Articles on commission
panel to probe Mumbai floods
03 September 2005
document what took place and examine loss of property and damage
Supreme Court judge to head the commission Report to be submitted within
The former Supreme Court judge, Justice P.B. Sawant, will head a
Concerned Citizens' Commission that will begin a series of public
hearings on Saturday to determine the causes and factors that led to the
massive flooding of Mumbai. The commission plans to submit a
comprehensive report and recommendation to the Maharashtra Government
within three months.
this, Cyrus Gazdar, managing director of Airfreight Limited and a member
of the Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG), one of 35 groups
supporting the commission, said the first task would be to understand
what happened on July 26 and the days after that. Although a natural
disaster, it was "compounded by a whole set of human actions and
inactions." The first of the seven terms of reference for the commission
states: "To develop a reliable picture of the floods in Greater Mumbai
and document what actually took place, the extent of damage to lives and
dignity of persons, along with a detailed examination of property loss
and damage, linked critically to the issue of relief and compensation."
Mr. Justice Sawant, the other members of the commission represent a
range of interest groups. They include Nasser Munjee, chairman of the
Development Credit Bank and former managing director of the
Infrastructure Development Finance Company, Sharad Kale, former
Municipal Commissioner, Chandrashekar Prabhu, architect and former
president of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development AuthorityTeesta
Setalvad, activist and founder of Citizens for Justice and Peace,
Shyam Chainani, founder of BEAG, Prof. Pushpa Bhave, social activist and
academic, Datta Ishwalkar, president of the Girni Kamgar Sangarsh Samiti,
Suresh Bhosale, Dalit activist and Darryl D'Monte, chair of the Forum of
Environmental Journalists of India.
SPEAK UP: CITIZENS’ FORUM TAKES STOCK OF AID PROVIDED AFTER 26/7
Flood victims get ‘hearing’
The Indian Express
05 September 2005
Express News Service
September 4: HELP came from churches and temples instead of medical
camps. Many of us contracted skin diseases, dengue and malaria. Since
enough medicines were unavailable, we were told to buy them from medical
stores. But how could we buy medicines when we’d lost everything in the
floods?’’ asked Mahadev Baban, a deluge victim, speaking at a deposition
presided over by a panel set up by a citizens’ forum—Concerned Citizens’
Commission—at the Social Welfare Centre, Kurla.
suffered losses of Rs 30,000, but didn’t receive any compensation—just a
few foodgrains,’’ added Juman Ali of Azad Chawl, Kurla. The commission
was set up on September 3 and will hear victims’ claims for three weeks.
commission was organised by non-governmental organisation Conversation
comprising Justice P B Sawant, founder-chairperson of Citizens for
Justice and Peace Teesta Setalvad, Ruia College professor Pushpa Bhave
and veteran journalist Darryl D’Monte, presided over a series of
depositions involving members of the public and the government.
prime concern is to inquire into the immediate and long-term causes that
led to the collapse of the city’s administration during the deluge and
also the nature of the aid and compensation doled out to those
affected,’’ said Setalvad.
hearing witnessed about 350 applicants, while in spite of the incessant
rains, Sunday saw close to 300 applicants.
Of the 100
depositions received, most said they were unhappy with the compensation.
According to Setalvad, many have not even received the promised
compensation of Rs 5,000 as they could not get back to their
houses—which were water-logged—for the seven days when the compensation
was being distributed.
victims also received only half the promised foodgrain and fuel
Terrible Tuesday effect: Government in the dock again
The Indian Express
09 September 2005
environmentalists accuse local corporators of mismanagement during the
July 26 flood relief work
Express News Service
September 8: ‘‘My house was submerged under water for two days.
Everything has been destroyed and what was left was stolen. My brothers
have lost their jobs because the company they worked for shut down. We
have no money now.’’
Khazamullah (18), a resident of Muslim Society at Jarimari, was one
among the hundreds who thronged St Jude’s Church on Thursday for a
public hearing on the July 26 floods conducted by the Concerned Citizens
know when we will get compensated, if at all we do. We wanted everyone
to know our plight,” said a victim, refusing to be named.
The CCC, a
citizens’ forum, is working to get depositions of flood-hit victims to
file a report to the government with recommendations for disaster
panel were environmentalists Debi Goenka of the Conservation Action
Trust, Gerson D’Cunha from AGNI and Cyrus Gazgar from the Bombay
Environment Action Group.
said: ‘‘When the corporators got to know of our visit to the area, they
started handing out ration coupons. The garbage was hastily collected
and dumped into Mithi river.’’
former minister Nasim Khan said: ‘‘The government immediately
distributed relief in the flood-hit areas. We have official records of
ration distribution which can be verified.”
the rain: piecemeal policies
09 September 2005
might have survived the floods but the challenge that people in the
city now face is the deluge of piecemeal policymaking.
IT IS well past a month since the deluge of
July 26 that paralysed Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra. The
question people in the city are asking is whether the Vilasrao Deshmukh
Government has learnt any lessons from it.
On the face of it, one would think it has
not. Even if we try and forget the Government's slow response to the
crisis, the steps it has sought to take to correct the problem indicate
considerable confusion and an absence of focus.
The first example was the Government's
response to the health crisis that presented itself within days of the
deluge. Hundreds of people were being admitted to hospitals with fevers
and gastro-intestinal infections. On August 11, the State Government
called a press conference to brief the media about the situation
post-flood. In the course of the briefing, Health Minister Vimal Mundada
stated categorically that Mumbai faced an "epidemic" of leptospirosis.
This was endorsed by the Director General of Health Services for
Maharashtra, Subhash Salunkhe, who said that any minute the Municipal
Commissioner would issue a notification announcing an epidemic.
But somehow between that statement in
Mantralaya and a few hours later, something changed. And the "epidemic"
vanished into thin air. There was apparently no epidemic. At least that
is what the political bosses who rule this city decided. That was little
cause for comfort for millions of Mumbai's citizens who had spent many
hours in sewage-laden water on that fateful day and night and who were
now in imminent danger of contracting leptospirosis.
Fortunately, Mumbai still has a reasonable
public health system consisting of municipal and government hospitals
and health posts. Although a little slow off the mark, they were
activated and got to work to meet the flood of people with complaints
ranging from fevers, to vomiting and diarrhoea. Health teams did fan out
to distribute basic medication, chlorine tablets for water purification,
and spray the drains and garbage piles. A potential "epidemic" was
averted. However, there are still pockets in Mumbai where no assistance
Apart from confused signals from different
departments, recent policy decisions fail to convey that the Government
has a clear understanding of why a city like Mumbai was so badly
affected by the recent floods. It seems to respond to whoever shouts the
loudest rather than taking in the full picture.
Take for instance, the focus on the Mithi
River that runs through the city from east to west. Environmentalists
and the media argued that curbing the flow of the river had contributed
to the massive flooding along its banks. But instead of recognising that
the Mithi river problem is only one of many issues that reflect the
manner in which Mumbai's development has been pursued, the Government
responded by setting up a Mithi River Authority. Why is another
committee needed when the Government already has up to four reports on
the river and the problems caused by unchecked development? Instead of
acting on the information it has, the Government has sidestepped this by
forming a committee. As has often happened in the past, the Bombay High
Court has intervened, in response to a writ petition, and directed the
municipal corporation to get cracking on removing encroachments blocking
the flow of the river.
Along the same lines is the recent decision
to ban plastic bags. No one would object to this as it is well known
that plastic is non-biodegradable and the ubiquitous plastic bag is an
environmental menace. It is also true that drains were clogged with
plastic bags thereby exacerbating the flooding. But the solution is not
just a ban, but how to phase out the use of plastic. Past efforts to ban
thin plastic bags failed for two reasons: one, other kinds of plastic
bags were freely available and two, there was little effort made to
educate the public about the environmental consequences of plastic
Apart from these two bans, and appointing
committees, there is little engagement with the basic issue of Mumbai's
development. Take another example. On August 22, Sadaf Manzil in central
Mumbai, in an area better known as the former stamping ground of Dawood
Ibrahim, collapsed at night leading to 11 deaths and many injuries.
There is nothing new in this. Every monsoon, old buildings in central
Mumbai fall down. All these are ostensibly "under repair" or even
"condemned." Yet people continue to live in them and despite notices to
vacate, refuse to do so. Until the building falls. Then they are forced
to leave. But many tenants argue that the repairs are so pointless that
instead of strengthening these old buildings, they weaken them. People
are also reluctant to leave because once they are moved out into
"transit camps," dreary one-room tenements, they are virtually forgotten
for years, sometimes decades.
These old and dilapidated buildings are
another part of the developmental problem that Mumbai faces and the
Government seems unable to tackle. When the fourth building collapsed
within a week in Mumbai on August 27, the Chief Minister announced that
people would be asked to leave the over 100 buildings listed as "most
unsafe for living" within a week. The week is over and only a few
families of the estimated 900 that need to be rehabilitated have moved.
Even the transit accommodation ostensibly available for these families
has been "encroached" upon by families renting them in collusion with
housing board officials. How did the Chief Minister intend to tackle in
a week what had not happened in decades?
At the same time, a policy is urgently
needed to deal with the problem of over 19,000 "cessed" buildings in
Mumbai, that is structures that are on rents that were frozen in 1940.
Building owners have lost interest in these structures and the tenants
do not bother to repair them either. As a result, tenants are asked to
pay a "cess" towards repairs to the Maharashtra Housing and Area
Development Authority (MHADA). The "repairs" however are often mythical,
consisting of no more than some poles and props that do little to
prevent the structure from collapsing in heavy rain. In the last decade,
over 2,000 buildings have collapsed, averaging over 200 a year.
To encourage builders to repair these
buildings, the Government amended one of the development control rules.
A builder is permitted to demolish a "cessed" structure and rebuild it
on the condition that he accommodate the original tenants. His incentive
is an enhanced FSI (floor space index), which allows him to build a
taller structure in which the additional housing can be sold to help
recover costs. The consequence of this policy has been a spurt of
reconstruction of cessed buildings in good locations, even if they are
not entirely dilapidated. Scores of tall, thin buildings have sprung up
in the older part of Mumbai without considering whether the
infrastructure in the locality can support such new buildings. On the
other hand, there are still thousands of precarious structures that have
been left to the mercy of the MHADA.
At the heart of the mess in Mumbai are
issues like this that show the intricate nexus that has existed between
every government, whatever its political hue, and the builders. The city
has become one large construction site. There is open flouting of rules.
Drains are blocked with the construction waste, the ambient air quality
in many areas is deplorable, and the noise levels are unbelievable. At
the same time, there is little discussion about changing rent laws so
that better and affordable rental housing can come on to the market in a
city starved of decent housing and for rationalising rules governing FSI
so that there is some cohesion between new structures and the
infrastructure around them.
Inevitably, citizens have had to turn to the
Bombay High Court. Three civic minded citizens have challenged the
Government's decision to change the development control rules that
govern "cessed" buildings. As a result, for the moment there is a stay
on new constructions. There is also a writ petition on the Government's
poor response to the floods. This has forced the Government to present
an accurate picture of the damage and death caused by the rain.
Another petition questions the Government's
policy, or rather non-policy, on slums. And yet another is on the
complex and crucial issue of the development of 600 acres of textile
mill land in the heart of Mumbai. In addition, a Concerned Citizens'
Commission, supported by over 35 civil society groups, has begun a
series of public hearings on the flood and plans to present a report to
the Government within three months.
Mumbai might have survived the deluge and
the "epidemic" but the challenge that people in the city now face is the
deluge of piecemeal policymaking.