Chennai’s flood control room:  2015 will not repeat, say confident officials
Chennai’s flood control room: 2015 will not repeat, say confident officials

Chennai’s flood control room: 2015 will not repeat, say confident officials

Activists, however, are not impressed by the temporary solutions being engineered by the Corporation.

Musty red carpets lead to a wide corridor at Chennai's Ripon Building, where a single hall is completely closed off to the grey clouds that were looming above the city.

Walk a little further and a green sign makes it clear that the officials don't need windows to keep track of the approaching monsoons. 

The Corporation's disaster management/flood control room, which came into existence in 2015 following torrential rains in the city, has opened its dedicated 24-hour helpline- 1913. In addition to this, three more landline numbers, a WhatsApp number and an email id have also been made public.

The large room is buzzing with activity with people manning the phones, entering the nature of complaints into the corporation's servers and walking in and out of the room with files. Multiple computers give off weather details, while reminders of the 2015 floods and 2016's Cyclone Vardah adorn the wall.

"The 2015 floods will not repeat in Chennai," assures G Devdoss, Executive Engineer, Flood Control. "We are completely prepared for all eventualities," he claims. 

The Corporation has identified 176 relief schools and community halls across the city which will function as relief centres. In addition to this, 75 officials will work in three shifts to handle the tasks at hand. The city has been divided into 20 zones and 17 IAS officer roped in to oversee and relief efforts that will take place. The transport department will also ally with the flood control team if residents need to relocated. 

Storm water drains cleared, encroachments remain

But what about preventing the flood?

"We have it all taken care of. Not only have we cleared all the storm water drains but we have also built another 294 km of lines to prevent stagnation of water," says the Executive Engineer.

But what about encroachments on floodplains, won't that prevent water from draining out from residential areas?

"No, storm water drains will handle that. It is basic mechanics," he says. 

Activists and environmentalists, however, are not impressed by the temporary solution being engineered by the Corporation.  

"You can build as many storm water drains as you want till you get the water to the catchment area. But once you do, it will have a natural gradient which it will follow to get to the sea. What these encroachments do, is block this path," explains Pooja Kumar of the Coastal Resource Centre. 

When asked which areas are most susceptible to flooding, the Executive Engineer admits that Manali, North Madras, Madhavaram, Tiruvottiyur, Valasaravakkam and Sholinganallur are on a list of 306 vulnerable place in Chennai.

Despite several areas being susceptible to flooding, activists allege that the government has done little to stop encroachments on the Ennore Creek. Fly ash caused by the North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTPS) and Vallur Thermal plant and dumping of earth by the Kamarajar Port has severely affected the salt pans, wetlands and mangroves in the region. In addition to this, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum lend to the problem with their oil refineries that have been built on the river. 

As a result of these encroachments, the rest of Chennai would also be affected. 

The helplines receive close to 20 phone calls a day. On Thursday, the number was at eight by 2pm. Most complaints are regarding stagnation of water in streets. But officials claim that once the monsoon kicks in, there will be problems of trees falling and damaged electricity lines.

"While the helplines and storm water drains are important, but unless the larger issue of encroachment is addressed, these smaller interventions just won’t make the cut," Pooja says.  

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