Lest We Forget
Monday 12th of July will mark the fiftieth year of the biggest disaster that this city has faced in living memory. At around 8’o’clock in the morning, on that fateful day, the Panshet earthen dam developed a breach in its wall due to structural failure under the massive pressure of accumulated rain water.
Within a couple of hours the breach developed into a 100-feet wide gap as the gushing water washed away the earthen masonry work. The Panshet dam is situated about 40 kms away from the heart of the city. It took less than four hours for the released water to reach the city, inundating huge areas on both sides of the Mutha river. Half the city was under water by 2 in the afternoon.
The sheer speed with which the disaster struck caught people completely unawares. Horror-struck people watched the Lakdi Pul go down under water. Large parts in the heart of the city were submerged. The flood wrecked incalculable damage to property. But fortunately, the loss of life was not commensurate with the scale of the disaster.
However, due to loss of records and the complete state of disarray that prevailed at the time, there is no definite knowledge of the number of lives lost. Old-timers who survived the flood put the number at certainly over a 1000 lives lost.
Although the possibility of such a catastrophe, due to bursting of dams, happening again is virtually non-existent – although Pune is the only city in India which has three rivers passing through it and is serviced by five dams which supply water to the city – what our own municipal corporation is doing is dangerous. The blocking of rivers and streams and the obliteration of nullahs is a death trap in the making. Flood is no longer a remote possibility for Pune.
Another catastrophe waiting to happen...
By - K S Manojkumar
Is Pune just a flash flood away from a second Panshet ? Don't panic just yet, but a few crucial questions must be asked.
-When was the last time you saw the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) pull down a structure built along a river basin inside the city ?
-Has a stream or a nullah that you often saw, suddenly disappeared?
-How many builders make it a practice to reveal the building permissions to their clients ?
As Pune evolves towards becoming the seventh biggest metro in the country, expanding in leaps and bounds and in the process burying and erasing the natural flow of rivers and rain water streams, to make room for high rise buildings, a heavy downpour can again spell disaster.
In fact, we have already seen the trailer a couple of weeks back.
To add to the script of this doomsday scenario is the PMC’s deliberate vacillation on whether a water body is a nullah or a river. And when in ‘doubt’, the PMC’s standard response has been to side with the builder who created the unauthorised construction and blocked the flow of the water.
No less a person than the PMC’s own municipal commissioner, Mahesh Zagade, has warned, “A catastrophe is waiting to happen.” He now finds himself waging a lone and losing battle against the vested interests in the PMC who are out to create unauthorised structures along the path of the water bodies and then pass resolutions to get them approved.
“This city would be doomed if we don’t immediately stop tinkering with the river basins and nullahs,” he told the general body of the PMC soon after the 14th June deluge which inundated several areas in the city and damaged property.
With crores of rupees being funded to Pune through various state and central schemes like the JNNURM, the top priority of the PMC is to ensure that the money is exhausted within the deadlines prescribed by the funding agencies. As long as the money is used up, it doesn’t matter how it is actually used, officials say. This explains why the grandiose schemes for creating storm water drainage have gone bust.
Jyotsna Sardeshpande, who represents the Model Colony ward, says her ward turns into a water pond during the monsoon. Not a drop of rain water that falls along the Chatuhshrungi area flows away. All of it flows right down all the way into Model Colony. And add to it the water that comes down from the flyovers along the nearby Ganeshkhind road. “Its like having your house right beneath a waterfall,” she says.
Similar is the situation in Bavdhan, Pashan, Dhankavdi, Bibwewadi, Dattawadi, Kothrud. These have become some of the worst hit areas during heavy rains.
July 12, 1961, revisited