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Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Monsoon dampens Mumbai's reputation

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Delhi

Monsoon rains in Mumbai
Mumbai residents were left to fend for themselves
Three days after being hit by one of the worst spells of monsoon rain, the reputation of India's financial capital Mumbai (Bombay) as a dynamic economic powerhouse has taken a beating.

One of India's leading business dailies, the Economic Times, put it bluntly: "Megapolis Hopes Go Down That Clogged Drain."

It continues: "Any aspirations, illusions or fond daydreams for standing up to some of the biggest and best global cities have now been crashed into smithereens."

Many are drawing attention to the spirited response of the city's residents to the crisis and contrasting it to the listless approach of the administration.

"Where were the police? The emergency services? The fire department officials?" rails Neeti Chopra, a management consultant who waded home through waist-deep water after being stuck in her car for six hours.

"How can India's financial capital be brought to its knees by a spell of heavy rain?"


Chartered accountant, Jatin Dighe, left his central Mumbai office at 1630 on Tuesday to drive home to the north-western suburb of Thane.

We just about manage to keep our noses ahead of disaster every year because the authorities build just about the bare minimum infrastructure
Prahlad Kakkar
It's a journey that usually takes him about an hour.

He reached home at 2130 on Wednesday - 29 hours later.

"It was the most harrowing experience of my life - I survived on biscuits and water. After the first few hours, all the policemen simply vanished."

Many applaud the generosity of Mumbai's citizens - local residents opened their homes to strangers; others distributed food and water.

Marooned schoolchildren found refuge in homes and temples.

Mumbai monsoon

"On one long stretch along the Western Expressway, local volunteers began directing traffic, trying to ease the congestion," says another Mumbai resident, Anant Iyer.

"I didn't see a single policeman."

The ones that were there were apparently of little help.

"A policeman waved me through to a side street, saying it was clear ahead," recalls Mr Dighe.

"I began driving in when several people rushed towards me frantically waving their hands.

"They told me that if I drove any further, my car would be completely submerged in flood water."


City and government authorities defend themselves against the criticism by pointing out that the city was hit by some of the heaviest rain in decades.

Mumbai shantytown
Mumbai shantytowns have sprung up with little infrastructure

"No city in the world would have been able to cope with this kind of downpour," says deputy chief minister, RR Patil.

It is a point of view that is instantly challenged.

"The problem was not with the deluge," writes the Economic Times, "but its aftermath."

"Nature alone is not to blame," writes the Midday tabloid. "This great city needs a great leader."

Advertising filmmaker and prominent Mumbai resident, Prahlad Kakkar, argues that the authorities appear to have learned little from the recent tsunami disaster.

"This is as close to a tsunami as we can get," he says.

"The problem is that we just about manage to keep our noses ahead of disaster every year because the authorities build just about the bare minimum infrastructure."

Analysts and media reports point out that despite being India's richest city, Mumbai has severe inadequacies.

  • There is no effective public information system
  • There is no wireless communication between key agencies such as the police, fire department or hospitals
  • There are no back-up systems for power supply
  • Call centre operations collapsed because of poor internet connectivity

Others point out that Mumbai has been badly planned, with slums and shantytowns allowed to spring up in open land with no infrastructural support.

They say that careful ecological planning could have averted this week's disaster.

"When you plan a city, you maintain its natural waterways, which allows excess water to be drained into the sea," says Prahlad Kakkar.

"But in our city, the waterways have been built upon and blocked."

Many of the city's residents say they believe the onus is on them and they should stop relying on the government.

"If Mumbai's residents rise to the challenge and demonstrate the spirit they showed these past few days, we can make this a fantastic place to live," says Jatin Dighe.

"It is up to us to save our city."

See the devastation caused by the floods

Maharashtra rains leave many dead
26 Jul 05 |  South Asia
Gujarat monsoon floods kill many
01 Jul 05 |  South Asia
Flood shuts India power project
28 Jun 05 |  South Asia
Indian villagers tame floods
28 May 04 |  South Asia
India's river plans spark furore
19 Aug 03 |  South Asia


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