Our Impending Disasters

  • Atul Sobti
  • India
  • May 01, 2015

FG had carried a Cover Story on Gurgaon’s Impending Disasters in Vol. 2, issue 45 (June 28 to July 4, 2013), after the Uttarakhand tragedy. Not much has changed. Will the Nepal earthquake finally wake us up?

Tragedy has overtaken the people and visitors in Uttarakhand. The disaster seems far away…distant. Our local issues seem miniscule. There is maybe some ‘comfort’ in that – in believing that the Millennium City, and our posh residences and office complexes in particular, offers us immunity from any calamity.  How wrong we could be. There are scenarios building towards some impending disasters – and there seems to be no stopping them. The real estate juggernaut just rolls on - while planning and providing for civic services and amenities continues to be treated as an irritant. Some scenarios are being man (Administration) made; some will be triggered by the fury of Mother Nature – when even her patience at her exploitation runs out.

That we live on a barren landscape is well known; we are now ensuring that it moves towards a desert status. The ground water is not only depleting fast, it is reaching a very critical level – where there is threat of severe contamination and even poisoning. The new canals/water channels and Master Plans will only remain on paper – as the same water, before reaching Gurgaon, would be prioritized for Delhi, and many Haryana villages and towns on the way. Water is too precious for anyone to pass up, however cemented the canal is. So as not have a spanner put in the real estate works, the Administration has conveniently circumvented the NCR Planning Board, while finalizing its Gurgaon Master Plan. What solution can we hope for, when even simple Rainwater Harvesting has not been implemented as planned? A new Gurgaon II (new sectors) is under construction, in full swing, with borewells still allegedly being used to extract ground water. The Administration is complacent, seeing that many have found a solution in daily water tankers (that charge almost Rs 1,000 per round). The tankers would soon swarm all our roads and highways – along with the diesel tankers providing the fuel for power. They would ensure that each residence and establishment remains tanked up – always. We are well on our way to achieving Fatehpur Sikri status.

Our City has no planned connectivity of drains, and sewage and storm water drains coincide. During the monsoons the sewage is stormed by the rainwater, and flows back onto the roads. Most of the sewage is anyway not treated, and just flows onward into the Yamuna. The new sectors will only pile up further muck, as civic facilities are an after-thought to the development of new spaces. The lag, between the coming up of residences and civic services, would probably be a decade – provided there is improvement in the latter henceforth. Mother Yamuna’s revenge may not be far off, with even a trailer playing out this season. The river’s flooding could reverse the flow, and push all the sewage right back on us. The potent combination of sewage and garbage is also a very visible scenario. In many areas garbage lies uncollected, there is anyway no segregation, and garbage treatment capacity is woefully inadequate. (Garbage) Landfills are filling up the Aravallis, as well as contaminating the ground water – a rare combination/contribution to disaster! 

We have the highest of high-rises coming up in an earthquake vulnerable area. Previous mild earthquakes have already led to cracks in new, modern buildings of well-established developers. Gurgaon II (new sectors) now has hundreds of builders constructing lakhs of residences, offices and commercial establishments. Some of these builders have very little experience, some are ex-property brokers – and they are here to make a killing. It is a different matter that the current slow-down in real estate is instead killing them. It would be no surprise to see the quality of construction becoming the first casualty. Earthquakes will also bring problems of fire and collapse. Fire tenders currently can barely impact the tops of a few condos and complexes. Only DLF is on a high ladder. And what about EWS houses and slums – and ‘old’ Gurgaon? They are even now on weak ground, and would clearly be the first casualties in any calamity. Unfortunately, they also have no access to private solutions.

It is time we bit the bullet. Ground water usage has to be strictly stopped, with even a plan for capping the current borewells. Gurgaon II (new sectors) development definitely needs to be postponed till the basics of water, power and sewage/garbage are taken care of (at least 80%) in the current sectors of Gurgaon. And in Gurgaon II, these civic facilities need to be first set up, taken care of, before anyone is allowed to reside in, or colonize, these new sectors. To ensure this, the head of Town & Country Planning, and even the CM, must be held personally accountable. The network of sewage and storm water drains – separate – must be completed on priority. Badshahpur Nallah, and its connectivity, needs to be taken up as a separate project. Every multi-storeyed project (current and new sectors) of over 75m height must be inspected separately by an expert(s) on building construction, to check for the structure’s ability to withstand an earthquake of a certain intensity. The Disaster Management Authority must specifically spell out the plan for ‘old’ Gurgaon, in case of an earthquake.u 


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