Chennai floods: Penalise polluters to prevent future disasters

CHENNAI: In the aftermath of the Chennai floods, T V Ramachandra of Energy and Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences at Indian Institute of Science Bangalore, says the government has to penalise polluters, check encroachments and create good satellite townships to prevent future flooding. In an interview withMeera Vankipuram, the scientist, who has authored a study on urban growth patterns in Chennai and their impact on wetlands, warns about climate change.

They should plan cities better, digitise all land records, especially of common land like parks and lakes and this information should be made available to the public. All encroachments near water bodies must be removed so that flood water can run into lakes and storm water drains. Boundaries of water bodies should be clearly delineated and a buffer region of at least 200m should be kept. This area needs to have at least 33% vegetation cover and with no construction or developmental activities.
We have studied 10 cities in India (Tier I) and some Tier II cities in Karnataka. None of the Tier I cities is well planned. Planners think ‘concretisation’ is development. For example, in Bangalore we need to ‘decongest and decontaminate’ to make the city liveable. The status of wetlands in Bangalore is pathetic.
Where are sensible planners in India? I have not come across sensible planning in any of the Tier I cities. Migration is a consequence of location of industries and job opportunities. Why would we concentrate all activities in a few locations? We need to decentralise and distribute growth so that every region prospers.

The floods in Chennai, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir, the drought in more than 278 cities are all signs of climate change. This is the result of unplanned urbanisation, higher levels of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, deforestation, which are the main agents of global warming. We are contributing significantly with our irresponsible planning and greed, and our children will pay for it.
Chennai airport’s runway is built over a river, there are tenements on the banks of the Adyar river, educational institutions and housing projects on marshlands and water bodies -all these contributed to the damage wreaked by the rain. What should the state do to prevent future disasters?
The government has to remove all encroachments if it is really worried about the common man. It has to rehabilitate everyone below poverty level to safer locations. They have to implement Polluter Pays Principle in true spirit (as per Water Act 1974). Encroachment is also a form of pollution apart from letting untreated sewage and industrial effluents into water bodies. Stop further urbanisation in Chennai and create satellite towns with good connectivity (infrastructure and communication).