MUMBAI: The US consulate warned its citizens to beware of open manholes in Mumbai during monsoon season, rankling city officials who objected on Tuesday to being singled out for spotty safety standards.
Mumbai is India's financial and entertainment capital, but it is also a heart-stopping, crowded city with crumbling infrastructure and a tendency to flood during the annual monsoon rains.
During particularly heavy rains in 2005, more than 400 people died in floods, house collapses and landslides.
It was with these conditions in mind that the US consulate posted a warning on Monday urging travellers to “pay attention when walking, since sidewalks are nonexistent in some areas or used for other purposes in most parts of the city. It's possible that you could inadvertently step into an open manhole.”
A senior Mumbai official took umbrage at the American warning. “Even an economically advanced country can suffer. Mumbai is not the only one with flooding problems,” Mumbai municipal commissioner Jairaj Phatak said on Wednesday. “Only 10 people have died after falling into manholes in seven years. So in a population of 12 million, the incidents are rare.”
Phatak distributed copies of news reports about recent flooding in the American Midwest during a Tuesday news conference “to show it can happen anywhere,” he said.
“Maybe Americans will be advised not to go to Wisconsin also,” he said.
Mumbai's civic workers remove manhole covers to allow water to drain during the four-month monsoon season. They place thin wooden sticks with red flags near open manholes, but heavy flood waters often wash the markers away.
Phatak said Mumbai authorities usually dispatch officers to stand by open manholes to warn motorists and pedestrians.
The city’s infrastructure has long been a source of frustration for residents. “The municipality needs to do something sometime to stop this yearly flooding,” said Arjun Sathe, a shop owner.—AP