The walls are tiled, the refrigerator and washing machine are mounted on a platform, smaller electronic devices wrapped up in plastic bags, and the special clothes stashed up in the loft. Yet, Prema Sannake knows she can never be too prepared. “I feel like running away from this place at the thought of rains,” she says. The monsoons are merely half a month away and the 54-year-old homemaker is anxious.
For all the romance and chai-pakoda memories that the rains evoke, Mumbai’s monsoons end up stalling life in the metropolis — flooding streets and train tracks, bringing down trees and leaving office-goers stranded. Almost every year, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the civic body whose job is to get the city ready for the rains, finds itself scrambling to clean the drains and desilt the pipelines. This year is unlikely to be any different.
Sannake and husband Dhondiram, who retired from BSNL in 2006, live in a 180-square feet one-room flat at Hindmata junction, a chronic flooding spot in Mumbai’s Dadar area. “Every year for over three decades, I have spent days and nights in knee-deep stagnant water inside our room,” says Sannake.
She says she cannot remember a monsoon when the rains did not disrupt her life. Her two children — both in their late 20s — moved out in 2017 with their families to rented flats in a nearby locality, but that’s not an option for the Sannakes. “This is the house I came to as a bride. This is the only place in the city I know as my house,” says Sannake.
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For almost all the years that she has lived here, Sannake has had to struggle with the rains. “Every year, politicians promise there will be no floods, but the problem only keeps getting worse. After the rains, it takes me nearly two days to scoop out the water and get the house back to normal. For four months every year, we sit in the water as it rains and when it stops, we throw out the water, bucket by bucket. I can’t even cook during those days as the kitchen counter is stacked with boxes and other things,” complains Sannake.
The two lofts in the room are a lifesaver. In the days leading up to the rains, Sannake starts moving grains, clothes, the microwave and wooden boxes into the loft. “We mount the refrigerator and washing machines onto a platform. But if the water rises beyond 2 feet, those get submerged. How many times can we get these repaired? I also put away all documents and keep the bottom shelf of the cupboard empty.”
Hindmata is a saucer-shaped, low-lying area in Mumbai’s central district between Dadar TT and Parel. Every year, floodwaters gush into people’s homes and shops, rising to about three to four feet and staying that way for hours at a stretch.
Over the last month, the Sannakes have spent over Rs 1 lakh to flood-proof their ground-floor room. Among the new additions is a granite slab at the threshold to stop the water from gushing in.
The dilapidated three-storey building has both families and small-scale commercial establishments. Out of the 15 rooms on the ground floor, only the Sannakes and three other families have stayed on. Others have either sold the properties over the years or rented them out to small-scale cloth godowns.
Urban experts say it’s not just the saucer-shaped topography that causes the annual flooding in Hindmata, and point to how the BMC is almost never prepared — while old sewer lines lie damaged, new illegal ones crisscross the area.
Old British-era arch drains — designed to carry rainwater from Dadar to Britannia (Reay Road) outfall and finally into the sea — have been reduced to barely 1.13 sqm from their original 2.69 sqm carrying capacity due to silting and encroachments, said a retired civic official.
In 2016, the BMC constructed the Britannia pumping station, claiming that it would make the Hindmata junction free of waterlogging. But the neighbourhood continued to get flooded. The following year, an inquiry into the functioning of the Britannia pumping station recommended the installation of additional drains to carry rainwater, following which, in 2019, Rs 50 crore was spent to lay the lines and augment the capacity of the existing lines.
But Hindmata remained a water-filled saucer during the rains.
Residents of the area are now pinning their hopes on an ambitious project — two new underground water tanks, at Dadar and St Xavier’s Grounds, that are coming up to temporarily store floodwater, which will be discharged into the sea through drains once the high tide recedes. The tanks, over a km from their building, are connected to Hindmata through a 1,600-mm-diameter stormwater drain line. But it’s already May and the work is far from complete.
One of the main reasons for Hindmata’s flooding is its geography, says the BMC. “The area is shaped like a saucer due to which all rainwater gets accumulated here from surrounding areas like Parel, Lalbaug and Dadar. To solve this problem, capacity of the underground tanks is being increased, so that they can hold more water,” said an official from the SWD (Storm Water Drains) department.
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The BMC’s nearest pumping station from Hindmata — Britannia pumping station – is located at Reay Road, about 5 km away. Officials say that the farther away a chronic flooding spot is from a pumping station, the more time it takes for water to recede from the area.
On May 19, Mumbai Suburban Guardian Minister Aaditya Thackeray said after taking the stock of the city’s monsoon preparation, “We have created holding ponds in areas like Gandhi Market, Hindmata, and chronic flooding spots. These can hold water for a few hours and drain it. But still, if extreme weather event like cloud burst takes place, no one can do anything. The fury of nature can be stopped by none.”
But Sannake is running out of patience. “This year, if I have to bucket out water like I do every year, the pumps and tanks are a failure. I don’t want to know if the water receded in an hour or two this year. I don’t want a single drop of water in my room.”