As Chennai emerges from the worst floods it has seen in over a hundred years, the sordid saga of how heavy rain turned the city into a disaster zone is slowly unfolding. There is no questioning the fact that such a quantum of rain can cause havoc in any city, particularly those with lowlands. But the catastrophe Chennai faced went beyond this.Water release from the brimming Chembarambakkam reservoir on the city's outskirts made this calamity a major tragedy. Record rain in mid-November had exposed the abysmal state of the city's infrastructure.
Even as the city was getting back on its feet, weather agencies predicted 500mm of rain on December 1-2. So government and the civic agency did have time to plan, but got entangled in redtape instead.
It has come to light that PWD officials had advised hig her-ups to bring down the reservoir level from 22 to 18 feet to make room for anticipated inflow. But this was ignored and sluice gates were opened when the reservoir reached its capacity of 24 feet. This water then spread out all over the city , flooding even areas largely unaffected by the heavy rain.
What stands out starkly , therefore, is the directionlessness of government officials. Delegation of power is almost non-existent in the present autocratic regime in Tamil Nadu. As a result, during the crucial hours when help was desperately needed, hapless and marooned people did not know whom to turn to.
The Army , the Coast Guard and the National Disaster Response Force stood by along with the entire police force, as there was total lack of coordination between departments in the state government.
A shocked world was witness to a macabre drama played out on flooded streets marooned residents beseeching help, rescuers unable to reach them, hundreds washed away, party functionaries obstructing or taking credit for the splendid gestures of people from all walks of life who filled in the vacuum in rescue and relief operations.
What Tamil Nadu needs is a command structure that can respond to crises and act in coordination among departments and with external agencies especially in the crucial early hours. This is one calamity that has touched the lives of every individual in the city , high or low. And it was brought on largely by government ineptitude.
Who will and what action will be taken against those responsible for this?
(Source- TOI Editorial)