This Article is From Aug 21, 2020

Mumbai's 15-km Water Tunnel Changes The City

The silent army of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and its entire squad of officers, engineers, workers and the leadership deserve a big shout out for being on their toes, successfully keeping Mumbai moving without any scars in a year of extreme weather and exacting conditions.

The summer of 2016 was hotter and drier than ever before. The drought was comparable to the years of the recent past. The intensity was felt all across the state which saw an exodus from villages to cities with people desperate for jobs and water. There were trains full of water dispatched to the parched hinterland. For us urban folks, major sport events, cricket matches were shifted to other states.

While all these issues haunted our state, and we worked on solutions to minimise the pain, it was the meticulous efforts of the departments of the BMC that ensured we did not feel the brunt as much in our city.

The job is not easy. We have lakes, dams and a network of pipelines almost 7,000 km in length. But it was meticulous planning, minor but crucial interventions of water cuts, and the cooperation of Mumbaikars that allowed Mumbai to stay at a safe distance from feeling the heat at our taps.

As a contrast to the pre-monsoon period, the monsoons this year have been a major disrupter in our urban as well as rural areas. While a good monsoon is always ideal, we are usually presented with two different scenarios: a really "good" monsoon - with floods and delayed transport services (and school holidays much to the joy of children), or a bad monsoon that puts our water conservation to test.

What Mumbai city received in 2016 was an excessive monsoon. Out of 120 days of the  monsoon, Mumbai normally receives 72 days of rain on an average. We had 99 days of rainfall this year, each rainfall exceeding the earlier in measure. On days like September 24, it rained for almost 48 hours, rainfall exceeding 114 mm in a span of a few hours in certain regions of Mumbai.

Despite such excessive rainfall, Mumbai erased its identity as a city that floods and remains water logged. The water logging that occurred was contained at below knee-level in low-lying areas and did not last beyond 15 minutes, as opposed to a decade earlier when water logging would last for a day or two.

The BMC's Hydraulic Engineering Department is one of India's most active, modern and silent working departments, with a slew of actions that keep Mumbai drought-free, while the Storm Water Drains Department works to keep it flood-free. After the 2007 cloudburst, the BMC initiated an action plan of keeping Mumbai flood-free, and there is evidence that the plan works. The storm water drains that were 25 mm and had the capacity to expand to 50mm (as made in the erstwhile British Raj) were enlarged. Phase-wise road works also included the careful installation of new pipes of larger capacity.

More importantly thereafter, pumping stations were commissioned at Haji Ali, Britannia, Irla, Love Grove and Gazdarbandh (to be commissioned by March 2017). These pumping stations are activated to pump out flood waters from our city to the sea through a large network of pipes. The ones like Britannia Pumping Station can pump out 36,000 litres a second.

These measures are crucial as Mumbai is an island city turned into a coastal city with reclamation. Many areas like the Hind Mata were either lakes or marshlands years ago, and some areas are still below sea level, causing the water to flow reverse during high tide and heavy rainfall. The BMC is probably the only Municipal Corporation in India to have such a large number of dams built by itself, and a large and meticulously-planned water distribution network.

Funny enough that the Hon'ble Balasaheb Thackeray Middle Vaitarna Dam which took a decade to be given permissions by the centre ended up being the 9th-fasted constructed dam in the world, once it was into the construction phase. Now the BMC has proposed a hydro-electricity generation plant on the same dam and permissions are awaited from the state government. The BMC also has the distinction of being the only Municipal Corporation in India to successfully carry out lake-tapping to increase the flow and capacity on its own.

The recently-proposed waste water treatment plants across the city initiated by the BMC will bring back almost 2,700 MLD of water for non-potable usage into our city. The construction of the six planned plants was started by Uddhav Thackeray and the Mayor of Mumbai, last week. It is a major step toward recycling our water, and building a sustainable future.

The recently-commissioned tunnel that runs 15.1 kms (from Andheri to Thane) at a depth of 100 metres below the ground has a futuristic carrying capacity of 4000 MLD. Its biggest advantage is that it cannot be punctured and accessed by illegal connections, and will be insulated from contaminated water. This will be connected to the Gargai-Pinjal Project of the BMC that will fulfill Mumbai's water needs. The Gargai-Pinjal project awaits a nod from the centre.

What is most crucial to citizens on a daily basis, though, is affordability and equal access to water. Even as access increases daily with new connections, the affordability has been maintained in the last two decades. It costs the BMC Rs 11.5 per person per 1,000 litres, however the cost to the citizens is only Rs 3.5 per person/1000 litres - almost 700 litres free each day.

It may not be something to boast about as it is the duty of civic administrations to ensure that a city remains scar free through these natural phenomenons.It may not be work that was directly seen by us as citizens, though felt without realising, and that's the way work should be.

However, it surely is a reason to feel reassured that there is someone who is silently working without adverts, to keep this mega city working!

(Aaditya Thackeray is the president of Yuva Sena, the youth wing of Shiv Sena)

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