Recently, the Kerala High court pulled up the Kochi Municipal Corporation for being ‘inactive’ and held it responsible for the waterlogging that happened in the city. Is the Municipal Corporation solely accountable for it? The article looks into it and the ways through which we can improve the situation.
Praseeda Mukundan and Aiswarya Krishnan
Waterlogging has emerged as an issue affecting the liveability of the cities. The city of Kochi was brought to a standstill by the waterlogging happened in late October. Even a normal downpour inundates major parts of the city like MG road, Kakkanad, Panampally Nagar, etc. Recently, the Kerala High court blamed the Kochi Municipal Corporation (KMC) for being ‘inactive’ and held it responsible for the situation. But, should the Municipal Corporation be solely accountable for it?
According to the 12th schedule of the 74th Constitution Amendment Act, Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) i.e., Municipalities and Municipal Corporations are entrusted with 18 functions/responsibilities including urban planning which comprises town planning, roads and bridges, etc. Though the Kerala Municipality Act, 1994 entrusts the municipalities with a list of functions, these institutions are not able to execute them efficiently (CPPR 2017). One of the main reasons being limited funds available to them. ULBs in Kerala mainly depend on the funds transferred from the State Government and Central Government. Their own funds are majorly spend on paying salaries to the officials. They perform in a restricted setting under the State Government. Even the recruitments to the ULBs are done by the State Government through PSUs without the involvement of the ULBs. A survey conducted by Praja in 2019 revealed that KMC lacks experts in town planning and accounting which has affected the quality of the services provided by it. Though KMC is devolved with some powers, the question is on the extent of power devolution.
Another major issue is in the governance structure in which multiple authorities are involved in delivering the same service. There is a lack of coordination between various agencies resulting in conflict of interests and lack of accountability in service delivery. Intensification of bureaucratic procedures in handling local affairs could be another factor affecting accountability. It was evident from the fact that the Chief Minister of Kerala directed the Ernakulum District Collector, instead of the Mayor of the city, to manage the waterlogging situation by leading ‘Operation Breakthrough’.
The key stakeholders involved in the operation and maintenance of the existing city drainage system are KMC, Irrigation Department and PWD. According to Kerala Sustainable Urban Development Project Report, 2005, KMC is responsible for drains along internal roads; PWD (National Highways) for drains along the National highways; PWD (roads & bridges) for drains along the State Highways, District Roads and any other major roads; State Irrigation Department is responsible for drainage canals and other water bodies. The lack of coordination between these agencies will also affect the functionality of the city drainage system. Other stakeholders are the contractors who are given the task to clean drainages. One major issue they face is the transportation of the silt, as it is difficult to transport wet silt. This results in the accumulation of the debris collected adjacent to the drains, which may easily flow back to these if not transported. Unavailability of land for proper disposal of the silt collected is another problem that needs to be addressed.
With the rapid rate of urbanisation, there are encroachments on the canals which have reduced their width and capacity to accommodate storm water. The poor quality of construction as well as the no proper consideration of the existing drainage systems during the construction of the roads too results in severe waterlogging. Both PWD and KMC are held responsible for road construction. The State Disaster Management Authority too is mandated to conduct clean up drives for water bodies during urban flooding. Therefore, in this scenario of complex urban governance, the blame cannot be put only on KMC. Moreover, human interventions like dumping of waste into canals as well as illegal construction and encroachments over the canals also lead to inundation.
To improve the situation, there needs to be a clear-cut mandate on the responsibilities of each agency involved and an effective mechanism to ensure inter-agency coordination. The topography and natural course of flow of water in a region should be considered while planning and designing of the road networks and drains. Creating a GIS-based mapping system for all the roads and water bodies in the city and adding different layers of information to it regarding their characteristics, present condition, etc. would be an efficient platform for information sharing and inter-agency coordination. Assessing information such as water flow and water level through sensor technology and linking the information to the GIS map would help in analysing the situation and effective decision making. Sustainable technology can be designed and implemented for ensuring the regular cleaning of canals and drainages. For example, Mumbai is experimenting with using robots to desilt drains.
Ensuring the implementation of the rainwater harvesting system as mentioned in the Kerala Municipal Building Rules would help in reducing the amount of runoff that may result in floods. Urban planning measures such as identifying catchment areas and incorporating it into physical planning (e.g., creating recreational, multi-purpose spaces, etc.) at different levels should also be looked into.
Citizens should also play a major role in achieving the goals. They could be empowered through building open platforms like Decidim to encourage them to share issues and give regular feedback to the concerned authorities, which can promote a fast redressal mechanism.
Creating awareness among the people on the need for segregation as well as proper disposal of waste is also essential to reduce obstructions in the natural water flow. Also, the fiscal capacity of the ULBs should be enhanced so that they could perform better.
Praseeda Mukundan is Senior Research Associate and Aiswarya Krishnan is Project Associate at CPPR-Centre for Urban Studies. Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.