The annual saga

Tue, Jul 16, 2019

Incessant downpours since last week across the country and especially in the Eastern Himalayas, which includes Sikkim and North Bengal has brought normal lives in these parts to a complete standstill.
Even as Sikkim faces the brunt of incessant rains in the last few days, especially in North and East Sikkim, it is ironically a repeat of every year when we are totally thrown off-guard and held at nature’s mercy. Several landslides across the State have left a majority of vital roads totally blocked, mobile and electricity services severely affected. Soon, there are good chances of water supply lines being snapped, leading to acute drinking water supply crisis in many areas. Drains have already started to overflow and rivers are in spat.  We are already looking at major road blocks, especially along the crucial National Highway 10 due to landslides. The 32 Number slide zone is already a major trouble-spot and the Rangpo-Siliguri stretch is also in a precarious condition. North Bengal rain fury continues to lash the region with besides the Teesta, rivers like the Jaldhaka, Torsha, Kaljani and Mansai swelling to above the danger mark in most places. In the days to come, if the rains do not let up anytime soon, we may be looking at a full-blown crisis.
This brings us to the larger picture across the country. Incessant monsoon rains have lashed across India, leaving several states fighting to contain the flood fury that has affected thousands and killed hundreds. The flood situation remains particularly dire in Assam, Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand which are the worst-hit in the recent floods.
However, waterlogged streets with boats plying on them seem a lesser evil compared to potholes and open manholes, which are death traps set by civic authorities. It’s a yearly phenomenon across India flying in the face of state governments’ claims of monsoon preparedness. The lives of ordinary, taxpaying citizens are marked by helplessness as they negotiate death threats from giant craters and open drains, which refuse to go away despite a mounting death toll. To put the crisis in perspective: About 3,500 people had died in 2015 due to potholes, according to the road transport ministry. It’s easy to pass the buck by citing the reason of multiplicity of authorities in cities, but the real cause is corruption.
Road-laying in India, especially in metros, is a lucrative deal for contractors, engineers and elected representatives when palms are greased and silence is bought. Sadly, the call for punitive action against offenders now sounds like a well-worn cliché.
According to government’s official definition of smart city, “the purpose of Smart Cities Mission is to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life of people by enabling local area development and harnessing technology, especially technology that leads to Smart outcomes.”
The “core infrastructure elements” in a smart city include adequate water supply, assured electricity supply, sanitation, including solid waste management, efficient urban mobility and public transport. Most of these “elements” are maintained by municipal bodies. The present situation of municipal bodies in the country make it hard to believe that they can help realise these smart city objectives.
As mentioned in these columns time and again, the pattern is almost the same for each year-rains, landslides, water supply disruptions, major flooding in the towns due to faulty drainage systems and danger of spread of communicable diseases. And this year is not going to be any different. It all depends on our preparedness. Or the lack of it.

Area: 7096 Sq Km
Altitude: 5,840 ft
Population: 6.10 Lakhs
Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 ft. to over 28,509 ft above sea level
Summer: Max- 21°C ; Min – 13°C
Winter: Max -13°C ; Min – 0.48°C
Rainfall: 325 cm per annum
Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi