Desperate for rains

April 05, 2010

Mumbai municipality to induce rains; activists call it a sham

torrential rains pounded Mumbai in the last week of June, but failed to help the city tide over the severe water shortage. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is now making frantic efforts to ease the crisis. On July 15, its standing committee decided to induce artificial rains through cloud seeding.

As per plan, cloud seeding will be carried out in two phases. In the first phase starting end of July, silver iodide will be burnt in the open air so that its smoke rises to the clouds and induces rain. If this fails to yield sufficient rainfall, then the second phase will be launched in August-September. An aircraft will fly to the height of the cloud and seed it with the silver iodide fumes. “For the first phase lasting a week, we have hired a Mumbai-based expert Shantilal N Meckoni. It will cost us Rs 15 lakh,” said Anil Diggikar, additional commissioner (projects) of the municipality.

In 1992, Meckoni conducted a similar experiment. Though its results are still contested, Diggikar claimed the experiment had triggered 25 mm to 100 mm rainfall. “Cloud seeding from aircraft is expensive and will cost Rs 8 crore. We have hired a Bangalore-based private aviation company,” he said.

But Mumbai received a fair share of rainfall this monsoon. Then why the scramble? Greater Mumbai receives water from six lakes—Bhatsa, Modak Sagar, Tansa, Vihar, Tulsi and Upper Vaitarna—whose catchment areas are in the adjoining Thane district. Scanty rainfall in Thane this season has forced the corporation to look for alternatives. “At the current level, Bhatsa’s water will last for 50 days. Rest of the lakes can supply water for 30 days,” said Diggikar. The water shortage forced the corporation to declare a 20 per cent cut in June; this was raised to 30 per cent in the first week of July.

Civic activists termed the exercise a futile effort and wastage of public money. “We have been campaigning for the corporation to adopt measures like recycling and reusing wastewater and plugging leakages. But the corporation has failed to do anything,” said James John, member of a Mumbai-based non-profit, Action for Good Governance and Networking in India. Harvested rainwater can be used for cleaning, flushing and washing cars. But these are not a priority for the corporation, which is trying to pacify citizens with cloud seeding,” said John. The civic body is also planning to set up a desalination plant in the next two years as a long-term measure to tackle water shortage.

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