Mumbai: Once again, as heavy rains in excess of 200mm lashed the city in a span of 24 hours between Monday night and Tuesday, crucial meteorological and civic information — which could potentially save lives, and property and prevent a great deal of public inconvenience — remained inaccessible to the public.
The India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) doppler weather radar (DWR) at Colaba was defunct since early Tuesday, while a second, C-band DWR at Veravali, near Jogeshwari, produced images at an interval of only about an hour, which is too slow to have any real use in disaster management, experts pointed out. This was also the case when the season’s first showers approached Mumbai on June 19. Last year, too, the Colaba radar had remained defunct on June 9, when the southwest monsoon made an early entry into Mumbai, causing extremely heavy rain. Once again, IMD officials did not provide any clear reasons for this, except that the Colaba radar is having “maintenance issues”.
“Real-time monitoring of clouds and rainfall over Mumbai-MMR during the monsoon season is an extremely important part of disaster management. A doppler weather radar gives perfect information about clouds, their movement, and rainfall on a real-time basis, which helps in alerting people. The dense network of rain gauges and public CCTVs in Mumbai supplements this surveillance process. It cannot be an alternative to a fully working radar which produces images at an interval of 10-15 minutes during the active monsoon,” said Akshay Deoras, an independent meteorologist at the University of Reading, UK.
Meanwhile, data from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) iFLOWS system, which was inaugurated in June 2020 to provide water-logging alerts to citizens, remained completely blank, featuring no information on inundation across various parts of Mumbai. Developed by the BMC and the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the iFLOWS-Mumbai system is the second for any urban city (after Chennai) in the country so far, and was developed to provide citizens with information on which areas of the city will be waterlogged, on a ward-wise basis, within a rolling 12-hour window.
Sangeeta Lokhande, deputy director of the BMC’s disaster management cell, however, said, “The iFLOWS system is working for us in the control room and is providing us with predictive analysis that we are using to tackle water-logging in the city and suburbs. It should be available via the MCGM Disaster Management mobile application which is free to the public. I will look into it.” Jayanta Sarkar, head of the IMD’s regional centre in Mumbai, said, “We are giving the BMC all the data that is required for iFLOWS. The user interface does not come under IMD.”
Experts, however, said that using this tool only in a behind-the-scenes manner beats the purpose for which it was developed. They also pointed out that the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology’s Mumbai Mesonet observation network, comprising various rain gauges placed strategically across the city, is currently not functioning at capacity. This may in turn also be impacting the functioning of the iFLOWS system, which operates on data from rain gauges.
“There is a major flaw in the rainfall surveillance system. Not all rain gauges set up under the Mumbai Mesonet observations network are recording rainfall properly. Furthermore, this information is not being properly displayed on their website. The same is applicable to the iFLOWS system, which is supposed to provide a picture of inundation as well as alert people. The data of rainfall and water logging must be made available to citizens in a simplified format so that they can properly plan their travel as per real-time conditions, the way Google traffic maps give one a real-time picture of traffic and mobility,” Deoras added.