Defunct drainage system in Srinagar

Government must take measures to ensure efficient drainage facilities to prevent waterlogging
Who is to be blamed for this problem? Both Government and people! In blatant violation of rules, the Government allowed constructions in flood plains, wetlands and agricultural fields.
Who is to be blamed for this problem? Both Government and people! In blatant violation of rules, the Government allowed constructions in flood plains, wetlands and agricultural fields. File: Mubashir Khan/ GK

Just a spell of rain, even for a few minutes, causes sudden waterlogging in major areas of Srinagar. What is surprising is that posh city centre areas including Polo View, Residency Road and Lal Chowk with newly constructed drainage system gets frequently inundated.

Recently, after a heavy spell of rains, water for the first time entered several shops at refurbished Polo View. At a time when a new drainage system has been constructed across length and breadth of Srinagar, why is there waterlogging? It is simply ill-planning.

Take the example of Boulevard Road. Despite having a network of drains connecting to two Sewage Treatment Plants, authorities dug up footpaths at several places and placed outlets directly into Dal Lake for stormwater.

For residents of the posh Barzulla area, rain sends shivers down their spine. After a few minutes of downpour, drains overflow inundating lanes and even compounds of the houses of several residents.

Residents say that water-backflow occurs as dewatering pumps aren’t operated during inclement weather. This is one of the main reasons for waterlogging.

Over one hundred dewatering pumps operate throughout Srinagar. However, there is a general complaint by locals that once power supply is off, these pumps don’t work on full capacity on generators.

We have to understand that most of the drains in Srinagar have silted up in absence of regular maintenance. Authorities only act when there is blockage pumping out excess water as a temporary measure.

They don’t have a permanent solution to restore blocked drains. There is also no proper disposal of drain water which is pumped directly into water bodies and river Jhelum, severely affecting flora and fauna.

Who is to be blamed for this problem? Both Government and people! In blatant violation of rules, the Government allowed constructions in flood plains, wetlands and agricultural fields.

During rains, these wetlands and floodplains acted as reservoirs and absorbed most of the rain water. 20 wetlands have been lost to urban colonies during the last five decades, particularly in south Srinagar.

Ecologically important wetlands in the Jhelum floodplains in Srinagar like Hokersar, Bemina wetland, Narakara wetland, Batamaloo numbal, Rakh-e-arth, Anchar lake and Gilsar have been degraded due to rapid encroachment and urbanisation.

Doodh Ganga canal from Batamaloo to Bemina used to prevent urban flooding after rains. The canal too has been buried under constructions. Now areas from Batamaloo to Shalteng get waterlogged during rains.
Before 1947, British engineers had designed drainage systems efficiently in Srinagar.

Over a century old ‘Green Sewer’ catered to drainage of south city areas till several years ago. The 1.9 km long sewer having a depth of 15-feet lost its carrying capacity during the construction of a flyover in the area. The drain was a perfect example of engineering.excellence. Presently, despite having advanced facilities and machinery, authorities are struggling to complete drainage projects.

Started in 2008, work on the 140-km long Srinagar sewerage project is still going on. The project was scheduled to be completed by 2013 and for the past decade has missed several deadlines. The project's primary objective was to establish an extensive sewerage network across Srinagar’s Downtown, catering to 48,220 households.

Climate Resilient City Action Plan (CRCAP) for Srinagar states that the Climate-Induced Impacts on the City waterlogging remains a persistent problem in Srinagar city, particularly during heavy rainfall.

It states that the city’s topography, which includes low-lying areas and inadequate drainage systems, exacerbates the problem causing a range of concerns such as traffic disruptions, damage to buildings, and public health hazards. A number of roads in Srinagar city almost turn into ponds immediately after a snowfall or rain.

Waterlogging causes issues for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The scene is almost similar on most roads – be it at the city centre Lal Chowk, or the adjoining areas like Residency Regal Chowk, Polo View, Moulana Azad Road, and Budshah Chowk.

It is no different at Exhibition Crossing and Jehangir Chowk. The waterlogging problem is not limited to these areas; it also affects a large number of other areas in Srinagar, including Bemina, Mehjoor Nagar, Rambagh, Natipora, and Chanapora interiors. Massive inundation can also be seen in the interiors of Parraypora and Sonwar.

Shalteng, Flash floods in Jhelum river is a matter of great concern in Srinagar city, particularly during the monsoon season.

The sewage network in Srinagar city has a capacity of approximately 200 million litres per day (MLD). “However, the actual capacity utilisation of the sewage network is lower than the designed capacity due to various factors, such as leakages, blockages, and inadequate maintenance.

CRCAP states that the coverage of the sewage network in Srinagar city varies across different areas. According to the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), the Left Bank zone of the city, which includes areas such as Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, and Lal Chowk, has a higher coverage of sewage network compared to the Right Bank zone, which covers areas such as Batamaloo, Chanapora, and Bemina.

“In some areas of the city, particularly the old city, the sewage network is either absent or poorly developed, which leads to the discharge of untreated sewage into nearby water bodies. The sewage network in each zone consists of a series of underground pipes that carry wastewater to treatment plants, where it is treated before being released into the environment. Maintaining an effective sewage network in Srinagar City presents several challenges,” it states.

“One of the most difficult challenges is the city’s hilly terrain, which includes several bodies of water. This makes laying underground pipes and building treatment plants difficult. Furthermore, the city’s ageing infrastructure and lack of maintenance have resulted in problems such as leaks, blockages, and overflows. It is concerning that only 18 to 20% of the city has a sewerage network, indicating the system’s inadequacy. If the city experiences heavy flooding, untreated sewage water flowing through storm drains would amplify the effects of untreated wastewater, as seen during rainy seasons. This surface runoff would become contaminated by the drainage system and eventually become waterlogged, resulting in serious health consequences.”

It is high time to conduct a scientific audit of the existing drainage system in Srinagar and take measures including desiltation to restore carrying capacity. Dewatering stations need to be provided with an uninterrupted power supply for round the clock operation.

We are becoming a Smart City and need smart facilities. More than beautification, an effective drainage system must be made an important component of the Smart City project.

Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir

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