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Silt, debris and muck coagulate the Mithi river as it flows between Bharat Nagar and Gyaneshwar Nagar in Bandra (East) – both hidden slums populated by menial labourers employed in the nearby swanky Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC), which itself was developed by destroying acres of natural mangrove swamps. (Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)

Mumbai’s Pre-Monsoon Work Delayed, Slums Neglected Entirely

Was the Rs 110-crore drain cleaning budget allotted only for Mumbai’s top localities?

Updated
Photos
4 min read

With four days to go until monsoon officially arrives in Mumbai, the city has its fingers crossed. They’ll take anything, but a repeat of the horrid 2005 floods. Everyone simply refers to the deluge as 26 July – when the drainage, sewage and road infrastructure of the city of dreams crumpled under the weight of a record-high 944 mm of rain within 24 hours.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is geared up to get Mumbai ready by the time the first rains hit – or so they say. After last year’s contemptible desilting scam, where 24 contractors, awarded the task of cleaning the nullahs of silt and debris, were caught inflating their charges to the tune of Rs 150 crore, the BMC seemed eager to prove a point. They set 31 May as a deadline to complete 60 percent of the desilting and cleaning work; it got postponed to 5 June as by then they had only completed 80 percent of that 60 percent they were supposed to complete.

The Quint ventured into the city’s crevices, far from the bougainvillea-lined trees of Bandra and bustling South Mumbai, to see how much the BMC had achieved two days past its deadline.

“Our houses, beds, cupboards, clothes and utensils were washed away on 26 July; the government gave us Rs 5,000 for the damages and showed us the door. What do you get in Mumbai for that amount?”complained Mohd Yusuf, a resident of Bharat Nagar.

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“It’s funny how it is called Mithi (sweet), but it actually is just black water. Our kids play here, can you believe it? But what is there to do?” scoffs Yusuf.

“They should make a tall boundary wall around the river, or at least a fence. That way people won’t throw garbage into the river, and our kids will be safer playing along this filthy river,” suggests Shashi, a resident of Gyaneshwar Nagar.

Another desilting scam is rumoured to be underway, where contractors are adding silt and debris to the drains and the river, only to come and clean it up later. This increases the total weight of garbage removed, thereby increasing the price they are paid.

“What they say in the news about cleaning only includes areas for the rich. No one even comes here, until a minister takes it up for a short while. Our houses fill up with sewage, our kids are hospitalised with infections, but their cars shouldn’t get stuck in traffic. Haina, madam?” scoffs Mohd. Yusuf.

Indeed a pattern can be seen. Without taking away credit from the BMC for cleaning up drains in several areas of Mumbai – including the Hindmata in Parel – there are sprawling acres of slums and small localities which they have fully ignored. These photos are not a progress report of how much has been done. Instead, they prove how work in many areas never began and perhaps, won’t begin this monsoon.

It begs the question – with five months in hand, and a budget of Rs 110 crore, how does the city’s municipal corporation simply see through areas around the ghastly Mithi. The sheer scale of the BMC’s inefficiency is overwhelming. It would not be an understatement to say that they are nowhere near truly preparing the city for the monsoons.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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