Flooding: Smart City No. 1' claim of Bhubaneswar does not hold water

Development plan for capital city prepared by IIT-Kharagpur not implemented by govt in letter and spirit .

Bhubaneswar: Bhubaneswar’s claim of being the country’s :Smart City No. 1” is just tall talk. As most parts of Odisha’s capital city remained inundated after heavy rains between July 20-22, the claims about the city’s efficient drainage system were proved hollow.

The situation in this eastern Indian city, spread over nearly 28 sq km, turned so bad that rainwater entered several residential areas. National Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and Odisha Disaster Action Force (ODRAF) jawans, who are normally deployed during high floods in the Mahanadi and other major river systems in the state, carried out rescue operations in the city.

The National Highway 16, which on normal days remains busy with inter-state trucks and buses, saw rescue motorboats sailing on it. Over seven to eight-feet-deep water flowed on the highway. Cars and other four-wheelers were swept away like paper-boats in the gushing rain water.

In the past, storm water inundation in Bhubaneswar was limited to a few low-lying areas on the outskirts of the city. But this time, rain water entered into highland areas like Sahidnagar, Jayadev Vihar, Acharyavihar and Old Town area.

Government agencies and social organisations carried out relief operation in the submerged areas. Affected people, many of them living on rooftops and upper floors were provided cooked foods and clothes, presenting pictures reminiscent of serious natural calamity situations like high floods and cyclone.

As the media highlighted the BJD government’s struggle to cope with the unprecedented situation, the Opposition Congress lashed at the failure of the city governance systems. Civil society organisations, eminent individuals and common people also came down heavily on the Naveen Patnaik government, saying it had completely destroyed the city systems by allowing unauthorised construction by builders, land mafias, influential politicians and migrant people on basin areas of 10 major natural creeks crisscrossing the city.

“We were quite happy when on January 28, 2016, Bhubaneswar topped the list of 20 cities selected to be developed as Smart Cities. Now, going by the current mess, we don’t think this city can be really developed as a Smart City,” says Sukanta Kumar Mohanty, a city dweller.

Well-known researcher Prafulla Kumar Dhal blames the Bhubaneswar Municipality Corporation (BMC) and Bhubaneswar Development Authorities (BDA) as well as the state urban development department for not acting in coordination to make the city a better place.

He hit out at administrative confusion between key civic agencies for citizens’ suffrings during monsoon.

“The BMC and BDA are two principal agencies who look after the city governance systems, including housing. But it does not appear they fully enjoy their constitutional power nor do they exercise whatever statutory authorities they have been entrusted with. Very often the BMC does not know what the BDA does and vice versa. Lack of coordination among these bodies cripples the functioning of the city governance,” says Mr Dhal.

Earlier, the Odisha government had entrusted Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, for preparing a Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) for Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. The famed institute, keeping in mind the growth of the Twin City by 2030, prepared the CDP and submitted it in 2011.

The CDP prophesied that growth would be witnessed on the outskirts of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. The CDP, among others, also made several suggestions with regard to land use, sewerage system and solid waste management.

Sources said the state government, instead of implementing the CDP in letter and spirit, made some changes that have proved costly.

According to Dr Mayaranai Praharaj, a faculty member at department of architecture, College of Engineering and Technology, Bhubaneswar, a number of drainage systems in many urban areas like Bhubaneswar, Puri and Cuttack have collapsed resulting in flooding. Lack of environmental considerations in city planning and unauthorised construction has led to blocking of natural drainage system, she says.

“In Bhubaneswar, Ekamara Kanan, Jayadev Vihar, Gajapati Nagar, Sainik School, Vani Vihar, west of Mancheshwar, Acharya Vihar, Iskcon Temple area, Aiginia, Jagamara and Pokhariput are the areas through which the natural drains pass. Most of these drains are in a dilapidated condition and not working properly. A number of drainage channels are also encroached upon by unauthorised construction,” she adds.

During the initial planning of neighbourhoods in Bhubaneswar, the area even for the smallest housing street was fixed at a minimum of 30 feet. However, only about 9 feet out of these 30 feet actually carry traffic. The remainder is used for stormwater drainage and avenue trees. These trees and the surrounding green areas help reduce urban flooding in the city. The overall widths of the land earmarked for roads and streets is not determined by traffic alone, but by the requirements for drainage.

“But in today’s planning, there are narrow roads. These roads fail to accommodate stormwater drainage and other facilities. There is also no space for avenue trees. For drainage, 30 feet is commonly accepted as a minimum width of the road. There is a need to increase road width in different neighbourhoods,” adds Dr Praharaj.

Besides, a master plan for drainage is badly needed for Bhubaneswar. The natural widths of all major drainage channels in the city should be protected, and there should not be any encroachment, she suggests, hoping that the Smart City’s government agencies will learn their lessons from the current experience.

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