How a Velachery RWA’s efforts helped them avert floods this year

Citizen engagement in Chennai

chennai flooding
Chennai was widely affected by floods in 2015. Pic: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The infamous floods of 2015 were a catalyst for the formation of many a residents’ welfare association (RWA) in Velachery and other parts of the city. The need for collective action was felt acutely during this time as residents were marooned in more ways than one. The AGS Colony Residents’ Welfare Association (ACRWA) in Velachery West was started as a response to the crisis that ensured during the floods and the difficult aftermath that many residents had to deal with.  

Some home truths from the floods

The 2015 floods were a difficult time for all Chennaiites, especially those in AGS Colony, as flood waters did not recede even after three to four days. Most ground-floor houses were submerged and people lost their belongings.

During this time, the residents understood the need for our input in flood mitigation and monsoon management. We floated the residents’ welfare association with the key goal of improving the neighbourhood.

The following Northeast Monsoons in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 saw the situation remain almost the same with little improvement in flood mitigation. Our previous representations had yielded only minor tangible results because of reasons we could not fathom. This was when the members decided to pursue a different approach by establishing a working relationship with all officials assigned to our area on a regular basis. This was a must to achieve our basic demands for the overall development of the area.


Read more: All you should know about forming an RWA in Chennai


RWAs as a knowledge centre

The RWA members had a battery of suggestions on flood mitigation based on their experience in recent years. We decided to take them up one by one with the officials whom we had built a rapport with over time.

We took upon our first demand of flood-free neighbourhoods with the installation of a permanent pump house for flood mitigation. Based on our suggestion, a pump house was set up at the disposal point of Veerangal Odai where storm/rain waters from more than 35 colonies empty into the Pallikaranai marsh.

Until the imposition of lockdowns due to COVID-19, a major part of the work of the RWA was to would travel to Ripon Building, the headquarters of the Greater Chennai Corporation at least once or twice a week to engage the officials. The members also frequented the Zonal Office in Adyar on a weekly basis with our suggestions and inputs. The RWA also created a technical team comprising retired civil engineers who guide us with the suggestions which we put forth to the civic body.

The construction of the permanent pump house was completed in November 2020 during the pandemic period and started its operation on December 4, 2020.

Our Velachery-based RWA has worked relentlessly on achieving the main goal of a flood-free area, in order to save residents from a nightmare every time it rains.

RWA involvement in stormwater drain creation

During the monsoon in 2021, the flooding returned. This was when the importance of an effective stormwater drain network was underscored. The RWA requested our ward officials to conduct an inspection along with office-bearers and our technical team to identify issues with the SWD network.

velachery flooding
Flooding during the 2021 monsoon. Pic: ACRWA
velachery rwa rains
A flooded bus stop in Velachery. Pic: ACRWA
chennai rains and urban floods
Flooded residential neighbourhood in Velachery. Pic: ACRWA

After an inspection that lasted more than three hours, we sent a final proposal to the civic body identifying the missing links, spots for interlinking of SWDs, locations where it is necessary to construct new drains and a request for the demolition and reconstruction of brick drains to Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC).

The proposal was accepted by the civic body and work started in May 2022. The entire process was completed in a record time of five months. The consistent follow-up we had with GCC and the motivation to make our colony flood-free helped these efforts.

Efforts come to fruition

After the onset of the Northeast Monsoon this year, the magnitude of rain in Velachery and other parts of the city has been such that the entire area would have faced severe inundation if not for the action taken in the past few months. Linking of drains, RCC reconstruction, and construction of new drains to ease outflow to the nearest disposal instead of detour all played a huge part in keeping parts of Velachery flood-free, as hoped for by the RWA.

swd impact
SWD network prevented water-stagnation and flooding this year. Pic: ACRWA
flood free streets of velachery
Flood-free streets in Velachery in 2022. Pic: ACRWA

The RWA monitored the work closely along with the officials and the contractors on a daily basis to sort out minor issues that cropped up during the time of construction effectively. Our residents cooperated very well in sync with our activities and supported us in achieving our goals.

There were a few areas that saw water stagnation and some SWDs took more time to dispose of water as the inflow was heavy. These small shortcomings were noted down and the civic body has been apprised of these issues to be corrected before the next spell of rain.  

There is still a long way to go before this monsoon ends. But the members of the RWA and residents in the area are confident that the coordination between residents and government agencies will hold us in good stead even if rains were to intensify.


Read more: Nature-based solutions: The answer to flooding in Chennai?


RWAs taking up a variety of issues

Since its inception, the RWA has accomplished various goals by engaging closely with officials of multiple government agencies. There is now a 100 per cent potable water supply to all streets in our area after a continuous follow-up with the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) which changed old damaged lines, arranged for new distribution lines, and linked other streets which were deprived of water pipelines.

The OSR gifted to GCC by AGS Cooperative Society has been developed into a beautiful Republic Day Park in 2018. 

The next goals have been to create a direct link road to Velachery 100 Feet Bypass Road and to MRTS IRR.

There is no public hospital or a community hall in our neighbourhood and we are coordinating with the Department of Health, Government of Tamil Nadu for the construction of the same in a vacant land belonging to GoTN.

Pointers for other RWAs on engaging with government agencies

  1. First, we should know the hierarchy of any organisation that the RWA wishes to engage with. In the case of GCC, Assistant Engineers should be the first person of contact for any needs, as they are the ones who are in charge of the particular ward and are always on call in their respective areas. If ineffective, the matter can then be escalated to Assistant Executive Engineer, Executive Engineer, Zonal officer and Regional Deputy Commissioner (North Zone, Central Zone and South Zone). If there are any issues or clarifications needed by RDC for taking up the petition, residents can take an appointment with Commissioner for suitable action/solution. 
  2. Once any project is commissioned, RWAs need to monitor their progress on a daily basis and discuss the pros and cons with the AE and other field officials. RWAs should never instruct the contractors by themselves. If any issue needs attention, RWAs can contact the respective AE or AEE and suggest possible fixes which will then be communicated to the contractors entrusted with doing the job. 

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