Everything actually, except the surface run-off
The Nor’westers are still not upon us. The persistent evening downpours of the past few days courtesy the Western Disturbances which arrive as calling cards of the impending pre-monsoon have however given some thoughts to ponder over. These showers serve as reminders of infrastructure which needs to be reinforced and reclaimed from the decades of neglect seeded by their clearly inept design. One downpour and traffic comes to a halt, vehicles squeezed into narrower patches of tarmac because of the inundation which runs on the roads instead of the drains.
Soon, the weather forecasts will start predicting showers and even more thunderstorms. Gangtok’s response to the weather patterns will also be predictably routine – slips, slides and slush. The SDF campaign meeting at Kabi scheduled for Wednesday, for instance, has been postponed due to a landslide on North Sikkim Highway
No surprises there. But what is surprising though, is the fact that the inept drainage system remains consistently failed despite the hordes of engineers that the capital is home to.
How is it that Sikkim’s roadside drains refuse to, well, drain?
The price that poorly engineered storm water drains can exact was deeply felt by Gangtok in 1997 when several lives were lost and a building toppled when the rain water ran on the road and then into buildings instead of getting carried away by the drains. Two decades since, and the situation has only worsened. New trouble-spots have cropped up and it is not just the drains to blame, also causing this madness every time it rains is the insensitivity with which people construct [buildings], store their building material and how many in Gangtok still dispose their garbage. It’s the uncivility of the Gangtok way of life that is causing as much harm as the corruption which delivered Gangtok a drainage system too ineffectual for its topography, road alignments and habitation spread. There is invariably as much household and hotel waste flowing down the highway with every downpour as there is mud and rocks that the rain carved out of the hill. These are not unrelated constituents of a ‘landslide’. A pile of garbage in an out-of-sight spot in a too cramped for a garbage truck to reach spot is as effective in triggering a slide as recklessly disposed building excavation mud in an out-of-sight spot. Both are imposed on the slopes and both slip with a heavy shower and scratch out a larger landslip as they roll down and gather strength. The drains, already dodgy in their effectiveness, are denied even a face-saving carriage because they are already clogged with everything that should not be in them. While this is reasonably harmless in the drier winter months, it adds to everyone’s woes when the nights receive rainfall. The downpour washes these piles of garbage off their heaps and spreads them across the road, pours them into nearby homes and squeezes them into drains and clogs them.
The capital still has some weeks at hand to do at least a bandaid repair of its drains. And now will also be the time to have the engineers survey the roads during rains, identify the more serious failures in the drainage system, and if these can’t be fixed, then at least keep them on a watch list for disaster mitigation interventions. Does it not worry anyone that the Pani House stretch pours down slush every monsoon, mostly blocking the highway, but also occasionally jumping the lane into buildings across the road? Why is it that this has still not been “trained”? There is also the scouring of the road surface every monsoon. This is not caused by water and vehicles, but is a damage wrought by construction litter and debris from exposed, and thereby potentially threatening, slopes.