Chennai Floods 2015: ‘A Man-Made Disaster That Can Return Again’
Video Editor: Mohd Irshad
In December 2015, Chennai was submerged. Over 500 people lost their lives, thousands were left injured, lakhs were displaced – all because of a ‘man-made’ flooding disaster. However, even four years later, no one has been held accountable.
Chennai-based journalist Krupa Ge, in her book Rivers Remember, assesses the causes of the unprecedented inundation, the role of government in the mitigation of the disaster and the lessons needed to be learnt by the city.
Most importantly, at a time when the Kerala and Maharashtra floods of 2018 are making a comeback in just a year, Ge warns the Chennai floods can also return “again, again and again.”
If you could pick three egregious lapses that caused the Chennai floods, what would these be?
First, outdated reservoir guidelines. We are following guidelines from the 1980s when the floods occurred in 2015. And this led to reason number two, which is the poor management in the reservoir, especially when the Met Department had predicted very heavy rains. Number three was the complete political vacuum, and inactivity by those in power.
Why is opening of a dam a big deal in Tamil Nadu?
Our politicians have begun to act like giving water, which is one of the basic needs for the citizens – which should be our right – is an act of benevolence. This has become a big political issue. Every time the reservoir is opened and water is let out, it becomes a huge media spectacle with political parties trying to take credit for it.
The CAG report that you have quoted Rivers Remember reveals a massive lapse on the government’s part, both before and after the disaster. Did the government just get away by calling it “once in a hundred years disaster.” Were they held accountable enough?
The Tamil Nadu government got away scot-free, I’d say from the floods. The CAG report has said that it was man-made and was caused in part by the government. Nobody has been held to account, actually, for the floods so far. Not even those who are encroaching the river for commercial purposes after the floods.
Did you think social media did a better job at rehabilitation than the government?
In the aftermath of the floods most of the relief and rehabilitation was carried out by the citizens – mostly through social media, through telephone. They had their own Excel sheets and were doing the work the state was supposed to do. The state, I would say, did not even do the bare minimum in rehabilitating people. It was social media citizens, especially the fishermen of Tamil Nadu who rescued more people.
What are the lessons Chennai should have learnt from the floods, especially since you warn that the flooding disaster can happen “again, again and again”?
The first lesson Chennai learnt is to update its reservoir management guidelines. The government has not done it even four years after the floods. We still have time, we have to do it. Right now, we are in the middle of a drought... it might be the best time to think about the next flood. The other lesson should be to the people of the city to sort of rethink urban aesthetics. Do we really want that lake-view apartment? Or that sea-view apartment? There is possibly the bending of rules. Finally, we need proper disaster management and proper training in terms of rescue and evacuation.
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