Absence of flood maps leaves Badlapur at deep end

Mumbai: 26 Aug, 2019 (Times of India)

Suburb On The Periphery Of The Metropolis, It Has Seen Development In Green Zones: Forests, Hills and Riverbanks

The inundation of homes in Badlapur last month is an example of how poor regulation of river areas in Maharashtra, especially the nonimplementation of a floodline policy, has heightened monsoon damage and put thousands of lives at risk.

Surveys say 5,678 families in Badlapur were affected by the recent flooding. The flood waters also damaged thousands of cars and washed out lakhs of rupees worth of shop goods. Many people have reportedly cancelled their bookings in the area’s housing projects. One builder took out a front-page advertisement boasting that his project had no water-logging.

Local officials blame the damage partly on the lack of proper floodline maps for the town. These maps mark blue lines for floods of 25-year frequency and red lines for 100-year-frequency floods, allowing authorities to regulate development according to flood risk. “We urgently need these floodlines,” said a local town planning official, “to help us with building sanctions and also to warn people living in those areas.”

Flood policy is gaining urgency with climate change increasing extreme rainfall events, say experts. “What we are seeing now is that 25-year floods are coming at 10-year frequencies,” says Rakesh Kumar, head of the National Environmental and Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). That means areas formerly thought to be safe from frequent floods may no longer be safe.

Activists also blame development in designated Green Zones, land that lies along forests, hills, and rivers. Although Badlapur officials say they have not sanctioned projects in the green zone along the river marked on the development plan, satellite images show some buildings have come up in this zone.

Alarmingly, allowing social housing schemes in these zones could be putting those with fewer resources in the places at most risk. Last year the state government permitted affordable housing projects under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana in green zones in the Mumbai region. Soon after, Poddar builders launched a private-public partnership PMAY project in Badlapur next to a stream (see graphic).

Locals say there is enough land for new housing in the expanding suburb without having to build close to the river.

Location apart, how some of these new complexes have been built is also an issue. In one neighbourhood, a posh new housing project, with Greek statues lining its driveway, has sprung up along a nullah. Its raised ground and concrete retention walls helped push flood waters to shoulder-high levels in the shops next door, allege locals. Similarly, in Hindre Pada, older buildings like New Shiv Ganga are seeing increased flooding as new buildings have sprung up around them on raised plinths.

Raising the height of individual roads and buildings often changes the slope of the entire area and creates more problems for others, says NEERI’s Kumar. “That game has to end at some point.”

Residents of New Shiv Ganga remember the 2005 deluge when the water came up to the second floor. Because their lane is narrow, the building has had no offers for redevelopment. “There isn’t much we can do except move out,” says Surekha Jadhav, a sixty-something whose ground-floor rental was flooded twice this monsoon, once on July 27 and again on August 4. But the rent here is cheaper than those on higher ground.

Moving out is on the minds of many newcomers to Badlapur, including Sandhya Prabhu. She and her family returned to their ground-floor flat after two days to be met with soaked clothes, damp walls, and damaged electronics. They are wondering whether to rent the flat out but they know they won’t get enough to offset their EMI.

As for their friends who bought the house next door, they lost their new washing machine, TV and fridge. “They were to move in on Independence Day,” says Prabhu, “but their house is still locked.”