Flood fury in Thane

Print edition : July 20, 2002

The monsoon wreaks havoc in Maharashtra's Thane district, but the response of the local administration has been inadequate.

THE monsoon's first heavy spell of rain in Maharashtra this year, which began on June 26, caused unprecedented havoc in Thane district. Five days of torrential rain caused flash floods which claimed about 60 lives and an unknown number of livestock in the partially rural district.

"They say floods like this come once every 100 years," said Dhakar Bindiya, the railway linesman who has become a local hero after he detected a fault on Western Railway's mainline track that links Mumbai with Delhi. For decades Thane district has not experienced such destruction as it did in the last week of June.

The 145-year-old stone bridge that was damaged in the floods.-COURTESY: WESTERN RAILWAY

On June 26, Thane recorded 375 mm of rainfall after 12 hours of continuous downpour. In the following 48 hours, 1,169 mm of rainfall was recorded. The numbers take on more meaning when it is realised that the region's annual seasonal rainfall is about 2,000 mm. The floods caused widespread destruction. Farmland that was being readied for the kharif sowing season was destroyed. As many as 94 of the 222 affected villages in Thane were rendered uninhabitable. About 100 pucca (brick-and-mortar) structures were destroyed and about 3,000 kuccha (mud-and-straw) homes vanished in the floods. Communication lines to the area were disrupted for almost a week. Flood water levels were as high as 12 feet (3.6 metres) in some places, and power supply had to be cut off for safety reasons. Flood waters washed away the ballast underneath railway tracks, thus disrupting train services.

Medical services were severely hit. Rural Thane has a large tribal population, and at the best of times the tribal people's access to medical services is poor. The disaster only served to highlight the lack of well-staffed and well-stocked primary health care (PHC) centres in the area. The rural PHC in Tarapur was badly affected. The PHC, in Dahanu taluk, is a crucial one because it takes care of the health needs of about 50,000 people. Flood waters washed away everything - medical equipment, cots, medicines - and for six days medical supplies were not available.

Seven relief camps were set up by the local administration but there was a sense of dissatisfation about their functioning. Rambhau Dagle, a Warli tribal person from Dahanu, said that he and his family waited for hours in order to get the government handout of grain. "When our turn finally came we were told that the day's stock was over and that we would have to wait." Rambhau and his family spent the night inside a tent made of plastic sheets. The family in a neighbouring tent shared its food with his family. The next morning Rambhau stood in the queue again, this time to collect the cash compensation for his losses. When his turn arrived, Rambhau was given Rs.600 as immediate compensation. He was told that he would receive the remaining amount after he filled in the panchnama forms. The government promised Rs.25,000 to those who lost their family members between the ages of eight and 18 years and Rs.50,000 for the death of those aged 18 years and above.

Dhakar Bindiya, the railway linesman, who detected a breach on the bridge in time.-LYLA BAVADAM

There were allegations of corruption in the disbursement of compensation. Some tribal people in Palghar taluk stormed the Tehsildar's office. They alleged that of the Rs.600 that was due to them as immediate compensation, Rs.100 was being being kept back. They also claimed that they were made to pay Rs.200 to get a panchnama form.

One of the worst casualties of the flash floods was the Western Railway. The Virar-Dahanu Road sector is the main arterial route for the entire network of Western Railway with 40 per cent of the passenger and mail traffic originating from Mumbai.

Train services were suspended for almost a fortnight after linesman Bindiya discovered on June 26 that a section of the track over the middle span of bridge number 144 had practically no support. "His alertness prevented what could have been a terrible disaster," said Kaushal Kishore, Divisional Manager, Western Railway. Twentyfive breaches were found on the track. Seven bridges were affected, the worst being the 145-year-old bridge number 144 near Palghar.

With 1,500 labourers working round the clock, the Western Railway managed to restore services after a fortnight. But the local administration is yet to restore normalcy to the lives and livelihoods of the affected people.

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