages Delhi’s roads?
There are around 17 government agencies in Delhi, which are involved in road, and drainage. The five national highways in the city, for instance, fall under the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). All roads more than 60 feet wide, are the responsibility of the Public Works Department (PWD). In the unauthorised colonies and slums, the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) is responsible. This leads to a case of overlapping jurisdiction. For example, a 20 km- long drain may fall under the jurisdiction of multiple agencies. This makes the task of fixing responsibility, difficult.
Solution: There is a need to transfer the management, and maintenance to a single authority, so that accountability can be fixed. The Delhi Chief Minister has done little to this end. While he fights everyone from the Lieutenant Governor to the Prime Minister on issues that politically matter to him, these kinds of issues are mostly absent from the discourse.
The difference between sewers, and storm-water drains
While the sewerage system is used to carry liquid waste in closed pipelines (to treatment plants), the drainage system’s function is to carry rainwater to the Yamuna river, in open drains. According to Delhi Jal Board’s submission to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), only 55% of the city has a sewer connection. This means that the sewerage waste from the other 45 percent is dumped wherever possible, including the storm-water drains. Thus, sewer waste, and construction debris regularly enters the storm-water drains, further reducing their capacity to hold rainwater, which then leads to water-logging.
Solution: Around 1,750 unauthorised colonies lack a sewerage system. The promise of constructing sewers, is made before every election, by all political parties, but is soon forgotten. There is a need to escalate the construction. There is a further need to ensure that sewage is not dumped into the drains. A regular check of all sewers should be ensured, so that any such occurrence can be noted. The monitoring status should be clearly reflected online. A web-based application should be started, to ensure that citizens can blow the whistle, if need be.
Lack of funding by Government of Delhi
No specific mention was made in Delhi’s Budget, to the problem of water-logging, or drainage system. Only related mention was that of constructing sewerage systems in unauthorised colonies. No surprises there, for the politics of unauthorised colonies is an old ploy. A sum total of 300 crores was allotted for the same. Further, the budget of the entire Public Works Department is a mere 0.9%. And this includes all public works, including construction of new roads, flyovers, etc. Very little of this will be spent on maintenance, and redesign of storm-water drains. The NGT expert committee on the issue, argues that a massive funding of Rs 19,500 crore will be required, in order to fix the sewerage system itself, let alone the sum required for the drainage system. The IIT Delhi Professor who heads the panel argues that even if the government allocates Rs. 1,000 crore every year, the problem will end only in 20 years. Even so, by that time, there would be further cost escalation, and greater pressure, due to population growth. 
Solution: It will be a foolish mistake to believe that Delhi has sound public infrastructure. There is a need to augment the financial resources of the Public Works Department, or to transfer them to a new body that may be created, as proposed above. As for the sewerage system, clearly 300 crores is not enough. There is a need to raise money from the market, if government resources are limited. But first and foremost, there is a need to rationalise subsidies, and give up the policy of making Delhi a so-called ‘zero-tax’ city. The government needs to raise, and direct its resources, in a rational manner.
Government of Delhi’s neglect of the drainage system
A master plan for drainage, was to be prepared under the Delhi Master Plan of 2001. This has not been revised since 1981. Delhi’s population has grown tremendously. Weather patterns have changed too. Without a new plan, no improvement in policy is possible. A committee was setup for this purpose in 2005, but it did nothing until 2012. Work was then handed over to IIT Delhi. The committee is facing a data crunch. Delhi Government has provided only 80 percent of the data, and the work is hence, delayed.
Furthermore, Delhi’s drains are designed to cater to a maximum of only 25mm rain in an hour, whereas experts have suggested that the city needs drains, that can cater to a minimum of 62.5mm rain, during a 30-minute duration. That Delhi’s sewerage system has not been designed for heavy rains is a fact that PWD Minister Satyendra Jain openly accepts, and yet does little to invest in their expansion. As per the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (2014), Delhi’s Flood Control Department has not conducted any topographical survey of Yamuna, since 2005. Without this data, dimensions for these drains cannot be planned. 
Solution: It is high time, the AAP government makes improving the drainage system, a priority. Most citizens will agree that traffic, and water-logging are one of Delhi’s biggest problems. Little has been done by our lawmakers to address the same. Believing that the Odd/Even rule was a policy in the direction, will be a mistake; for pollution was the driving factor, reduction in traffic was the unexpected outcome that they started boasting about. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has all the time in the world for ‘Modiji’, and drug abuse in Punjab, but none whatsoever for Delhi’s unique problems. Maybe this is because unlike the caste of Nitin Patel in Gujarat/religion of beef-eaters, etc., these issues are not a concern for him? Is it because considering the issues of ‘middle-class’, does not suit his politics? This has to change.
The blame game over de-siltation
The turf war is primarily between BJP’s Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), and AAP-led Delhi Government. Recent media reports suggest that many large drains in the city including Najafgarh drain, Wazirpur Industrial Area-Azadpur Nallah, and Anand Parbat-Shastri Nagar-Sadar Bazar Nallah, are choked with garbage and silt. While MCD makes tall claims of having conducted de-siltation, what is also regularly seen is that the silt is often dumped in adjacent areas. It then makes its way back, during the next downpour. Besides, officials of Delhi Government have argued that a lot of silt has entered into the PWD drains, from the MCD ones- which are mostly low-stream.
Solution: Once again, the need of a unified authority to administer, and maintain drainage systems can be felt. The idea of better coordination between agencies is a farce. Till the time there are different agencies to look after maintenance, nothing will be change. The government can also look into the prospect of privatising the maintenance responsibility, and restricting its job to ensuring a strict vigil.
Reviving Delhi’s natural drains
Last year, a committee formed by NGT, surveyed the city using Delhi’s drainage map of 1976, and found 44 of its 201 natural drains, ‘missing’. Delhi had a network of storm-water drains, originating mainly from the Ridge, and feeding the Yamuna. Over time most of these have been turned into sewage drains. At many places, these natural drains have been filled up, to build shops, and parking lots. During the Commonwealth Games, for instance, portions of the South Delhi drain—called Kushak Nullah near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and Sunehri Nullah near the CGO Complex—were covered to make parking lots for buses. 
Solution: There is a need to develop a detailed plan, to clear the unauthorised construction on these natural drains, and revitalize the area around them. These areas can be developed as tourism, and recreation points, in order to ensure that they are not ‘lost’ again. Such a step will go a long way in improving the drainage system.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons