In a scathing report the Comptroller and Auditor General Of India (CAG) held the state government responsible for the 2015 Chennai floods and called it a "man-made disaster." The report tabled in Tamil Nadu assembly on July 9, two-and-a-half years after the floods that killed 300 people, claims there was serious failure in the operation of the Chembarambakkam reservoir, outside Chennai, from where 29, 000 cusecs of water was released against the recommended 12, 000 cusescs.
The CAG report blamed the Tamil Nadu government for allowing encroachment of lakes and river floodplains, leading to massive destruction. There was no coordination among departments and the Disaster Management Authority constituted in 2013, had not even met once till floods happened said the CAG report.
The report also blamed the state government for failing to create two new reservoirs upstream of Chemberambakkam Lake, as recommended by an expert body and tardy implementation of restoration of water bodies' project.
V Bhaskaran, a Chennai resident from Defence Officers Colony, which was badly hit by floods says "there is no doubt that December 1, 2015 floods was a man-made disaster."
It was a nightmare for A Jayaprakash's family, who live a few houses away. On that fateful day water rose up to fifteen feet inside their home. They scrambled to the first floor, with their daughter who was pregnant. The family was stuck there for three days with no food and electricity.
Mr Jayaprakash is disappointed with the CAG report. He said the report has not fixed accountability. He says, "If at all we had to learn from the past, first thing to do is to understand who is accountable and what's the mistake he has done and what's being done so that it doesn't happen again. I don't see anyone or a department being held accountable."
Even after three years the River Adyar, which breached its banks has not been de-silted to increase its water carrying capacity. Under the Saidapet Bridge across the river, encroachments continue to grow. The government has stopped taking action as soon as the flood waters receded say residents. And nothing has yet been done about the recommendation to create two new reservoirs upstream Chembarambakkam Lake, to increase storage and avert floods in Chennai.
The city, many say, is still vulnerable to floods. Arun Krishnamurthy, Founder of Environmentalist Foundation of India says, "There is a lot to be done. We are racing against time. Lakes, rivers, rivulets and the marshlands need to be managed. Ecological conservation and scientific restoration is the need of hour."
The Tamil Nadu government claimed that the CAG report is one-sided and that it does not reflect the ground realities. Chennai is prepared to tackle any flood situation said government officers. RB Udhaya Kumar, the Revenue Minister, who heads the disaster management department, told NDTV, "We have taken a number of mitigation and preparedness initiatives like setting up a special disaster management force like the police and training first responders. Tamil Nadu is safe. Encroachments are there I agree. We can't do anything about it overnight. It is a continuous process."
While the state government is clearly on a denial mode despite the damning CAG report exposing its failures, residents are angry and worried that there may be a repetition of the devastating floods, with the north-east monsoon season just a couple of months away.