Unscientific city drainage construction by PWD

By Indrajit Barua
Over the last 30 years or so, the problem of water-logging of Guwahati’s main thoroughfares and land holdings has become one of the biggest problems that its inhabitants have to put up with. News headlines screaming – “Unprecedented flooding in Guwahati” – greet us every year without fail, come the monsoons. However, we really do not have to undergo these agonies, for the problem is not one that is insoluble. What is needed is the political will on the part of the government and a bit of co-operation from the citizenry, and the problem can be solved.

Of course, it will need some money to solve the problem, but given that the State Government has already spent forty crores rupees of the taxpayers’ money to construct a drainage system that has now been abandoned, money can surely be found to use it for a system that does work. To this end, the Government and its officials must appreciate and realize that the problem of storm water drainage cannot be solved in an ad-hoc and arbitrary manner. Nature will not obey the commands of man, but man has to obey the laws of nature. What is needed is a scientific approach to a problem that cannot just be wished away by allotting funds to different agencies and departments and their calling for tenders without detailed hydrological and hydraulic designs.

The ad-hoc and arbitrary manner in which one of the agencies – the State Public Works Department (Roads) – constructs drains alongside major traffic arteries like the GNB-MD Road from the Oil Refinery in the east to Guwahati Club on the west reveals the reason for the misery and difficulties faced by the public due to water-logging on this main road every year. In a reply to this writer’s petition under the RTI Act, the PWD has stated that the roadside drains are not storm water drains to serve their natural catchment area, but are merely drains to take away the rain water falling on the road surface only. The PWD has not explained how storm water from the very much larger catchment area has been prevented from entering these ‘roadside’ drains, and has declared that the water from the larger catchment area will have to be taken away by ‘some other drains’. The Department has not divulged where these will be located, and why they have not been constructed over the last thirty years. The PWD has admitted that the road gets flooded up to knee-deep height, and that is why dangerously high footpaths have been provided along the road above their ‘roadside’ drains to give shelter to pedestrians when the road gets flooded.

In a reply to another question, the PWD has categorically stated that no hydrological and hydraulic design calculations are required to establish the capacities, sizes and bed slopes of these drains, as they are ‘roadside’ drains only. According to the Department, it is also not necessary for the PWD to comply with the mandatory provisions to the Services Master Plan in relation to the design of the storm water drainage system prepared by the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority at the behest of the State Government and approved by the State Assembly in 1972-73. The PWD has of course not enlightened us about one vital issue in this regard: under what order of the State Government has it obtained exemption not to comply with a scheme approved by the State Assembly?

The utter ridiculousness of the PWD’s reply to queries by a citizen under the RTI Act reveals its incompetence, apathy and indifference to public misery and suffering. Frenetic activity of drain construction is going on all over the city, for example, along MD-GNB Road and along G. S. Road. These drains are being constructed in the same ad-hoc and arbitrary manner, without the benefit of any hydrological and are hydraulic calculations, and are guaranteed to never serve the purpose for they are being built. Flooding and water-logging of Guwahati’s roads will continue to haunt us despite the State Government’s spending crores of rupees of the taxpayers’ money in the name of constructing drains to evacuate storm water.

Would the State Government take the necessary steps to stop this wanton wastage of public funds and compel the PWD to design and construct properly designed storm water drains?

The Assam Tribune Online