THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 31 October 2020 Time for a ‘sponge cities’ mission in India (The Hindu)

Time for a ‘sponge cities’ mission in India (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2: National 
Prelims level: Sponge City
Mains level: Developmental issues, Urbanization, their problems and their remedies.


  • Unpredictablenature, unbridledavarice and untrammelled urbanisation are back in currency, this time, in the wake of torrential rains in the third week of October in Hyderabad.

Flood Crisis:

  • The scale of destruction has been unprecedented. This experience is not unique to the city of Hyderabad but something that cities across India have been experiencing in recent years.
  • Barely five years ago, it was Chennai that saw a massive flood costing much damage and lives; Gurugram over the past few years comes to a complete standstill during the monsoon months, and for Mumbai, the monsoon has become synonymous with flooding and enormous damages.

The Case of Hyderabad:

  • The rainfall received in 2020 has been the highest for the month of October in a century.
  • Every year, the rains bring something unprecedented with them. But our constant, unwavering attention to the rainfall levels draws our attention away from our inability to manage the city’s drainage systems.
  • The floods of October 2020 occurred because we did not discharge the water in time.
  • And when we did discharge the water, we did it in a sudden, uncontrolled manner.
  • The second is antiquated infrastructure. Hyderabad’s century¬old drainage system (developed in the 1920s) covered only a small part of the core city.
  • The narrative of antiquated infrastructure conceals the fact that the city has grown rapidly, and into areas where there was no drainage infrastructure to begin with.

Communities are left out:

  • The manner in which we talk about recurring floods in the city often reduces the problem to simple dichotomies of public versus private property and individual conduct versus faceless governmental action.
  • This means that we neglect the issues of incremental land use change, particularly of those commons which pro- vide us with necessary ecological support — wetlands.
  • This framing also disavows the role of local communities in managing local ecosystems — people with traditional rights for fishing and farming.
  • We need to start paying attention to the management of our wetlands by involving local communities.
  • The risk is going to increase year after year with changing rainfall patterns and a problem of urban terrain which is incapable of absorbing, holding and discharging water.

Making cities preamble:

  • Urban floods of this scale cannot be contained by the municipal authorities alone.
  • In Hyderabad, this can be done by the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority.
  • We need a mission that mitigates flood risk and provides a pathway to water security.
  • The most promising idea across the world at this time appears to be the idea of “sponge cities”.
  • The idea of a sponge city is to make cities more permeable so as to hold and use the water which falls upon it.
  • Sponge cities absorb the rain water, which is then naturally filtered by the soil and allowed to reach urban aquifers.
  • This allows for the extraction of water from the ground through urban or peri-urban wells.
  • This water can be treated easily and used for city water supply.
  • In built form, this implies contiguous open green spaces, interconnected waterways, and channels and ponds across neighbourhoods that can naturally detain and filter water.
  • These can all be delivered effectively through an urban mission along the lines of the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) and Smart Cities Mission.

Watersheds, terrain alteration:

  • Watershed management and emergency drainage plan is next. This should be clearly enunciated in policy and law.
  • Urban water-sheds are micro ecological drainage systems, shaped by contours of terrain.
  • The Metropolitan Development Authorities, National Disaster Management Authority, State revenue and irrigation departments along with municipal corporations should be involved in such work together.
  • A ban on any further alteration of terrain needs to be introduced.
  • To improve the city’s capacity to absorb water, new porous materials and technologies must be encouraged or mandated across scales. Examples of these technologies are bioswales and retention systems, permeable material for roads and pavement, drainage systems which allow storm water to trickle into the ground, green roofs and harvesting systems in buildings.

Stop the blame, start the action:

  • Acknowledging the role of different actors for the city can create a practical space to begin this work.
  • Doing so will not just help control recurring floods but also respond to other fault lines, provide for water security, more green spaces, and will make the city resilient and sustainable.
  • We can learn to live with nature, we can regulate human conduct through the state and we can strategically design where we build.


  • We need to urgently rebuild our cities such that they have the sponginess to absorb and release water without causing so much misery and so much damage to the most vulnerable of our citizens, as we have seen.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the State Development Loans (SDLs), consider the following statements:
1. They are dated securities issued by states for meeting their market borrowings requirements.
2. Each state can borrow upto 50 lakhs through State Development Loans.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: A

Mains Questions:

Q.1) What do you understand by a Sponge City? Discuss its relevance for Indian urban landscape.