Urban India's Alarming Calamity Trends

Calamity-Prone — Urban India’s Worrying Storyline

#GS-03 Disaster Management

For Mains:

The Current crisis:

  • The recent floods in Bengaluru have showcased the city’s lack of disaster management capacity.
  • Adverse weather phenomena bringing a city to its knees are becoming increasingly common in India with urban authorities finding themselves woefully unprepared after each new disaster.
  • Mumbai reportedly lost ₹14,000 crore between 2005 and 2015 while the figure for Chennai was an estimated ₹15,000 crore in 2015 alone.
  • Added to this are the social and human costs, which almost always disproportionately affect the poorer sections of society as they tend to live in the more environmentally vulnerable areas.

What has been done:

  • A ₹900 crore project was announced in November 2021 by the Karnataka government after flooding in Bengaluru last year.
  • Now, after the recent floods, the municipality has ordered an anti-encroachment drive.
  • However, these are just piecemeal solutions to systemic problems stemming from a lack of climate consciousness in the planning process.
  • Across India, 65% of urban settlements do not have a proper plan to manage urban flooding nor do they have the authority to prepare one.
  • Despite the lack of capacity and bandwidth in State governments to undertake this exercise powers to prepare master plans remain with State governments, with city governments reduced to ‘stakeholders’ without much authority.
  • Over the last few years, city administrations such as Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Nagpur (among others) have begun adopting climate action plans.
  • The Mumbai plan is particularly ambitious, covering all aspects of the city’s environment — from flooding to air pollution — and aligns itself with the larger national goal of net-zero emissions.
  • However, as the plan lacks any statutory backing, it does not prescribe any regulatory controls and comes across as a series of recommended measures that can be adopted by the authorities/citizens.
  • Finally, these plans are usually an expert-driven endeavour, without the critical element of public participation. This further reduces the plan’s credibility.

What can be done?

  • We need the creation of a comprehensive climate action plan for all key Indian cities and to give these plans statutory backing by bringing them within the ambit of the city’s master plan.
  • There is a need for an environmental protection agency to proactively tackle issues related to climate change.
  • To make coordinated action possible, this agency would need to be devised as an overarching body along the lines of the unified transportation authority formed by different cities.