How Pune flood showed us why rivers can’t be encroached upon

floods, Pune, Kanchan Thorat, documents, losses, dams, river, rains, municipality corporation, The Federal, English news website
Flood waters entered the government sewage treatment plant on the banks of Mula river on August 4. Photo: Shatakshi Gawade

It was 4.30 am when Kanchan Thorat, who was fast asleep with her husband and children, awoke with a start. Water from the Mula river had seeped into her one-room home along its banks and was quickly flooding. The family rushed out of their home, with nothing but their clothes on and leaving the door unlocked.

Thorat’s home in the Manoj Balwadkar Chawl in Balewadi, Pune drowned on August 4. The Balewadi area is part of Pune’s Smart City project, and is envisaged to be developed as a “model neighborhood of livability and sustainability matching global standards”.

However, Thorat said there was no prior warning for the 20 homes in her chawl, despite Mula river being a mere 100 metres away.

Sandeep Kadam, ward officer, Aundh, refuted the claim and told The Federal that they had issued warnings and asked people to leave their homes.

For Thorat, a door-to-door waste collector with SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling), the flood was a revelation. “Forget seeing it, we didn’t even know there was a river nearby.”

Dams to drains in 1.5 hrs

The Pune flood was caused when water was released from dams. Pune is surrounded by six rivers Mula, Mutha, Pawana, Indrayani, Ramnadi and Devnadi and it has six dams — Panshet, Khadakwasla, Warasgaon, Temghar, Mulshi and Pawana — built on Mula, Mutha, Pawana and Indrayani.

Water released from these dams reaches the city in just 1.5 hours, said Sarang Yadwadkar, an environmental activist.

According to Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) sources, Khadakwasla dam was full from July 27 due to rains near dams. On August 3 and 4, 45,000 cusecs water was released from Khadakwasla dam on Mutha river; 34,000 cusecs from Mulshi dam on Mula river, and 20,000 cusecs from Pavana dam on Pavana river.

Also read: Mother held infant son’s hand tight even in death in flood-hit Kerala

Pune’s flood lines have been marked at 60,000 cusecs for Mutha river, but none of the flood lines are marked if all the dams release water at the same time, says NGO Jeevitnadi’s founder Shailaja Deshpande. Water had entered slums and housing societies even below the 40,000 cusecs level.

Relief in time of crisis

According to PMC, 6,500 people were moved to relief camps during flood. Many offices were shut when bridges started flooding. Schools too announced holidays on August 5 and 6.

Thorat and her neighbours have been staying in PMC’s Balwadkar School, where the corporation and NGOs, including Baner Balewadi Pashan Residents Association (BBPRA), Lions Club, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had set up an impromptu relief camp.

Some housing societies like Irene Towers on Ramnadi’s banks gave shelter to 70 residents of Vidhate Vasti when it was flooded, and took care of food, clothing, medicine and bedding.

Seema Gohal from Prathamesh Park near Mula River, however, was asked for ID proof at the relief camp. When the flood hit her hut around 7 am on August 4, the single mother, her three children and mother-in-law took refuge on a building’s roof.

“What ID proof will I give them when I could barely save our lives? My ID papers, even my phone, are all wet because of the flood,” she said.

Kanchan Thorat (third from right) and her neighbours outside their homes after the flood on August 7. Photo: Tushar Sarode

Changing climate, changing city

Rajashri Tikekar, a resident of a bungalow in Prathamesh Park, lost close to Rs 30 lakh, as the water rose to 10 feet and engulfed the entire ground floor of her bungalow.

“The last time the rivers were flooded was in the 2005 monsoon after almost 90,000 cusecs water was released, but even then water hadn’t come into our homes. But this time only a third of this water was released and there is chaos!” she said.

When Smita Fengase returned to her home in Ayodhya Nagari, Bopodi, three days after flood, she found dead snakes, frogs, and crabs along with waste and mud.

“I tried to save as many appliances as possible. All the clothes had to be given to laundry, and that alone cost me ₹15,000,” said the school principal.

A major aspect of the Pune flood is climate change. According to a study by The Energy Research Institute, temperature and rainfall are projected to increase in the state, with monsoon set to rise by 37.5% in Pune. However, environment minister Prakash Javadekar has said that flood in Maharashtra have nothing to do with climate change.

Also read: Railways waive freight charges for relief materials to 3 floot-hit states

Losing ground reality

In a letter to PMC, Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), Pune District Collector, and Pune Divisional Commissioner, activists blamed “greedy developers”, ignorant citizens, “short-sighted” and “corrupt” bureaucrats and “visionless” politicians.

Former deputy director (R&D) of GSDA, Dr Shashank Deshpande noted that water absorption at surface level had reduced due to use of concrete. “The surface runoff coefficient (speed of water) for mud is 0.3. When cementing is done, the coefficient increases exponentially to 0.8-0.9.”

Anupam Saraph, who has been fighting a case in the Bombay High Court for the Devnadi stream in Pune, added, “If the width of the streams is restored, water will not enter societies.”

A declaration made at a flood meet at Patrakar Bhavan, Pune, had demanded the removal of encroachments on waterbodies, with return of land and restoration of catchment areas, besides ensuring authorities are identified for accountability.

Days after the flood, Kanchan Thorat and Seema Gohal are looking for support to resume their lives and educate their children. Rajashri Tikekar wants a permanent solution. “We can’t leave this place; we can’t even sell it, as no one will buy it. We want a solution for this problem.”