|Waterworld Mukundapur, off the Bypass, betrays the reality of “new Calcutta” after 48 hours of rain last week while a dry Amherst Street (right) represents the transformation brought about by improved drainage in the old city
Calcutta’s trial by rain last week proved the efficacy of the old city’s cure and the extent of the new city’s disease.
If a refurbished drainage network spared parts of the city notorious for flooding another round of monsoon torment, many neighbourhoods in the fast-expanding south were waterlogged for three days or more in the absence of underground sewers.
Civic engineers warn that there might be no respite for these areas at least until 2022, the deadline for Phase II of the Calcutta Environmental Improvement Project.
“The newer parts of Calcutta will remain prone to flooding every time it rains heavily. Creating an underground drainage network is a long haul and large parts of Kasba, Jadavpur, Behala, Garden Reach and some neighbourhoods along the Bypass still don’t have sewers,” an official of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation said.
Mukundapur and Kalikapur, both growing residential neighbourhoods off the Bypass, bore the brunt of the rain fury. “Neither of these places has an underground sewer network. Many other places that were flooded don’t have an underground network or make do with an incomplete one,” the official said.
Mayor Sovan Chatterjee pleaded helplessness about waterlogging woes familiar to the congested north showing up in the newer parts of the city. “Many of these places do not have an underground sewer network yet and several small water bodies where rainwater used to drain out have had to be filled for the Bypass widening project,” he said.
The “added areas”, a phrase used to describe Kasba, Jadavpur, Behala and Garden Reach, had become part of the CMC in 1984. But in the three decades since, the civic body has done little to create a sewer network for these teeming neighbourhoods spanning 75sq km.
The British had built the city’s underground sewer network from Mahatma Gandhi Road in central Calcutta to Rashbehari Avenue in south between 1855 and 1878. Post-Independence, the CMC created a sewer network for Tollygunge, Maniktala and Topsia-Tiljala.
The added areas were not even in the frame until the start of the previous decade, when the Asian Development Bank-funded CEIP was being planned. When the CEIP was sanctioned in 2002, the enormity of the task of building an underground sewage network for wards 101 to 141 sunk in.
Not just parts of new Calcutta, even localities such as Patipukur and Sinthee that have been part of the civic belt since 1924 were included in the CEIP blueprint.
While the sewer network has reached those places after 11 years of work, many more remain bereft of drainage.
“Mukundapur, Kalikapur and large stretches between Behala Chowrasta and Joka will be covered under Phase II,” a CMC engineer said.
In some wards where Phase I has been officially “completed”, there are still places that don’t have underground drainage. Nobody knows yet if the portions left out would be covered in Phase II of the project that is supposed to start early next year.
Calcutta’s record of delay in infrastructure projects doesn’t inspire confidence either. Phase I had been sanctioned in 2002 with 2007 as the deadline, but it wasn’t completed until this year.
According to experts in urban planning, a neighbourhood should be created after basic infrastructure is ready and not the other way around.
“Roads, drainage and water supply fall under basic services in the CMC Act. The practice of taxing residents of these areas without providing them basic services is something that can be challenged in court,” said architect and urban planner Partha Ranjan Das.
So what prevents the CMC from putting infrastructure in place before sanctioning construction plans in a new neighbourhood?
“The civic body’s argument is that it will build infrastructure with the money earned from the construction boom, which is like putting the cart before the horse. This has contributed to the unplanned expansion of the added areas,” an official said.
Metro had recently highlighted the woes of people living in Madurdaha, Paschim Chowbhaga, Nonadanga and parts of Kalikapur, all part of east Calcutta’s rapidly expanding but poorly planned realty hub spanning wards 106 to 109. Many of the newer apartments to the east of the Bypass are valued at more than Rs 50 lakh each, never mind that sewers don’t exist there and the narrow approach roads are dirt tracks at best.
After it rained hard last week, Haltu, Kalikapur, Mukundapur in Kasba, Jadavpur, Silpara and Badamtala in Behala were waterlogged for three days. People used nets to catch fish in the middle of the road in some places while cars stayed away, lest the engines stall.
In contrast, the CMC fared well in the fight against waterlogging in the old city, where the clogged British-era sewers have been rid of silt accumulated over decades.