City planning void
What Imphal is witnessing today is evidence of how poorly
the city is planned, and how devoid of vision city planners have
been in all these years. This is probably true of all other rapidly
growing urban centres in the state as well, but none would have
reached the crisis level that Imphal has today. Nowhere would it
have been imagined that just two days of incessant rain and a
modern city can be left in knee deep water. One of the reasons
is, practically all the drainage systems in Imphal are clogged
and non-functional. This cannot be all blamed on city planners,
for it has a also lot to do with the public’s lack of civic sense.
It is not at all uncommon to see people dumping solid wastes
at will into the city drains as if this was something perfectly
legitimate. This is indeed also a situation of a city outgrowing
the mentality of its denizens, leaving them far behind, stuck
to rural agrarian lifestyles of the past, and therefore at a loss
adjusting to city life and infrastructures. A campaign to spread
awareness in this regard is vital, and the new government must
immediately embark on the mission with the long term objective
of beating future flash floods such as we are witnessing today.
There are however many other issues that point at myopic
city planning. Imphal has virtually been allowed to grow as it
pleases its residents. If the population had remained stagnant
and therefore sparse as it once would have been say a 100 years
ago, when Imphal probably was no better than a large village,
things would have been fine with this. Land being plenty, there
would hardly have been any need for residents to encroach
public spaces. Now such encroachments are rampant which
is why lanes and bylanes are getting progressively narrower.
Once upon a time, the traditional drainage system, formed by a
network of khongban was elaborate. They were like interlinked
canals so that if they drained excess water from the habitation
areas, they become irrigation water once they flowed out and join
the khongban along paddy fields. If not this, then they drained
into wetlands, of which there were plenty even in the vicinity of
Imphal. Lamphelpat, Porompat, Takyelpat, Keishampat, Sangaipat
etc., were some of these. Pat as we know, in Manipuri refers to
natural water bodies. All these have now been drained out and
reclaimed as real estate or else as land for public infrastructure
development. Their natural function as reservoirs, to store rain
water during monsoons, and to provide water during dry seasons,
is now more or less made defunct. Together with them, so have
the khongban disappeared or else shrunk in size unrecognisably.
It would also not be an exaggeration to say that city planning in
Imphal for a long time has been about building box shops, these
too done extremely unimaginatively. The distinctive identity and
charm architecture provides good cities anywhere is completely
missing in the case of Imphal. No relationship has been tried
to be established between the functionality of available space
and aesthetics. The larger picture of global concern for the
state of nature too seems totally missed and therefore any effort
to blend the growth of the city with the natural eco system is
also conspicuous by its absence. Had Imphal’s growth been
monitored to meet the challenges of the direction of the wind,
the sun, the ferocity of the monsoons, the harshness of the
dry season, availability of water, all this against the inevitable
backdrop of a constantly increasing population etc, probably
our crisis would not have been as severe as it seems now.
All is however not lost yet. Things can still be salvaged
given the will, and we hope the new government will give its
attention to this area too. As for instance, one of the ways to
tackle the water-logging problem during monsoon, as well as
drought during the dry season, would be, besides unclogging its
drainage system, to recreate the water bodies that once were.
They cannot be of the same expanse as they were once, but
to make up for the loss in area, they can be made artificially
deeper. Some portions of Lampelpat, Sangaipat, Porompat etc,
can still be left untouched and developed into artificial lakes
and reservoirs, serving the additional purpose of beautifying
the city, over and above flood and drought control. This is just
a suggestion on a way out. There can be plenty more if the
authorities are willing to give premium to out of the box thinking.
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