BMC thinks floods are the only natural disaster that can hurt Mumbai

Completely ignoring the fact that Mumbai lies in a Seismic Zone III area, the controversial Development Plan had mentioned floods as the sole natural disaster that could hurt the city, say activists and political parties

The cataclysmic earthquake in Nepal has opened up another can of worms with respect to the much-maligned Development Plan of the BMC, one that would have put the lives of Mumbaikars at risk.

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Collapsed houses in Bhaktapur, on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The death toll in the Nepal earthquake crossed 4,000 yesterday. Pic/AFP
Collapsed houses in Bhaktapur, on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The death toll in the Nepal earthquake crossed 4,000 yesterday. Pic/AFP

Completely ignoring the fact that Mumbai lies in a Seismic Zone III area and had felt tremors during the Bhuj earthquake in 2001 and the Latur disaster in 1993, activists and political parties say that the Development Plan had mentioned floods as the sole natural disaster that could prove to be a setback for the city, and that too only monsoon floods.

When earthquakes occur, people are supposed to evacuate buildings and head to open spaces. Activists say they wonder where people will find such open spaces in Mumbai. File pic
When earthquakes occur, people are supposed to evacuate buildings and head to open spaces. Activists say they wonder where people will find such open spaces in Mumbai. File pic

This glaring lapse, coupled with the fact that the DP had allowed for higher FSI and thus taller buildings and did not have provision for enough open space, would have meant that Mumbaikars would have been at grave risk had an earthquake struck the city.

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An aerial view of tents set up in an open area in Kathmandu. Pic/PTI
An aerial view of tents set up in an open area in Kathmandu. Pic/PTI

Activists are now demanding that in the revised DP, which the BMC has been given four months to prepare, the civic body should factor in earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis, and demarcate coastal zones to be prepared from floods from the sea.

Debi Goenka, executive director of Conservation Action Trust, who had written to the BMC about the issue even before the Nepal earthquake struck, said that when temblors occur, people are supposed to evacuate their houses and go to open spaces.

“But in Mumbai, there are very few open spaces. Where will the people go? The DP had also made provisions for higher FSI, which would have meant more taller buildings and thus, more damage spread over a wider area in the event of a collapse. The DP should have factored in all these things.”

Also Read: Controversial Development Plan for Mumbai scrapped by state govt 

“Adding to these problems are the new buildings with glass facades. The Fire Brigade already has problems firefighting in these buildings and in the event of a collapse, the glass will fly in all directions like shrapnel from a bomb. These are the things that the planners don’t seem to have thought of,” he said.

“The city felt tremors during the Bhuj earthquake as well and it was decided that since Mumbai is in a Seismic Zone III area, buildings should be designed to withstand earthquakes that would strike a Zone IV area. We just don't know whether this is being done,” he said.

Environmentalist Rishi Aggarwal said expecting too much from the BMC would be pointless, because the civic body exhibits apathy towards the people’s needs and woes. “Even if you have a flawless DP, the ethos of the BMC will remain the same.

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When the BMC does not bother to address basic issues like footpaths, expecting them to be sensitive towards these issues is a big thing. As a society, we have a lax attitude towards human life and that shows in the way we are governed.”

“The DP is supposed to factor in natural disasters. It deals with land use and the planning should be such that the city should be able to withstand disasters and keep its residents safe. It will be very shameful if we don’t act even after the Nepal earthquake.

Also Read: CM Fadnavis gives DP the boot, tells BMC to start afresh 

The Latur earthquake itself should have been an eye opener and let’s not forget that we are very close to Koyna, where tremors keep occurring,” he added. When contacted, BMC Town Planner Dilip Naik said he was in a meeting and could not talk.

Neta speak
Politicians from the BMC also slammed the civic body for the lapse. “The DP has failed on this front. The BMC’s disaster management is inefficient. The people drawing up the DP should have taken better advice from experts.

Mumbai is the beating heart of all of western India and we should build infrastructure in the city that can tackle any form of disaster,” said Rais Shaikh, group leader of the Samajwadi Party in the BMC.

The AAP has also given suggestions to the BMC about this. The party’s Media Secretary, Ruben Mascarenhas, said, “We were taken aback when we read that only floods can hit Mumbai hard. With the Latur earthquake and the Koyna tremors, we need to be prepared for the worst.

An international city like Mumbai cannot take these issues lightly, especially when we have an example like Nepal before us. We have written to the BMC and expect that they will act on our suggestions in the coming days.”

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