Monday, August 29, 2005

Official Death Toll

The Maharashtra government has come up with final flood toll figures:
"Maharashtra government on Monday submitted to the Bombay high court a list of 1,493 people who died in the recent deluge in various parts of the state and due to various flood-related diseases.

The state government informed that a total of 1058 people died in deluge while 435 more lost their lives due to flood related diseases. Some 141 others were missing in the deluge. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has already filed an affidavit stating that 546 people died in the city, including 75 killed in landslide and 179 drowned in floods."

I find that figure extremely low considering the various real-life stories I have heard about the floods. Why does the government almost always give a lower estimate when clearly everyone knows that the numbers are way higher?

Toxic carcasses

Sucheta Dalal writes in the Indian Express about the aftermath of the cloudburst in Mumbai:
Contrary to popular perception, the spread of disease through mosquitoes and rats is unlikely to end very quickly. In fact, increased toxicity during the hotter months of September and October could lead to a second round of epidemic. The urgent need to clear dead animals after July 26, forced the municipal corporation to hastily bury or chuck carcasses in dumping grounds or open spaces.

Sources connected with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) say over 2,000 buffalo carcasses and a massive 12,000 dog and goat carcasses were dumped at the Vasai and Deonar dumping grounds. In some cases, there has been an effort to bury them, but not at Vasai.

The Indian Express has in its possession photographs taken just a week ago, which show that carcasses thrown in the Vasai dumping ground are generating dangerous toxic waste and such high stench, that it is unsafe to visit the ground without protection. Today, Mumbai has two options: to deal with frequent epidemics carried from these toxic graveyards or to treat them and contain the danger.
Obviously, only the second is a viable option. And Dalal writes that the municipality is not competent enough in that regard.
Can we leave it to the municipal authorities to work at preventing epidemics? Even if these authorities have the will to do so, do they have the resources and the flexibility to consider new and innovative ways of disease prevention?

Dr Uday Bhawalkar and Dr H.S. Shankar of IIT Mumbai have designed a breakthrough solution that is being actively supported by The Indian Express. Their work has led to two doctorates and a US patent (check

Dr Bhawalkar, who heads the Bhawalkar Ecological Research Institute (BERI), has developed the Vermi+Biosanitizer, which acts as a catalyst for treatment of garbage and sewage, preventing the spread of disease through nitrat management.


Although The Indian Express is keen to take this effort forward, a larger programme would require corporate support and initiative. The alternative is to wait for municipal and government authorities to plod through the paperwork required to experiment with breakthrough technology and hope that it leads to an official clearance for the use of such remedies for the greater common good.


Dealing with the situation does not require a huge financial outlay. Dr Bhawalkar estimates that treating all the worst-affected parts of Mumbai with the Biosanitizer concentrate will require an outlay of under Rs 25 lakh.
Surely that's not too much?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

In Europe now?

Heavy rains lashed central and southern Europe earlier last week. MSNBC has a slideshow of the devastation caused and you could easily mistake some pictures to be from Mumbai. Don't believe me? Take a look at pictures #4 and #8.

That's right, blame it on the bags

So has the Maharashtra government figured out the many complex causes behind how ill-prepared Mumbai was for the July 26 Cloudburst? Yes. It's the bags that did 'em. Mid Day quotes Vilasrao Deshmukh, the chief minister, as saying:
Mumbai alone suffered losses of around Rs 4,000 crore, including damage to property, in the recent floods due to choking of drains because of plastic bags, which also had its effect on public health.
The Maharashtra government has decided to ban plastic bags, which I have no complaints with. But I worry that the authorities will carry out a few such minor measures, and will absolve themselves of all other responsibility -- until the next disaster.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Rotting Garbage

More news from Panvel. Panvel also suffered greatly from the cloudburst that hit Mumbai. But the problem now is manifold. Some parts of the town experienced almost 12-15 feet of gushing water. Primarily a retail and business town for the nearby villages, the water laid waste to stored grain and bundles of cloth in shops that were mostly located on the ground level. Following the floods, the shopkeepers simply dumped their rotting wares on the streets, causing the entire area to stink. The local MP and MLA, both building contractors however have employed their personal resources like bulldozers and 'JCBs' to remove the garbage but the quantity of the rotting mess is overwhelming. It almost looks set for an epidemic.

I would like to know how Mumbai and other parts of the state dealing with their garbage problems following the floods.

Tell us your cloudburst stories

[Originally published 12:04 a.m., August 10th, 2005. Moved up to the top today]

For the project I mentioned in this post, we're also looking for first-person accounts of the events of 26th July and the days after that.

Where were you? At home, marooned in office, stranded somewhere between? How did you cope? What did you see? Did anything particularly nice happen to you? Or anything really nasty? Do you have pictures?

If you've blogged it, send me the permalink. If you have an online album, send me the URL. Or email me. Accounts in languages other than English are welcome.

Mail me, Peter Griffin, at zigzackly AT gmail DOT com, and put the words [ThinkBombay] in the subject line (with the square brackets), to get past the spam filters.

Important: In your mail, I will need you to give me permission to:
1. Publish your story or pictures, in print and online, with NO payment to you. (None of the people involved in the project are making any money from it. Most of us are donating at least our time, if not more.)
2. Edit your contribution if I feel it is necessary.
You will not be giving the me or the project exclusive rights to your writing or photography. You will continue to own the rights to your intellectual property.

Update: The project is now moving faster, and further then we imagined it could. We need those stories now! Please mail me, and do also please pass this around to your friends, and link to it.

Thanks muchly.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The road to apathy

Society proceeds like the ocean. After a disaster, it resumes its wonted level and rhythms; its devouring interests efface all traces of damage.
-- Honoré de Balzac.

So shall Mumbai leave the cloudburst behind in such a way, and be apathetic again?

Goonj Volunteers Needed

Jessie from Goonj Mumbai tells me that they are looking for volunteers to help with the sorting of clothes, tomorrow (Saturday, 13 August) and on Monday (15 August). More details here. Please call Jasmine at 9324222219 or mail her at

The collection address is:
RBI Society
A4 Akshay Bldg
(in the lane opp Food Inn)
Andheri West

Thursday, August 11, 2005

She loves me, she loves me not

Epidemic, yes. Epidemic, no. Like a demented madman picking petals out of a daisy, the government first issued an epidemic alert in Mumbai, and then retracted it four hours later. This was after 37 people died in a space of 48 hours, and the number of people hospitalised for "fever", a common symptom in many of the diseases likely at this time, increased to 749.

Also of interest: Mid Day has a break-up of cases across hospitals. Rediff has a story here on some of the afflicted. Mumbai Mirror points out that there is no testing facility for leptospirosis in the city, and samples of suspected patients have to be sent to either Pune or Port Blair. Rediff's FAQ on some common diseases is a useful read. And finally, Mumbai Mirror reports on how "Municipal Commissioner Johny Joseph got a earful from Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh" for "not divulging the correct figures".

Funds are not a problem

To counter the popular litany of how Mumbai pays a large share of the nation's taxes and doesn't get enough back, the Indian Express has a report that quotes a "top state bureaucrat" as saying: "Funds are not a problem, the quality of decision-making is." The report contunues:
The state government has dipped into kitty of Mumbai’s prime planning authority, the MMRDA, at least twice—Rs 1,000 crore was loaned to bail out the cotton crisis and around Rs 400 crore for the Krishna Valley Irrigation Project. The money has still not been returned.

‘‘Most funds are cornered by political lobbies from Western Maharashtra,’’ said a former finance secretary. ‘‘Legislators and MPs in Western Maharashtra, from all parties, are accountable to their constituencies. If they don’t bring in funds, they are finished.’’

That’s why on July 26, when Mumbai was marooned, Finance Minister Jayant Patil rushed 325 km southwards to his constituency, Sangli.

Patil returned only yesterday. ‘‘I was not assigned to go there,’’ he acknowledged. ‘‘I went on my own since my constituency suffered huge losses.’’

So Patil’s job—assessing damage, distributing ex-gratia and preparing a statement of losses for Central assistance—was left to his officials.


On that torrential Tuesday, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh spent precious time getting Sena rebel leader Narayan Rane sworn in as revenue minister. The next day, Rane rushed to his constituency in the Konkan, also hit hard by the floods.
There is a conflict of interest here that is written into the system: a member of parliament might reasonably feel that his first loyalties lie with the people who have voted him into power; but when he is a minister, his duty is towards the portfolio he has been given as well. Sometimes these interests collide, as now, and someone's going to feel shortchanged. Maybe, in at least this one respect, the American system works better.

This is also one of many reasonable arguments to make Mumbai a separate state, but there are also many reasonable arguments against that, so let's not go there.

Epidemics declared... areas of Mumbai and Kalyan-Dombivli, according to this Mid-day report.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

High fever and failure of vital organs

We had written earlier about the worries that an epidemic might break out after the cloudburst. Well, those worries have resurfaced, with 10 people dying in Mumbai since yesterday "due to high fever and failure of various vital organs." Mid Day adds:
[H]ealth officials said today that 19 confirmed cases of cholera have been reported across the state, while Mumbai alone has 352 hepatitis, 30 leptospirosis and 10 dengue patients.

A total 11,684 cases of diarrhoea and gastroenteritis were reported (excluding Mumbai) till yesterday, the officials said.
Meanwhile, the Bombay High Court tells the Maharashtra government to get its act together, as the state's advocate general claims that "the electronic media had created havoc with its coverage."

Bang, bang, bang. Hey, look, someone's firing at the messenger.

Update: PTI reports that Maharashtra's chief secretary has called a meeting to discuss (presumably emergency) measures to tackle the prospect of an epidemic. The toll in Mumbai keeps rising, and the pictures in this Mid Day story will give you some idea why. Also, here are some localised reports from Kalyan, Khar and the Ghoshte Colony in Kherwadi.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Magic Bus Appeals

This was posted on the network board that i run.

Dear Friends,

As you know, Bombay is facing its biggest challenge. Magic Bus along with thousands of others is working very hard to put the city back together without losing its eternal spirit.

Many communities where our children live have been badly affected. Incessant rains have left most of them without food, clothing, utensils, beddings, etc. which is their sole lifetime belongings.

The need of the hour is to support them to bring normalcy in their life as soon as possible.

We plan to reach out to 550 families based in the Port Trust and Dharavi areas, hit by this catastrophe.

Magic Bus team has done a situational assessment of the specific needs by individually visiting each of these communities.

Food being a necessity is being widely distributed; we want to take it a step further and help resume their normal lives.

Following are the items that we have assessed, are needed by these communities and would like to provide.

1. Clothes ( For 290 families)
2. Bed sheets ( For 240 families)
3. Footwear 300 pairs (Rubber Chappals)
4. Utensils A set consisting of 1plate, I vessel to cook and one Spoon for cooking (minimum)
5. Foodgrain 650 families(5kgs Rice & 1kg Dal per family)
6. Plastic Sheets.for 175 families (5 meters per family)
7. Medicines (Crocine, Dependal, Chlorine Drops)

This is a time, when we are sure you want to volunteer in some way or the other towards the rehabilitation of our city and our children. Magic bus is providing a platform where we can all come together for this cause and work jointly, systematically in doing so. A committee will be in place, comprising of Magic Bus staff, volunteers & community workers to coordinate this project.

Due to the urgency of the problem, we plan to take an immediate action in this initiative. We would appreciate if you can send in your contribution, cash or kind before the 10th of August '05 to the address below for us to start the distribution of the relief items on 11th August '05.

Please be free to contact us if you need more information regarding the relief operation or any of our other programmes.

Thanking you

Katy & Purvi

Magic Bus
233 Adhyaru Estate
Sunmill Compound
Senapati Bapat Marg
Lower Parel
022-24954429 / 31
Cell nos Katy :9820451446 / Purvi :9820861634

Wanted, translators for a non-profit project, (preferably Bombay-based)

Ideally, a Languages department in an ad agency, or a professional translation service. Provided you're willing to work for no money on a completely insane deadline. :) Individual offers of help are welcome too.
Some of the people behind this blog are also involved in a project that will bring out a free booklet of emergency information for the city's residents (what the floods revealed is that this kind of info is very difficult to find otherwise), and one other publication, which is being finalised.

The final product will be in four languages: Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, English.

Most of the content we have so far is in English. So Requirement One is people who can translate from English to the other three langauges.

But there will be original content in all four languages.

To cut to the chase, we need people who can competently translate:
English to Hindi, and Hindi to English
English to Marathi, and Marathi to English
English to Gujarati, and Gujarati to English
Marathi to Hindi, and Hindi to Marathi
Marathi to Gujarati, and Gujarati to Marathi
Hindi to Gujarati, and Gujarati to Hindi

We're also looking for
English to Tamil, Tamil to English
Tamil to Gujarati, Gujarati to Tamil
Tamil to Hindi, Hindi to Tamil
Tamil to Marathi, Marathi to Tamil
Tamil to Gujarati, Gujarati to Tamil
English to Bangla, Bangla to English
Bangla to Gujarati, Gujarati to Bangla
Bangla to Hindi, Hindi to Bangla
Bangla to Marathi, Marathi to Bangla
Bangla to Gujarati, Gujarati to Bangla

It would be ideal if the translators concerned can generate soft copy in all the languages they handle.

We want Bombay-based people because the project is on a manic deadline, and this would save coordination time. However, if we can find at least one person who has more than a passing acquaintance with all four languages, who is willing to coordinate and take responsibility for the translation exercise, we'd be thrilled.

We must tell you that this is a project where all concerned are offering their services gratis, so we'd be looking for people who will help for FREE.

If you can do this, or put us on to people who can, we'd be very grateful.

Mail Peter Griffin at zigzackly AT gmail DOT com, and put the words [ThinkMumbai] in the subject line (with the square brackets), to get past the spam filters.

Floods in Karnataka

Remmeber our earlier post about Vilasrao Deshmukh's request that Karnataka release more water from the Almatti Dam? Deshmukh claimed that there would be floods in Sangli and Kolhapur if his request wasn't accepted, and Karnataka, in turn, claimed that several of their villages would be submerged if they listened to Deshmukh. Well, guess what: floods have struck Karnataka.

The Almatti Dam dispute may well have nothing to do with it, but it underscores that not just Mumbai, not just Maharashtra, but the whole country has been hit hard by the rains, to different degrees. This monsoon, the gods have been generous to a fault.

Now Shanghai gets hit

Shanghai, often spoken of as being a benchmark for Mumbai, has also been hit by the weather. According to this report:
Xinhua news agency said seven people were killed in the metropolis, four of whom were electrocuted when power lines were brought down.

The typhoon flooded 20,000 houses, uprooted 2,700 trees and destroyed 400 high-tension power lines in the city. Its two airports, Hongqiao and Pudong, were closed for 30 hours.
Also read Xinhua's account of the aftermath. The typhoon was supposed to be heading towards Belijing, where the authorities were planning to "evacuate about 40,000 people living close to mountains in suburban Beijing should there be a threat of landslides or flooding." It hasn't yet arrived there.

Gaurav, who sent some of these links, points out via email that "the rains were still [just] 15 cm, and it flooded many parts of Shanghai. We got more than 6 times the rain!" He also points out that a few of the deaths in Shanghai were caused by electrocution, a fate wisely avoided in Mumbai by Relaince Energy shutting off power wherever it was unsafe to keep it on, for which they were rather unjustly criticised.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Nearby city

The July 26 deluge rates a mention here, but I'm not sure what "nearby Bombay" means. Never mind. Thanks, Rajni B for the pointer.

The heroism of ordinary people

Just how remarkable was the way Mumbai's citizens rushed to each other's aid after the cloudburst? For crisis situations, it was perhaps par for the course. Baruch Fischhoff writes in the New York Times, in the context of similar "social coordination" after the Air France crash of last week:
While this sort of behavior is often described as remarkable, it is actually what researchers have come to expect. Studies of civilians' intense experiences in the London Blitz; the cities of Japan and Germany in World War II; the 1947 smallpox outbreak in New York; the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, in 1995; and even fires have found that people, however stressed, almost always keep their wits and elevate their humanity.

Indeed, the critical first responders in almost any crisis are ordinary citizens whom fate has brought together. As Kathleen Tierney, head of the University of Colorado's Natural Hazards Center, has noted, "The vast majority of live rescues are carried out by community residents who are at the scene of disasters, not by official response agencies or outside search and rescue teams."
In other words, helping others in a crisis is hardwired in us. Comforting.

(Link via email from Ravikiran, via Instapundit.)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The ICE campaign - In Case of Emergency

I received this message on email and since this is a good idea for any disaster, I thought of posting it here (hoping it has not been posted before!).


Due to the recent bombing in London and floods in Mumbai, there has been a tremendous push to launch the International "In Case of Emergency" (ICE) campaign.

As you know, many people were injured in these incidents. Many of those injured were found with their cell phones. First responders used the injured person's cell phone to try and locate a family member that they could notify on the injured persons behalf. However the rescuers found it difficult to locate the appropriate person.

Wireless subscribers are now being asked by Public Safety Officials all over the world to store the word "ICE" in their wireless phone address book and put their next of kin's phone number next to it.

In the event of an emergency, this person would be contacted quickly by ambulance and hospital staff. It's just that easy! (Source: BBC News)

Please take a moment to program someone that you would like to be contacted in case of an emergency into your cell phone with the word "ICE".
Public Safety officials around the world will know what this means.

Forward it to as many persons you can, this is a good idea.

Do not forget to do it on your mobile first.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Lethal astrology

Should have known. I asked earlier if any numerologists have swung into action to tell us about how 26 is our unlucky number. The answer, bless them, is yes. Maria Abraham reports in the Hindustan Times today ("26th: India's date with disasters?", August 8):
    What does Terrible Tuesday, when Bombay was inundated, have in common with the earthquake in Gujarat four years ago and the tsunami which struck the southern coast last December, leading to hundreds ot deaths? All of them happened on the 26th, and numerologists say it all adds up to a lethal astrological reason for India's date with disasters...

    [R]eputed numerologist Sanjay B Jumaani, known for advising Bollywood and cricket stars, said he had actually mentioned in a radio programme a day before the deluge that July 26th would be an inauspicious day.

Well! I'm convinced! Boy, was that wet Tuesday an inauspicious day or was it an inauspicious day!

This deserves more, which I'll get to soon.

Appeal to webmasters from AID

Association for India's Development requests those of you with websites or blogs of your own to display their fund-raising banner.

Here's the HTML you can copy and paste:

<a href=""><img src="" border="0" text="Support Mumbai Flood Survivors" /></a>

The Rain that Did Not Discriminate

Kalpana Sharma in The Hindu, on Mumbai's work ethic, and the rain that did not discriminate:
People in the rest of the country, who saw images of hordes of people in Mumbai patiently making their way through waist deep water, must have been puzzled. Were Mumbaikars crazy to step out in such weather? But what those images illustrate is an ethic, perhaps unique to the people of Mumbai. It is their determination to get to work, and their belief that they can get back home, rain or shine.

Bunty, Babli and the Policeman

How one man in khaki, his ragtag team and a rickety boat took charge:
Kadam’s wife decided she’d handle the water in the house; he could go out and do his bit at the Air India, Indian Airlines and New Air India colonies, a sprawling staffers complex of some 100 buildings.

"I literally had to swim. It was a little scary,"says Kadam..."I’d heard the airline colonies were in bad shape and water even on the approach road was around eight-feet high...None of the people, who were crying, running around, even dying, would listen to me.
Read on for a story of courage and commitment.

Being seen to be good

The Indian Express writes:
Over the past three days, as officials cranked up relief, there’s been a great, messy push among Congress MLAs, ministers, innumerable corporators and political wannabes to corner food, kerosene and other relief now being distributed by the state.

So being eight months pregnant did not deter prospective Congress MP Priya Dutt—daughter of late star and Mumbai North West MP Sunil Dutt—as she roamed the miserable bylanes of Kalina near the international airport. Thousands got handouts, leaving out those deep inside the dark interiors of the slum. "At least, aid is not falling into the wrong hands," said Dutt on Thursday, accompanied by husband Owen Roncon. "We’ve brought it to the people."

The next day, The Sunday Express received a call from an agitated aspirant to the same constituency—also from the Congress: "Why is she getting all the publicity?"

Across town, Sharif Khan, brother of Kurla Congress MLA Naseem Khan, slapped S Annamalai, husband of Congress corporator Lalita Annamalai, for not inviting the former minister to a relief-distribution function.

"He wanted to know why I had not invited his brother," said Annamalai. Countered Khan: "Annamalai has been bad-mouthing me and my brother in television interviews."

MLAs, corporators and others criticised heavily for their absence during the rain—citizens in the western suburb of Oshiwara offered a reward for their MP, film star Govinda, who defends himself on television—are now popping up with alacrity.
I like that bit about people who voted for Govinda offering a reward for him after he disappeared. Right out of a David Dhawan comedy. I don't understand what the newspaper is saying about Priya Dutt, though. Is it saying that she was sincere, or that she was opportunistic?

The article, titled "The 944-mm Lesson", takes a cursory look at what Mumbai's officials can do to turn the city around, and includes a nice quote from Anand Mahindra in which he says that Mumbai is "a blip on the world’s radar screen."

Heck, you look at how the sensex keeps going up and up, and you'd think that Mumbai is a blip on Mumbai's radar screen.

Long and winding roads no more

33,417 kilometres of roads have been destroyed in Maharashtra, according to this PTI report. Official sources have been cited as putting the death toll in the state at 1056, and the estimated financial damage to be worth Rs 9000 crore (apprx. US$2.07 billion).

LK Advani has demanded that the central government provide Rs 5000 crore (apprx. US$1.15 billion) towards relief work in Maharashtra. Reliance Industries Limited has announced a donation of Rs 5 crore (apprx. US$1.15 million) to the Red Cross, and the USA has announced that it is contributing US$100,000 (apprx. Rs 43.5 lakh) to relief efforts.

Meanwhile, Vilasrao Deshmukh has made a request of Karnataka's chief minister. He has said, "Karnataka should release more water from the Almatti dam so as not to cause floods in Sangli and Kolhapur districts of Maharashtra." The report states:
About four lakh cusecs of water is being let out from the Almatti Dam while Maharashtra is seeking release of six lakh cusecs. Karnataka, however, claims it is releasing the maximum water it can from the dam and has said if it goes any further, several villages in that state will be submerged.
Do we have a crisis here, or are both sides just playing water politics? If both sides are stating the truth, then floods are inevitable somewhere. What a thought.

35 marooned villages, 70,000 people

Zee News reports:
Incessant rains since last week has claimed over 20 lives and affected about 70,000 people living in 35 marooned villages of Kolhapur district, a senior official said today [sic].

"The floods caused by the heavy downpour and the swollen Krishna and other rivers in the district have directly affected some 70,000 people from 35 villages. Of these, 40,000 have been shifted to 53 relief camps set up at various parts of the district," Resident Deputy Collector D K Shinde said here.
This just serves to remind us that while most of Mumbai may well be "limping back to normal", as the cliche goes, in the affected parts of the city and a lot of Maharashtra, relief work may take months, and some of the damage done, to both property and lives, may be irrepairable.

On a tangent, the article on the Zee News website says that this is a "Bureau Report", while the same article in the Hindu is credited to PTI. One of them is messing around.

A vortex in the Met Department

A few days back S R Kalsi, the additional director general of meteorology, had forecast in an interview that we took rather seriously that there would be heavy rains "any time on or after August 5". Well, yesterday was August 5, and the weather's been a tease since then, often overcast, hardly drizzling. Could it be -- shock, horror -- that Mr Kalsi did not know what he was talking about? The Telegraph reports:
The meteorology experts, who had failed to predict last week’s deluge in Mumbai, today said they haven’t yet found out why it happened.

Still, at a post-mortem of the record 944 mm rain that traumatised the city on July 26, weather scientists tried to come up with a theory before science and technology minister Kapil Sibal. They said they suspect a meteorological condition called a “vortex” caused the freak rain.

They admitted they had no evidence for this.
Another excerpt from the article:
[Akhilesh] Gupta [a scientist] said the UK weather office did manage to predict 800 mm rain over Mumbai when it ran a computer model; but it could do this only after the event, using weather parameters after the downpour. “It could not predict the Mumbai rain in real time,” Gupta said. [My emphasis.]
All of this underscores how little we understand the weather, and how ludicrously inexact all these complex weather forecasting models are. And it amuses me that when we can barely predict the weather a week from now, we have environmentalists pontificating on weather changes that global warming will cause a century from now. How can one not be sceptical?

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Ride Begins

Here is an Express Newsline report about taking a slow train through the suburbs:
A group of card-playing friends misses its regular gambler from Thane—post-deluge, he is yet to be traced.
Otherwise, things are more or less the same as always:
A man at the door slaps the bottom of a lady walking on the platform and gets appreciative glances and whistles from fellow commuters.
And at CST, 10:09 am:
"Meet you at 6 pm at Platform No 7" is ignored as somebody else shouts: "You take this paper, give it to me in the evening. The first Kalyan train after the Ladies Special."

United Way

United Way seems pretty far along in identifying NGOs/projects that need help. See here.

Give, but Sensitively and Appropriately, Please

Please see this post and this one about donating clothes for flood relief. As Amit and Dilip have pointed out, donating inappropriate clothes could just lead to more heaps of waste lying by the roadside, as happened in the tsunami-affected areas. On the other hand, here is an organisation, Goonj, that is sensitive to the poor's anxiety about clothes. Here is a brief note on their recycling model in Good News India (itself a fine site). Briefly, Goonj seems to have pioneered a reuse model that works on three links: collection, processing, and distribution. Here is an extract from the article:
"Garments and linen are inspected for cleanliness, washed or repaired where necessary, folded with care, slotted to various destinations and packed in clean sacks. Goonj does not accept or distribute undergarments like bras, panties and briefs, as these have the potential to hurt recipients' self-esteem. Unusable or rejected pieces are further processed to create saleable articles that fund Goonj's operations. The most popular is the door mat, made of twisted rag strips, hand-sewn together... At collection camps, donors often get pumped up enough to bring in old newspapers and bottles which are sold, with proceeds to Goonj. Companies let Goonj carry away heaps of discarded xerox copies. Goonj brings them over and pounces on the blank-side. They make note pads out of them for sale. Goonj has never bought paper for correspondence or promotions. It uses only discarded one-side unused paper....Goonj has now begun the 'School to School Programme' which seeks to channel city children's old books, lunch boxes, water bottles, uniforms shoes and so on to rural children. There is also their winter-watch, when Goonj volunteers patrol Delhi's streets to give away warm blankets to shivering poor."
What impresses me is both the sensitivity and the simplicity of the process. Among other useful innovations, Goonj has apparently developed that most useful of hygiene items for poor women and girls: the low-cost sanitary napkin. A very humane and most useful innovation for women who have suffered for years using dirty rags: "They use any rag to dry themselves- it's usually a dirty rag. They get infected, often the low-grade kind, not quite the killer variety. They exist with it, in the background, not quite dead but barely living."

Goonj has been based in Delhi with other centres but had not yet set up base in Mumbai. Hearing about the Mumbai floods and the immediate need for relief work here, the organisation has now located a space to start its work here.

Here are details of the Goonj contact person and their just-identified collection centre in Mumbai: the contact person is called Jasmine, her number (this information is being provided here with her permission) is 9324222219, and her email

The collection address is:
RBI Society
A4 Akshay Bldg
(in the lane opp Food Inn)
Andheri West

Jasmine requests that anyone going across to this collection centre should please call her in advance, so that she can ensure that someone will be present to collect the materials.

They are looking for donations of: clothes, sheets, dry rations (oil, sugar, rice etc), medical supplies and - important - SCHOOL supplies.

They will also be looking for volunteers to help with the sorting, but that will be the next step, after the collection commences.

Cross-posted at Indian Writing.
Thanks to Neela and Charu for first pointing me to the work that Goonj does.

Apart from the tales of devastation

Mukta writes an interesting personal account with the Mumbai rains as the backdrop. We hear plenty of tales of devastation and people walking home in chest-high water. But sometimes, we hear such personal accounts of what people really do when they are safe and sound. A bit elitist but heartwarming nevertheless. This was originally cited on DesiPundit.

Water treatment

In addition to the excellent links here, some excerpts from "Water Purification", a chapter in The Traveller’s Handbook (Globe Pequot Press, London, 1988):

    Three points about advice on water treatment can cause misunderstanding.

    Firstly, there is no need to kill or remove all the micro-organisms in water. …

    Secondly, in theory, no normal treatment method will produce infinitely safe drinking water. …

    Thirdly, beware the use of words like ‘pure’, ‘disinfect’ and ‘protection’, common claims in many manufacturers’ carefully written prose. …

    Treatment of a water supply:

    Boiling: Boiling at 100 degrees C kills all organisms found in water except a few such as slow viruses and spores which are not dangerous if drunk. ... To make water safe for drinking you should bring water to a full boil for at least two minutes. ... Do not cool water down with untreated water.

    Chemical treatment:

    There are broadly three germicidal chemicals used for drinking water treatment...

    1) Silver. Completely harmless, taste free and very long lasting effect, protecting stored water for up to sic months. The sterlisation process is quite slow and it is necessary to leave water for at least two hours before use.

    2) Chlorine. Completely harmless, fast acting and 100 per cent effective if used correctly. A minimum of ten minutes is req2uired before water can be used. ... If in doubt, we recommend that the period before use be extended to at least 20 and preferably 30 minutes.

    3) Iodine. Fast acting and very effective, normally taking ten minutes before water is safe to use. ... Iodine can have serious, lasting physiological side effects and should not be used over an extended period.


These are just sketchy details, and I haven't covered filtration. But two final points.

One, I have personally used Zero-B in various situations with all kinds of water and ... well, I'm alive.

Two, if forced to take water from some outside source, choose quickly running water if you can.

Contaminated water

Mid Day reports (I am reproducing the article in full because it's important):
A test conducted on 84 water samples from different parts of the city on July 29 at the BMC laboratory at Dadar (W) revealed that 58 samples in the lot was unfit for human consumption. [Sic.] Some samples were found to be contaminated by dangerous Ecoli bacteria.

Said hydraulic engineer T V Shah, “Underground water tanks get contaminated during the rains when dirty water enters the tanks during flooding. The tanks should be chlorinated thoroughly.”

Adds a source within the BMC, “At some places sewage water was found to have leaked into drinking water tanks, making the water absolutely unfit for drinking.”
Well, here's a question for the readers: would you know what one can do (besides buying mineral water, which not all of us can afford) to make sure that the water we drink is safe? Will boiling it suffice? Will filtering it through Aquaguard be sufficient? What about Zero B?

If you have an answer to that, please leave it in the comments of this post. Any links you could provide would be useful as well.

Shortage of medicines

NDTV reports that there is a shortage of medicines in Mumbai, and there are two reasons behind this. Firstly, it reports:
[R]umours about stocks of medicines getting over are leading to panic among the people, and many are buying it without having the need for it.

As a result, the shortage of medicines may actually take place, and those really in need, may not find them in the market.
And secondly:
The heavy rains have had a severe impact on pharma companies, and many of them have suffered losses of hundreds of crores.

About a thousand dispensaries have also been completely ruined.

Digging up the dead

The Times of India reports:
The rains may have broken lives, limbs and and homes but they’ve made not the slightest dent in the great bureaucratic machine.

The Thane tehsildar’s office is demanding that the Sheikhs, a poor couple from Mumbra who lost their two-moth-old baby to the deluge, should exhume the body and conduct a post-mortem in order to claim the Rs 50,000 compensation.

This despite a receipt from the kabrastaan affirming the burial and any number of witnesses who watched the shivering, drenched baby die.
So after the one-time disaster of the cloudburst, we have the perennial disaster of the Indian bureaucracy to deal with. And these men, the ones who ask for dead babies to be dug up, get their salaries from the taxes that we pay. What a shame that after 50 years of this nonsense, we still haven't been able to ensure that our money is spent wisely.

Did He Or Didn't He?

On Thursday, Anil Ambani's Reliance Energy claims that it has restored power in all the suburbs, many of which were in darkness for a week. Two days previously, I recieved an SMS from the company, which stated that 98% of power had been restored. Today, this report in The Indian Express:
Satyajeevan Society and Om Nivas Society on LBS Road, Kurla (West) and Asalfa Village in Ghatkopar (West) are among at least 15,000 families in Kurla (W) and Ghatkopar (W), who are Reliance Energy consumers and are reportedly still without power—10 days after they lost it when the rains started on July 26.

"If there are houses still without power, it is due to a local fault which we are attending to on a war footing," Yogendra Vasishta, vice-president, Reliance Energy, said. Residents, though, beg to differ. "We still don’t have power here and people are close to breaking point. And because there’s no power, we can’t even pump water into our houses,’’ says freelance journalist Priyanka Kapoor (19).

After intense pressure from desperate consumers and a much-criticised state administration, Reliance Energy restored power with generators around 1 am on Thursday, but that was short-lived comfort.

Recalls Supriya Sawant (24), a marketing executive with Eureka Forbes:"We got power but it collapsed again at 11 am. How far can you rely on generators?"
Read more here.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

NGO Coordination committee formed

Is Cloudburst involved with this?


Municipal Commissioner, Mr. Johny Joseph, had called a meeting of NGOs on 4th Aug at BMC. About 20 NGOs and 15 BMC officials were present.

An NGO Co-ordination committee for flood relief was formed.

The committee would act as a clearing house to convey info from the field to BMC and vice versa. The info would be to and from NGOs, donors, and all supporters.

- NGOs should give all possible feedback twice a day of the actual situation in their areas - materials needed, services needed, where the govt machinery has not reached, what all needs to be done, what are the problems being faced, a report on the situation.
- If NGOs have any questions regarding govt reliefs or procedures or announcements, they should ask those also.
- All offers from donors, volunteers, etc. of money, material, services, and manpower should also be conveyed to BMC.

BMC, in turn, will do the following:
- follow-up with the ward officers and other govt resources at their disposal
- co-ordinate with donors and corporates to help out urgently
- give clarifications about the procedures and also ensure that relief measures are implemented without delay or friction

The Coordination Committee will consist of:
- Ms. Farida Lambay of Nirmala Niketan, who will co-ordinate with all NGOs for Western Suburbs i.e. all H, K, P and R wards.
- Ms. Leena Joshi of Apnalaya, who along with TISS will co-ordinate with all NGOs for Eastern Suburbs i.e. all L and M wards
- Mr. Dinesh Kakkoth of CRY 23096845 / 6472 and Dr. Medha Somaiya of Yuvak Pratisthan who will co-ordinate with NGOs for the Central Suburbs i.e. all N, S and T wards.
- Ms. Armida Fernandes of Sneha or 24042627 who will co-ordinate with NGOs for F-north and G-north wards.
- Mr. Begur of Unicef 28269727 / 28253663 X 103 who are mapping the detailed needs of the 7 most affected wards and co-ordinating with various international NGOs.
- Times Foundation Helpline: 56354376 / 45 who will also disseminate the official info via the newspapers and radio.
- Vinay Somani of Karmayog which will post all needs and offers on the Flooding section at along with all FAQs, queries of NGOs and clarifications by BMC, other info by BMC, etc.

All NGOs and all others are requested to convey their info or qs to any person above who they think would be most suitable for their problem. They will then co-ordinate with BMC.

Everyone can also convey directly to the BMC Disaster Control Room: Phone: 1916 or 108 or 22694725 / 7 or Fax 22694719. Needs and Offers can be emailed to Complaints can be also posted online via Praja as these are being monitored continuously and also simultaneously go to the ward office.

Do feel free to contact us at Karmayog via email

I understand that many are sceptical of the BMC responding to specific problems but I do think that we all should seriously try out this concept of a Co-ordination Committee.

If you would like to be in or to help the committee, do email me.

Karmayog mailing list

Metropolis on the brink

"I must have passed by a hundred times, my glance skittering away guiltily from the rows of bare backsides lining the street. Men, women and children who have quietly buried their modesty, and walked past that last outpost of human dignity to conduct their most private ritual on a public city road. At Rahul Nagar in Govandi, Mumbai, the only other alternative is to join the snaking queue to the lone municipal toilet, often a two hour wait."

Farah Baria of Indian Express speaks about the Metropolis on the brink

Mumbai suburbs need to break up

"Despite the money it turns over to the city's coffers, despite boasting of better amenities, the suburbs are treated with civic and administrative apathy. Squalid and inferior roads that give way in the monsoon's first flush are the norm. Nothing describes this official disparity than my little daughter's comment on visiting Marine Drive once: 'Dad, how come this part of Mumbai is so clean and where we live so dirty? We don't pay any tax?' We do, I had to explain to her, it is our money that keeps this part of the city the way it is."

That quote is from Saisuresh Sivaswamy's column on rediff

Updates in Maharashtra

Mumbai Mirror has some updates from different parts of Maharashtra. Their links cease to work after a day, so I'm reproducing a summary here:
50,000 people evacuated to safer places in Sangli. 25,000 more will be shifted soon
hectares of agricultural land affected in Kolhapur and 30,000 in Sangli
people shifted to safer places in Kolhapur after large areas were indundated
3,000 people shifted from 38 villages in Satara district as Koyna and Dhom dams overflow
cusecs of water released from Pandharpur dam
Meanwhile, Mid Day reports that 10 lakh (one million) families have been affected by the rains in Maharashtra. It lists out the compensation offered by the state government:
Rs 1 lakh: For every adult who died in the floods
Rs 50,000: for every minor who died
Rs 5,000: to all those affected by the floods (all income groups)
10 kilos of foodgrains: to all the affected.

The Zinta Committee report

Preity Zinta writes in the Indian Express about what should be done by the government to ensure that we are better prepared for future calamities. Her statements of the obvious are punctuated with cliches and banalities, but one suggestion stands out:
The influx of people coming into Mumbai should also be checked.
The Shiv Sena would approve.

Disaster management: a desk job?

Mid Day reports that "[t]he BMC’s disaster management cell will get a Rs 5-crore facelift to enable it handle future calamities more competently." How much of that money will be efficiently used is open to question, but there is no denying that the cell needs a revamp, or a "facelift", as the report puts it. According to Mid Day:
Presently, the disaster management cell is housed in a small 200 square feet room with only two direct phone lines, a single computer, few wireless sets and a staff strength of just eight on one shift. It’s a desk job and employees are expected to pass on information to hospitals, fire brigade and the police.
In the light of this, it is outrageous for the administration to claim that they were prepared for disasters, just not one as big as this. They clearly weren't prepared for a disaster on any scale.

The plans being made now are summarised in the report, but when it comes to government, we all know the gap between intention and outcome, don't we?

A question to the readers: do any of you guys know of any private initiatives in Mumbai to prepare for future natural calamities?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Outlook Speaks out on the Floods

The Outlook changed its cover story when the bombers struck London in a such a hurry that the contents page - in the print edition - indicates something else as the cover story.

I guess 700 odd Mumbaikars ( i include thane and Navi Mumbai) and 37 inches of rain doesnt' quite compete with Ms.Mukherjee. A single page of faulty news reporting.
Their website is slightly better in terms of content and coverage. Check out this photo essay.

Flickr Images

This is Flickr Group on the Mumbai Deluge.

Celebs and disasters

The last time the celebs of Mumbai felt like contributing to a cause they made a great show and then nothing happened. I remember the huge pile of mini skirts, string tops, Tank tops, tassled cholis and sundry handkerchief sized clothes meant for fisher folk of Tamil Nadu. Also remember the irritation in the voices of the NGO coordinators.

The celebs of Mumbai have found a new cause

They want to file a PIL and will collect ten lakh signatures and take it to the PM. Great to see such passion but I hope the interest lasts and does not fizzle out like last time.

Images from Goregaon

Citizen photo journalism can be a potent force in disseminating information quickly. Ashish Panchal, a resident of Goregaon East, Mumbai has some photographs of the impact of the floods. He has hosted these photographs on his independent website and is currently being forwarded via chain emails. Although the pictures are at best amatuerish in quality yet they give a real sense of the tragedy. He also has aggregated different news items from the mainstream media.

I hope we can discover more such examples of citizen journalism - unbiased and pure.

Frail Mumbai

Vikrum Sequeira has posted aboutthis article in the NYT. While the views and news are old by now, I'm glad this point was reiterated:
"Mumbai's ambitions to become a world-class city like Shanghai, as it was once suggested, or Dubai, as it was suggested before that, fell under a wet blanket. That it happened in India's iconic city of strivers, and not in some destitute corner, only highlight the bricks-and-mortar challenge - or rather, sewage and storm-drain challenge - that faces a country keen for a seat on the United Nations Security Council."

Damaged trains

Mid Day reports:
After a week of incessant rains, 39 per cent of trains on Western Railway (WR) have been badly damaged and as of now, cannot be used.

Central Railway (CR), meanwhile, has 26 damaged trains on the Main line and 10 on the Harbour line, of a total of 93 trains.

WR services will run on a frequency of seven minutes as against five minutes on normal days and services will be regularised by August 15.

CR commuters, however, have a nightmare ahead — trains every 10 minutes instead of four — which will be regularised by the end of August.
I've noticed in the last week that trains have been far more crowded than normal, because of their infrequency, and an Andheri Slow from Churchgate the other evening was as crowded as a Virar Fast. So commuting will get even tougher. (Here's an earlier post on this theme, though the piece it links to seems to be no longer online, alas.)

Meanwhile, PTI reports that Nashik has been hit hard by rains. And Rediff carries responses from readers on what steps can be taken to prevent such a disaster again here and here.

Some Reflections on Transport Problems in Mumbai

Here is an interesting article on the transportation issues in Mumbai

The author was a member of the planning commission.

Moving Mumbai out of Mumbai

The ongoing debate on saving Mumbai will end with a whimper. Most of us will go back to our daily lives and the powers that run the city will go back and build more buildings, ban dance bars, choke rivers, in short grind Mumbai to a halt. Till another disaster strikes again.

Here is an interesting article on Moving Mumbai out of Mumbai

A passing thought: why do I bother to pay road tax, motor vehicle tax, property tax, muncipal tax, and so on and so forth if I have to bear with non governance. Should we not file a PIL asking the government for a refund? or atleast the right to refuse to pay the sundry taxes? since the government does not want to do anything for the common person who pays his dues on time.

Or will people like me who think like this be charged with treason?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Before All Else, Treat

As a follow-up to this post of Dilip's, Annie has a useful post here about a National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission judgement regarding the treatment of patients in emergencies. True, this judgement was issued in a different context, where the patient was an accident victim and the hospital, which was a private institution, insisted on an upfront deposit despite the production of the victim's Mediclaim policy - but, as Annie says, it may be useful to keep in mind in case there are cases of hospitals turning away patients or delaying their treatment citing administrative or bureaucratic reasons.

Letter From Flavia

Dear Friends,
This is a response to all those who wrote to me between 25 July and 3rd August. Since it has made national and international headlines, I am sure you are by now familiar with an obscure place called 'Kalina' in suburban Mumbai, located near the domestic airport at Santacruz (East). That's where I live and that's where Majlis office is located.

Through the grace of almighty not much damage has been caused to my personal belongings as well as to Majlis property. But the entire area was marooned and cut off from all communication-landlines, mobile phones as well as basic amenities like water and electricity. I happen to live on the sixth floor and also happen to suffer from acute asthma, so you can imagine the rest.

And a note to those who sent mails from South Mumbai. It is now clearly evident that Mumbai is divided into two-the priviledged South and the under-developed North.(North-South developmental equations are inverse here.)

Life is limping back to normalcy, yesterday the phone started working and today the email. The lift is as yet not functioning as it is badly damaged by the flood waters.Since yesterday was a day of sun-shine (today again it is overcaste and there have been some showers since morning, don't know what the day holds!) we went to the surrounding waterlogged places and discovered a slum called Shastri Nagar which is totally ravaged and the people are without food, water and electricity for nearly a week now.

Majlis has decided to do relief work in this area and any of you who can contribute to this project can make cheques in the name of "Majis". Majlis is a non-profit organization and also has 80G exemption and hence donations are tax-exempted.

We will be concentrating on helping people to claim compensation from the government for loss of life and property in the area between Santacruz (East) -Bandra East and Kurla which is one of the worst affected areas.We are also planning to distribute school books and uniforms for children in Shastri Nagar and other nearby areas. So do contribute and help us in this venture.

Flavia Agnes

Some photographs

Ashish Panchal, who lives in Goregaon West, has put a lot of pictures of the flood up here.

Spare a thought for...

...Jamkhandi taluk, in Bagalkot district of Karnataka, where 2000 people have been evacuated, 6000 are still stranded, the administration has begun airdropping food, and "ganji kendras" have been set up. There is a report with a picture from a submerged village here.

...the 13.5 lakh people affected in the Orissa floods.

...Kerala's Idukki district, affected by rain and floods.

...These leprosy patients in Pandharpur who have been displaced because of the floods - and segregated from others in relief camps.

...And these flood-affected areas in Turkey's northeast provinces, and these in Iran.

Is Gujarat next?

PTI reports:
A high alert has been sounded in Gujarat with all reservoirs filled to the brim and two rivers overflowing even as heavy rains are predicted during next 48 hours, according to the Meteorological Department.

“Heavy rains are likely to occur at isolated places across the state while other places may get thundershowers in the next 48 hours (till 8 am on August 4),” the Met Department officials said.
And while the monsoon plays havoc with India, the Sensex just keeps on climbing. It's a videogame now, one that has little touch with reality.

Errant schoolboy Vilasrao

Mumbai Mirror carries the rather amusing headline, "Get me Vilasrao’s report card: Sonia." The newspaper actually goes on to mark Vilasrao Deshmukh, and concludes that he has failed.

Deshmukh's government has unquestionably been found wanting, but one of the criticicms against him seems a bit unfair. The report says:
"It is unimaginable that Deshmukh has not stirred out of Varsha [the chief minister's residence]. He is just addressing press conferences," an AICC functionary said. What has particularly upset Sonia is that when Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Prabha Rau, who does not have age on her side, managed to tour Konkan, Deshmukh stayed put in Mumbai.
Had Deshmukh actually gone touring, he would have been lambasted for gratuitously touring the state when he should have been in Mumbai coordinating relief operations. There are plenty of valid reasons to criticise Deshmukh for the way his government has performed in the last week. But this one seems politically motivated. What is a disaster for some, after all, is an opportunity for others.

Rs 15000 crore

That is currently estimated to be the damage in Maharashtra from the cloudburst.

Some businesses are booming, though. Among them, according to Mumbai Mirror, are "mobile phone repair shops, dry cleaners and car service stations." Stands to reason.

Meanwhile, insurance claims amounting to over Rs 1000 crore have already been lodged.

Kalina's plight, and its lobbying MLA

Rediff has yet another in their series of reader accounts up here, in which a reader named Imran disputes the news that Kalina, one of the worst-affected parts of Mumbai, has received help. He writes:
Everyone is talking about the Kalina area, and there are even navy personnel helping people out. One news channel is also claiming it is the first who reached there with help. But all of their help is restricted to Air India and the Indian Airlines colony, because these colonies belong to the government.

My question is what about other parts of Kalina, all those houses that are just ground plus one? The village people of Kalina, does anyone bother to help them? Did anyone bother to reach them? They are on their own. When you go little further from Kalina to Kurla, there is Vivek colony, Govind Sagar, Kailash Parbhat, then on CST road Kapadia Nagar there is still water in the ground floor flats. On 26th July, all the ground floors were submerged. Did anyone bother to reach them, find about their plight and help them?
So where is the legistlator who represents the people of this area, Kripashankar Singh? Mumbai Mirror reports:
[During the] days when Mumbai was buried under sheets of water, the Santa Cruz legislator was sipping tea in Central Hall lobbying hard to get into the Vilasrao [Deshmukh] ministry along with [Narayan] Rane. In fact his lobbying upset party leaders so much that many couldn’t hide their glee when they heard he had been roughed up by his people on reaching home.
That gives me one of those don't-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry moments.

Panvel after the cloudburst

Patrix, whose home is in Panvel, writes:
The street where my home is located never floods; it had not even gained an inch of water during earlier floods that had submerged the rest of the town in couple of feet of water notably during the 1989 floods. This time around, my dad’s ground floor office had almost 3.5 feet of water and my mom’s school had nearly 5 feet. After hearing that, I couldn’t help but imagine the plight of other parts of Panvel. According to my dad, almost thousand people had perished; some of them dying horrific deaths trapped inside their cars.
Read the full post, which gives a vivid picture of the devastation caused in just that one small town. There are no such chroniclers for most of Maharashtra.

Cleaning up the Schools proving to be a challenge. And once they're clean, making sure the children can come to class is the next challenge, says this Express Newsline report.

Meanwhile, this housing society gets together to help residents file claims.

Reaction Time

from the article from the Hindu Business Line - Marooned in Mumbai. some excerpts
One could have lived with a calamity of tsunami proportions bringing down the country's business capital to a grinding halt; not sheer ineptitude by authorities who were found to have feet of clay in the hour of crisis.

"The authorities cannot keep blaming nature and try and hide during monsoons, wishing away a problem that needs to be faced squarely. This, especially in a city that is built on reclaimed land to the extent of 40 per cent on the island and 20 per cent in the suburbs," says Prof B. Arunachalam, historian and author of works such as Mumbai By Sea.

and of course
Though a week late, the government machinery had woken up to the calamity it was facing. But, for the millions of residents, it must have seemed pretty much like in many of the movies made in the city where the polic inevitably turn up after the hero has overpowered the villain.

The villain was still alive but enfeebled as the water levels did not quite rise to last Tuesday's (July 26) levels. The armed forces were seen moving around in flood-prone areas near the Mithi river, but there were no marooned citizens to be saved. It resembled a dry run for the real action that was to follow. Only, in this case, the action was already over.

There is more to the article that can be read here.


Some of these might have already been reported. But here's a round-up.

Things are looking up:

2500+ army personnel deployed in Mumbai, Thane, Raigad, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, Parbani, Nanded, Pune and Amravati.

While residents of Kurla are angry, Reliance assures to restore power in Kurla, Saki Naka and Kalina areas in the next 24-48 hours by replacing the 90 power transformers which went kaput. (some good news there, not waiting for water to recede)

Mumbai police to hold free food and medical camp at four places in Kurla.(what's up with A.N. Roy inaugrating the camp? People, the city is messed up, don't wait for the ribbon-cutting ceremony)

Southern Railway to run four special trains to Mumbai.

Things are looking bad:

Samudra Suraksha, at Bombay High, sinks.

Alert sounded in 13 villages in Vidarbha. Families evacuated.

Koyna, Uzni dams overflow.
"On Sunday, the [Krishna] river finally overflowed, flooding into the neighbouring villages of Sangli, Patan and Karad. Over 180 villages have been affected and nearly 8,000 people have been evacuated......
Residents of nearly 30 villages and the temple town of Pandharpur are now under threat. Nearly 5,000 people have been shifted to government schools on higher ground. As the skies over Maharashtra continue to open up, local officials are preparing for the worst."

Mumbai rains damage huge stocks of drugs :- Pfizer reported a loss of 1 billion rupees, their warehouse in Bhiwandi was completely flooded. Cipla assessing damages. Banks were asked to have a liberal attitude in providing financial support to the people.

The CM Speaks Up

NDTV reports:
"Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has admitted that there had been a delay in the supply of flood relief in Mumbai.Angry residents confronted Deshmukh when he visited the flood-affected areas of Thane today." More here.

Be careful about donating clothes

Uma has some information here about where to go to donate old clothes, but I'd make careful enquiries before donating any, if I were you. When I travelled through the tsunami-affected areas of Tamil Nadu in January this year, one of the common themes I encountered was how donating clothes was a waste, and how no one wanted them and they would just form colourful heaps of garbage on the sides of roads. (And we have enough of those already.) I wrote about it here and here, and Dilip D'Souza, who travelled with me, mentioned it here and here.

One of the main reasons these clothes go waste is that their intended recepients are not beggars, but proud people hit by circumstances who don't necessarily want old, faded hand-me-downs, which are also sometimes inappropriate given the kind of lives they lead. However, if the NGO concerned is making an effort to make those clothes presentable and acceptable to those they are intended for, as the Rotary Club of Chennai did after the tsunami, then it might be worth it. Otherwise they will just end up piled up on the streetside.

Gaurav brought this subject to my attention now, and has posted about it here.

Human life over electricity

Anil Ambani defends the power cuts imposed by Reliance Energy:
In the first 48 hours in consultation with the government authorities it was the unanimous decision that the protection of human life was the most important need rather than the availability of power and I am happy to report that amongst all our customers not a single, I must repeat not a single human life was lost due to accidental death because of the power situation. And this is over our very vast base of over one crore users of our power as well as our 24 lakh customers.
Read all that he has to say here. I find his explanation reasonable, actually. The reason that power has not been restored in places like Kalina is that the level of flooding there makes it dangerous to restore supply, and some transformers there are still under water. Waiting until the water recedes is quite the responsible thing to do. Once this crisis is over, though, Reliance should raise the height of the transformers and try to ensure, in every way possible, that floods don't affect them so much next time. Ambani says that they will do just that. Let's see.

26, and broken homes

Two thoughts as the chaos of the last week winds down (well, we can hope).

One, how is it that no enterprising numerologist has raised his hand and pronounced sorrowfully that 26 is India's unlucky number? I mean, look at this: Kutch earthquake, 26 Jan. Tsunami, 26 Dec. Unprecendented deluge in Bombay, 26 July. (And, for effect, you could add such things as: Emergency declared, 25 June. Godhra, 27 February).

See a pattern? Me neither. But I'm betting some astrologer/palmist/something-like-that has. Probably many.

Two, which is more important: it's got to be asked like it was asked after the tsunami (e.g by me) why the utterly different reactions to the deluge and to the demolitions of slums in December and January?

After all, many of the people seriously affected by the rain lived in illegal slum homes. Example, Saki Naka landslide. If we applauded the demolition of their homes by the Municipality six months ago, why not applaud the demolition of their homes by pouring rain last week?

We've seen the news about the plight of people in Mandala in Mankhurd. But the people concerned in Mandala were driven from their homes, and watched them torn down, in January. With nowhere to go in the rains, they are going back to that land and building homes there again. (Just got back from spending the day there, watching this activity, will have more about that later).

The point: this deluge reminds us that there are serious civic issues here, urban issues, issues about our country. They won't go away by simply demolishing huts in the thousands, because if we try to do that, the rains only bring them to the surface again.


The India Centre for Human Rights and Law is organising a fundraising drive for the deeply affected areas of Kurla, Saki Naka, Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar, New Mandala Mankhurd, Kannawar Nagar, Ambujwadi, and Jogeshwari.

Please donate your time if possible for relief and rehabilitation work or/and medicines, blankets, clothes, and also medical advice.

For details please call Deepa or Zubeida @ 23439651/23436692.

Donations of Dry Clothes

If you have clothes to donate, they are being collected at this address:

Chemical Mazdoor Sabha
No 29/30, 1st Floor, Haji Habib Building
182 Naigaon Cross Road
Dadar East

It's not hard to find. Their request is that you go there between 11 am and 5:30 pm. It's near the Kohinoor Mills and just above a large appliances showroom also called Kohinoor. You have to take the back entrance upstairs, past a garbage dump where dogs, crows and tiny kittens scrounge for food.

Also: does anyone know of any specific relief work being taken up for street animals during this period?

Updated Figures

The Indian Express has the latest facts on the floods:
1. 942 people have died, including 429 in the capital due to landslides, drowning and electrocution in floodwater. A further 109 people were injured in the state and 59 were missing.
2. About 300 cases of cholera, gastroenteritis and dysentry have been reported.
3.Losses for the state have been estimated at up to 20 billion rupees ($460 million), and small businesses alone have lost an estimated 10 billion rupees, according to an industry body. Pfizer Ltd, the Indian unit of the world's largest drug maker, estimated its flood losses at 1 billion rupees.
4. Long-distance trains on some routes have been cancelled for a week. But Mumbai airport, where a plane skidded off the runway on Saturday, was functioning "close to normal", according to the airport director, Sudhir Kumar.

Relatively Quiet Today

Despite a few warnings that more rains were expected today, fortunately, heavy rains seems to have stayed away till now (one week after the devastation of last Tuesday). Hopefully, it will stay that way for the rest of the day and beyond. I hope this is true of most places in the region, if not all. Rediff says things are limping back to normal - I hope most people are experiencing this.

All In A Day's Work

Inspiring story. Doctors at Vile Parle's RN Cooper Municiple Hospital worked three days straight, in candlelight, to help the injured.
"While Pramod Nagarkar (40), a casualty medical officer, attended to patients with electric shocks, head injuries and severe respiratory distress, P.R. Kasturi ensured patients on the ground floor were moved upstairs.“Our entire hospital was in waist-deep water, so it was crucial to save patients,” said Kasturi, senior medical officer. A Lokhandwala resident, the administrator (in her 50s) didn’t go home for three days.As the rest of the city waded back home on Thursday, the hospital had to deal with a deadlier tragedy: A rumour-sparked stampede in nearby Nehru Nagar. The 18 dead and the injured were taken to Cooper.“I’ve never seen so many dead bodies at a time,” said Dr Nagarkar ruefully. “Maybe during the blasts, it was disturbing.”
Armed only with a candle, Nagarkar examined the injured and identified 32 bodies in one night. All this while his home in the hospital’s ground floor was flooding and his 12-year-old daughter was stuck in school."

"Why Didn't You Come Earlier?"

I accompanied my mother, who is a cancer survivor, to the hospital today. Like many cancer patients and survivors, she has a port, a surgically implanted venous access device (VAD) that provides long-term access to a major vein, which helps for infusion chemotherapy and blood transfusions. The thing about a port is that it has to be flushed with heparin every 30 days. Takes only a few minutes, but it has to be done to prevent the cath from becoming occluded. So, today was my mother's appointment. We went to the hospital. As my mother's port was being handled, a family arrived: father, mother, grandmother, and a small child who must have been five or six years old. The child was the patient. (Quite often, the entire family accompanies the cancer patient to the hospital. It helps all of them cope.) They had brought the child for her port maintenance. Except that they had been given an appointment for last Wednesday. They were coming several days later.

"Why didn't you come earlier," scolded the nurse in charge. "Haven't I told you how dangerous it is to delay the port maintenance?"

The family looked distressed. "We're coming from Ulhasnagar. Our house was flooded. Everything was flooded...Kaise aate?" said the father apologetically, while the women chimed in with soft murmurs, looking anxiously at the nurse. As if begging her to reassure them that it was still all right.

They were both right.

The child waited patiently, looking only a little bewildered.

I wonder how many lives have been affected, and in how many hard ways, by last week's downpour.

(Cross-posted in IW)

Visions and Hallucinations

In an interview in the HT on July 24 - two days before Terrible Tuesday - Charles Correa had said the following, among many other things:
There’s a big difference between having visions and having hallucinations. You don’t set out to have “visions”. What you try to do is understand the problem you are addressing as thoroughly as you can – and if you are insightful enough and inventive enough, you may come up with an idea that others call “visionary”. But you don’t get there by trying to be visionary, or by naively importing solutions from some other places. Right now here in Mumbai, almost every indicator – traffic jams, water supply, pollution, etc – shows that our problems are only getting worse. I know there’s a kind of euphoria now about Mumbai – especially among Page 3 people. Just by looking at their pictures in the newspapers every day. They feel confident that things are really improving. It’s probably one of the last stages of hallucinating. You know, if you drop a frog into hot water, it will struggle desperately to leap out. But if you place it in a saucepan of tepid water, and then gradually, very gradually, turn up the heat, the frog swims around quite happily, adjusting to an environment that is growing more and more dangerous. In fact, just before the end – just before the water gets really hot, and it cooks to death – the poor frog relaxes…and a state of euphoria sets in. Maybe that’s what’s happening to Mumbai...
I've been looking for the link ever since I posted this extract on my blog but haven't been able to find it. Meanwhile, I thought the image of that poor frog relaxing in hot water seemed really appropriate for what has been happening in our city.

Recall Govinda

Is there a legal way of getting rid of an elected member of Parliament? If so, can there be someone from Govinda’s constituency who can file the papers to get him removed. I can’t do it simply because i live in what was Sunil Dutt’s constituency. He, i am sure would have come out of the ICU to direct trafic, people and relief in affected areas.

This is Govinda’s contribution to the flood work & support. zero in terms of people in his locality having seen him. zero on google news search! I am angry. I really want to see his head stuck on a pole at the entrance to his constituency.

If the news changes in the next 12 hours or so - then this is what the google page looks like.

Crossposted on a POV

Monday, August 01, 2005

Step 1: Don't panic

Coping With Floods, a self-explanatory guidebook by the North Dakota State University. Though their examples are set in the southern US, they're just as applicable here.

Why the drainage system failed

"Mommy, Chinku did it."

"No, mommy, Tinku did it."

"No, mommy, it was Chinku."

"It was Tinku, mommy, Tinku."



Sigh. There go the BMC and the MMRDA, blaming each other for the failure of the drainage system in Mumbai. Meanwhile mommy's dying, you naughty, naughty boys.

Star Dust

When all else fails, there are always the stars. And not just the ones in Bollywood.
According to this enlightened article in The Asian Age, "well-known astro-Vaastu consultant Rasesh Shah" says Mumbai's "bad patch" will end at 8.30 am on Friday.
"Saturn and the Sun are both transiting Cancer and occupy the same house. Saturn alone has a bad influence, but when both are in the same house the result is catastrophic. Cancer is a water sign hence the flood-like situations in Mumbai. Mr Shah says that Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat could have problems related to water."
Two questions. If Mr Shah knows so much, why didn't he speak up before the floods? Or did he, like the state government, expect a mild drizzle, which would merely inconvenience rather than wreck daily life? And second, "problems related to water"? Hmm. Has he been reading the daily papers by any chance?
Crossposted on Colour of Water.

Heav rains predicted after August 5th

It looks like there are more heavy rains to come. Rediff today reports Mumbai to get heavy showers on Aug 5th. This time, a warning has been issued ahead and the government and people have enough time to plan their day and not venture out. The report goes on to call the likely rains devastating and to occur after August 5th. Having said that, how does one plan ahead for such a thing?

I saw on tv news yesterday that people have started pouring out on to the streets after panic spread about rain water flooding houses... I hope the government has more effective communication and support systems in place this time around - if the prediction about more rains later this week come true...

And ironically, at this time, there is fear of drought in Bihar...

Sinking buildings, overflowing lakes

Some excerpts from this Times of India update:
One indicator of the seriousness of the situation was Unicef's announcement that it was rushing in medical aid of one million chlorine tablets to purify water, three lakh ORS (oral rehydration salt) packets and 5000 IV fluids. Air force helicopters have already dropped over 10,000 kg of food packets in Kalyan, Ulhasnagar, Ambarnath, Mumbra and Badlapur.

Several buildings in Dombivli have started sinking and the authorities have begun evacuating residents.

The three lakes in Mumbai— Powai, Vihar and Tulsi— are already overflowing.

About 7,000 people have been evacuated from low-lying areas in Andheri, Santa Cruz, Malad, Goregaon, Dahisar and Ghatkopar. Worried civic officials said that if heavy rain on Tuesday persisted, there could be cause for concern.
Well, there has been "cause for concern" for quite a while now in Kalina, where television pictures have shown entire cars submerged, with first-floor flats flooded and entrances to buildings blocked by water. The residents of that suburb are demanding a probe into the administrative failures that contributed to their condition, but when the judge is the culprit, what good is a probe?

Meanwhile, the armed forces are involved in rescue operations in many different parts of the state.

Update -- A state of numbness: In its report today, the Indian Express quotes a resident of Mumbai as saying:
The slums nearby are washed away. Dead buffaloes are floating on water. We didn't have power for 72 hours. Everybody is in a state of numbness.
The report also says that "[h]eavy rains and strong winds were expected in and around Mumbai over the next 24 hours."

Thousands of words

There are some potent pictures in this slideshow of PTI photographs.

And here are some earlier slideshows, from various media outlets: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Lathis, art, and hawala money

"When the administration made its first appearance at rain-ravaged Mankhurd, it came armed not with aid but with lathis," reports the Times of India.

Meanwhile, Mumbai Mirror reports that "[t]wenty-five paintings of internationally acclaimed artist, M F Husain, were saved in the nick of time from being destroyed in Tuesday's monster rains."

And this: "In what seemed like a case of divine justice, a builder and hawala racketeer in Mumbra, Thane, lost about Rs 35 lakh cash because of waterlogging in the ground floor office where he had stored the money."

Go figure.

During yesterday's rain...

BPO companies were desperate. Intelenet Global Services that shot to fame during the July 7 blasts in London by working overtime couldn’t get employees to office.

Susir Kumar, the CEO, said: "We are talking to the television guys to tone down their warnings that discourage people from travelling. Come on, these are normal rains," said the exasperated executive.

The Met office agreed. "What we’re seeing today is not in any way unusual," said Subhash Bhan at the Indian Meteorological Department, Delhi.
Read the rest of the Telegraph report here. My question: shouldn't people be getting a clear signal about the level of rains, whether or not workplaces are affected? If the tv channels were issuing their warnings based on considered advice or appeals from the administration, which presumably takes into account the disruitions already caused by waterlogging etc, is it appropriate for affected companies to "talk" to the channels to tone down their warnings? On the other hand, there's the possibility that the channels were being unnecessarily melodramatic...What do you think?

The road ahead

Milind Deora, a member of parliament from South Mumbai, does a diagnosis of what is wrong with Mumbai's administration in the Indian Express. He writes:
[I]t is important for Mumbai to have one democratically elected leader who can be held responsible for its overall well-being. We elect 6 MPs, 34 MLAs and 225 municipal councillors to represent us in Parliament, the state assembly and the municipality respectively, with no individual being held accountable for the city as a whole. Today, the chief minister is responsible for Maharashtra, of which Mumbai constitutes only a part. While Mumbai has only an eighth of the state’s MLAs, its economic contribution to Maharashtra is far greater. A complex city like Mumbai demands dedicated attention.
One way of doing this, of course, would be to give a lot more power to the mayor of the city, the kind that the mayors of American cities enjoy, for example. But it is next to impossible that a wing of the government will actually allow power to slip away to another wing. An alternative solution, then, is separate statehood for Mumbai, an idea which is mooted from time to time.

After the diagnosis, Deora suggests a treatment:
The elected representative in charge of Mumbai must have overriding powers to control all agencies working in the city. For instance, MHADA reports to the housing minister, MSRDC reports to the transportation minister, the police to the home minister, MMRDA and BMC to the urban development minister and chief minister. This leads to a major disconnect between the key agencies working for Mumbai. It makes little sense that Asia’s largest civic body — the BMC — is run by a bureaucrat in the world’s largest democracy! It is therefore important for state governments to decentralise their powers, not just in Mumbai but in all major cities — and bring the efforts of local authorities together.
Read the full piece. It is particularly significant because its writer is a young member of parliament from this city, and not a mere journalist or armchair pontificator. It will be interesting to see how his career progresses in the years to come.