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The City Has Built Itself For This Day

What Patna is seeing today is an outcome of its own selfishness with no sense of building for the community or building along with the community.

It has been nearly a month when Patna, the capital of Bihar experienced 330mm of rainfall which completely inundated the city. Since then water has receded in some parts but many neighborhoods are still wading through water-logged roads. As of today quite a few changes have been brought in. The sump-houses have woken up from its slumber, citizens have conceded that they are responsible for throwing plastic and clogging the drains. The Patna Municipal Corporation has taken fogging and bleaching seriously and after a week-long break on Facebook have started up-dating picture of the same. Such activities are integral to smart-city projects and the urban body is dedicated towards it.

Patna Fogging
(Photo: Facebook/City of Patna – PMC)

The government headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been equally sincere. The urban development department and Bihar Urban Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (BUIDCO) officials have been given show-cause notice or suspended. The Patna High court in the right earnest has taken cognizance of the situation and called for hearing of various PILs filed related to this matter. It gives a fairly good sense of control and purpose. The government has fixed a two month window to clear encroachment in the city, a presumed reason for flooding. And the High court will follow suit with its team of lawyers and litigants. Encroachment has to be cleared in two months will be spelt out aloud.

Anyone who has closely followed the urban conundrum in Bihar over the last few decades would not find anything new or amusing. It is a fixed pattern of operation. Every-time the local newspaper headline reads “Naryiekyie sthithi” or “hellish condition” the city follows this pattern. Way back in 1990’s in Arun Kumar Mukherjee & Ors which was heard in the high court for 13 years along with several other public issues gave judgments on issues of flooding and water-logging. It clearly stated the drains should be made encroachment free in two months. It was also in this cases that the municipality realized it didn’t have a map showing the connections of the big nine drains with the smaller ones in the city.

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Subsequently in 2012 another case filed by Sunil Kumar the high court heard cases related only to water logging on 38 different occasions over a period of several years. The narrative of “encroachment drive” in last 15 years has moved on from a mere encroachment drive to “mega-encroachment drive” undertaken last year changing the nature and scale of these operations. It shows sincerity on part of the government and provides a sense of purpose to the middle-class. After all we like to fix responsibilities.

Patna flood
(Photo: Facebook/Prem Kumar)

On the other hand in this same time period the city has seen vigilance cases on 3233 buildings in the building tribunals, which is a conservative number. And yet we don’t hear about it in this flooding story. Sample this, in Arun Kumar Mukherjee & Ors Patna Municipal Corporation in its affidavit accepted in its inspection conducted on 28.8.2013 that a 6”x9” drain which was constructed thirty years ago had at present on both sides’ seven apartments and thirty-three big buildings. Where does the water drain is anyone’s bet.

Another report identified 7000 buildings constructed from 2009-13 with absolutely no municipal clearance in the city. In yet another enquiry on construction in Ganga riverbed area in 2016 some thirty apartments were identified as illegal and fifty other under construction without clearance. Repeated judgments by the Ganga Green Tribunal has been on deaf years and apartments have been mushrooming. And yet it is encroachment drive which means clearance of hawkers, slum-pockets and other informal occupations which aims to provide panacea to all our problems.

Simply put there is no city so systematically encroached, the land-use planning mutilated and built upon as Patna clearly by its middle-class and the elites. Neighborhoods after neighborhoods over the decades have been built without even common-sense adherence to land-use, drainage and sewerage system, I am not even emphasizing on things like master-plan. And these are middle-class neighborhoods full of bureaucrats, advocates, government engineers and politicians who have been at the forefront of flouting every rule in the book. What Patna is seeing today is an outcome of its own selfishness with no sense of building for the community or building along with the community. Now let us pay closer look at the localities and degree of flood intensity.

patna flood
(Photo: Facebook)

Some of the most flooded residential areas were Rajendarnagar, Kankarnagh, Lohanipur and Patliputra among several others. Rajendarnagar and Kankarbagh were the first planned residential colonies built by Patna Improvement Trust way back in 1956. Srikrishnagar was another residential neighborhood built by PIT in 1962.  In an enquiry commission report in 1969 it was noted “the municipal areas faced acute problems of water logging due to non-completion of drains by Patna Improvement Trust and those which had been completed were reported having defective construction. Particularly for drainage and sewerage network projects lands had to be acquired and were abandoned due to lack of willingness”.

Houses constructed by the Bihar housing Board in 1970’s and 1980’s in Lohanipur, Bahadurpur and Hanumannagar for example were of very poor quality and with no maintenance what so ever. Basic infrastructure like drainage, sewerage and roads were never completed. For example in Lohia Nagar the soil sewerage, storm sewerage and drains were faulty and had not been even inter-linked at several places. Even today several of these neighborhoods are embroiled in land allocation, encroachment and ownership related litigation. Historically both Patna Improvement (PIT) and Bihar State Housing Board (BSHB) failed in providing housing for Economically Weaker Section (EWS), Janta Housing or for the Lower Income Group (LIG). With the help of meticulous paper-work in collusion with the state land meant for the urban poor and LIG groups were changed into MIG and HIG residential areas. Even land demarcated for public parks, roads and in several cases the drainage sites itself were built upon.  The case in point is Aniket Housing Society, which was made exclusively by the IAS lobby by altering the original master-plan.

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But the state and the citizens, every one of us in the city like to believe that it is “encroachment drives” which will cure us from our sins which we have committed. These residential colonies have valorized to sites of expensive real-estate without any adherence to building rules and regulations. Boring Road, Srikrishnagar, S.K.Puri, Kankarbagh and Rajendarnagar have turned into commercial and institutional centers.  The middle class can’t spare a 20’ feet road or make a septic tank and drainage system attached to the main pipe-line in its apartment. Last year several evictions happened in the city under the mega-encroachment drive. Where have these hawkers gone in the absence of a completely operational hawker zone in the city. What has happened to the residents of Bind Tola along the Digha-Sonepur Expressway or the Tes-lal verma nagar near Patliputra railway station? It is they who will be reeling under the flood-water for a long time to come once the city flushes out its rain-water in river Punpun and Ganga.

Sheema Fatima is an urban researcher at TISS, Mumbai and is writing the history of urban Patna for her doctoral work.

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