The Ambur railway station was a sight of debacle. As the Duranto Express from Howrah rolled through the stagnant waters on the tracks, we as passengers could only pray that we reached home on time.
A second thought brought me nothing but shame when I realised that just a few minutes into the water made me yearn for dry land when lakhs of people are residing in absolute misery hours on, with no food, medicine, or basic amenities.
God intervened and inflicted more shame as we watched families helplessly clinging to the train to get a passage to someplace safe. But that was not to be.
Attendants and passengers on the train managed to take some on board (when the train slowed down) on humanitarian grounds, while others kept begging for help--hands splayed so that someone held it in rescue, eyes wide open in utter dispair and disbelief at the reality that the onlookers were equally helpless.
An old woman begged, not for money, but for some food, a man came running along the train asking for a strip of Calpol. Agreed, all of them lived in shacks but what warranted conditions warranted for their fate? nothing or is it really something that is hidden from the eye?
Back in Karnataka, in the well-aired and heated centrally air-conditioned premises of my office room, the sordidness persists. My colleagues and seniors from Tamil Nadu have mist in their eyes-guilty of 'survival' in comfort. But the images are vivid in my memories. But, I can only empathise and not relate.
Exemplary of the woes of technology and urbanization, the Chennai floods have opened our eyes to the stark reality of deforestation and global warming. Indeed man-made, the reason behind the debacle is clear on google satellite images of Chennai in 2000 and the city today.
The chest-thumping of the Chennai municipality over the 'monsoon-ready' sewerage system paid its price.
Relentless deforestation and filling up of lakes has resulted in this! Chennai's original terrain comprised lakes and marsh lands that absorbed rain water. Over 5,550 hectares of wetlands in the IT Corridor of Velachery, Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallikaranai have been developed into real-estate, which has crippled the rain water absorption.
What to do?
With a population of 4.344 million, Chennai forms approximately 6% of the total state population that accounts for 67.86 million. In fact, the city is the third most densely populated city in the country.
C Lakshmanan, professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) had once in an interview to the New Indian Express had said,"A city may come up with an eight storey library worth over `100 crore, while the same money could have been used for other beneficial purposes. The question really is, will there be equal distribution of amenities to the to the working class who constitute the majority of the urban population, and keep our economy rolling."
Add to this, the ever increasing influx of the poor. Once a poor, working class family is uprooted from their locality, the family members including children forego all the health and education facilities they derived until then, and move to the slums near their locations of employment."
Thus, taxing the city even more.
The damage has already been done and there cannot be a reversal in the situation. All that can be done is planning, that too an efficient one.