Mumbai sensitive about its manholes

There has been a little bit of a diplomatic incident in Mumbai with regards to a warning posted on the U.S. Consulate’s website that warns Americans walking around the city to be careful not to drop down manholes into the sewer:

Dear American citizens:

We bring this warden message to your attention so you can carefully consider the information it contains. Please pass along the information below to the American citizens in your area or put this information on your notice boards for dissemination. Thank you for your cooperation…

The monsoon has arrived in western India, and Mumbai is experiencing the season’s storms. With these come the possibility of heavy flooding. Heavy rains and associated winds can, at times, have the same intensity as a tropical storm. The rains during monsoon are significant and, in July 2005, led to heavy loss of life. You should follow common sense precautions, avoiding low-lying areas that appear to be flooded. Also be extremely cautious when driving or walking during flood periods. To ease flooding in Mumbai, Bombay Municipal Corporation workers will open manhole covers on roads, and there may be no markers. Tree branches upright on streets sometimes serve as caution signals. In reduced visibility conditions, you could drive into one of these open manholes. You should also pay attention when walking, since sidewalks are non-existent 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. [Link]

SM commenters have previously discussed the “manhole problem” on this thread. However, the pride of some officials was hurt over the above statement.

Mumbai city officials are upset by an American warning about the risks of falling into manholes in India’s commercial capital during the monsoon season… The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation rejected the statement, and said it had e-mailed the U.S. consulate on Wednesday stating it had cast the city in a bad light.

Jairaj Phatak, the municipal commissioner, estimates that 10 people or fewer have died in such a manner in recent years. [Link]

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I like the “10 people or fewer” comment because it speaks to the different thresholds applied to a public safety problem in the U.S. and India. Maybe instead of denying the problem the officials should instead launch a PR campaign by highlighting that Indian manholes are used all over the U.S. Something like “India: Securing American holes since 19##.”

30 thoughts on “Mumbai sensitive about its manholes

  1. NYC manhole covers are also made in India. I think I have also seen India-made manhole covers in Jersey City. But the problem is not the covers, right, it’s the absence of them that causes people to fall into manholes.

  2. Abhi: Just because Manholes are made in India does not mean they are bad, as long as they are placed where they are supposed to be. Houstonians need not fear as long as these manholes are properly placed on the respective holes they are supposed to cover. Moreover, I did’nt know that they have monsoon rains in Houston, and even if they do with all the rocket scientists at NASA I hope they are not stupid to leave those holes open. Hmm.

  3. and said it had e-mailed the U.S. consulate on Wednesday stating it had cast the city in a bad light.

    Unbelievable. I hate it when an Indian politician or public sector worker says something like this. You know what casts the city in a bad light? Crappy manholes!

  4. Maybe, like an alcholic, Indians should accept that there is a problem with common social values accepted as norm in other countries. Only then we can start fixing these issues.

    I’m completely shocked that this article somehow digressed into Indian manhole covers in the US!!! IT IS ABOUT PEOPLE FALLING INTO OPEN MANHOLES IN INDIA!

    Beleive me, it happend to my best friend growing up, 15 years ago. Things haven’t changed a bit ha ha.

  5. After reading the title of this article, as a gay man, I thought that the article was going to go in a totally different direction… ;)

  6. Not defending the famously thin skinned babus, but spare some thought for resource-constrained workers. Bombay is an island, group of islands really. High tide pushes water in the island. Add 48 hours of heavy rain and you get the picture. To put it in context, it takes 20 minutes of heavy rain to flood uptown Houston.

    I’ve lived a large part of my life in one such low lying area (neck level water 5 times a season). Open manholes are usually clearly marked w/ bamboos. Sometimes force of water knocks them over, but usually locals step in and put make shift markers. Of course things are bound go wrong w/ city of this size.

  7. Considering the number of people that die in landslides during the monsoons, the number of people falling through manhole covers is minuscule. I wish that rather than write letters to the American Embassy, the babus were doing something about preventing landslide deaths

  8. You should also pay attention when walking, since sidewalks are non-existent in some areas

    Hahaha, not like American suburbs where sidewalks are non-existent because everyone has a big, fat SUV.

    One of my earliest memories of coming to America was in my first month of grad school when I had to go to a gawd-awful suburb of Chicago to meet people I knew from India. Naively, I thought I could take the bus and then walk the 1.5 miles from the bus stop to their house. Only, I had to walk on the street because there was no sidewalk, and a passing cruiser slowed down to check on what this strange desi man was doing plodding along a street where people only drove.

  9. 9 · TigerYogiji said

    After reading the title of this article, as a gay man, I thought that the article was going to go in a totally different direction… ;)

    After reading the title of this article, I too hought it would go in a totally different direction… But hey, it’s about safety, right? Maybe it’s not so different after all. ;)

  10. You should also pay attention when walking, since sidewalks are non-existent in some areas

    This is so true! Also, I think missing manhole covers are less worrisome than the open gutters present in some neighborhoods of Bombay (ie Ghatkopar). Those are disgusting! And they are dangerous year-round becuase you chance falling into them year-round whether covered by flood water or not.

  11. Naively, I thought I could take the bus and then walk the 1.5 miles from the bus stop to their house. Only, I had to walk on the street because there was no sidewalk, and a passing cruiser slowed down to check

    What! They did not pick you up from campus in their SUV! The gall of some folks.

  12. 13 · cicatrix said

    9 · TigerYogiji said
    After reading the title of this article, as a gay man, I thought that the article was going to go in a totally different direction… ;)
    After reading the title of this article, I too hought it would go in a totally different direction… But hey, it’s about safety, right? Maybe it’s not so different after all. ;)

    No safety concerns in India ;)

  13. the open gutters present in some neighborhoods of Bombay (ie Ghatkopar).

    as a kid, a couple of cousins and i once held another of our little cousins over one of those things and threated to dunk him in it because he annoyed me about something.

    still makes me disgusted at myself when i think about it. (of course, we never did anything about our threat, but i can remember him kicking his legs and bawling in fear.)

  14. 14 · BadIndianGirl said

    You should also pay attention when walking, since sidewalks are non-existent in some areas
    This is so true! Also, I think missing manhole covers are less worrisome than the open gutters present in some neighborhoods of Bombay (ie Ghatkopar). Those are disgusting! And they are dangerous year-round becuase you chance falling into them year-round whether covered by flood water or not.

    Hey, Ghatkopar is no better or worse than any other suburb of Mumbai, I lived there long enough.

    Instead of manhole covers, BMC needs to worry about train deaths in Mumbai, usually 4000 a year.

  15. It happens! I’m right now looking at an x-ray scan of my leg after I disappeared down a manhole in Hyderabad last week. The only bad light being cast was from the non-existant Bashir Bagh street lighting…

  16. If you ever drive around in downtown Houston you may see open drain covers in the right hand lanes of many streets. Unfortunately since these street drainage covers are rectangular in shape, they fall into the drains. Surprisingly, they pop open from buses and heavy SUVs driving and braking quickly over them and causing them to fall back into the gutters.

    …perhaps the Indian consulate should put a sign up at the Indian Embassy here warning Indian Visitors to be at caution when driving in downtown Houston streets as to not drive their vehicle into one of those open gutters.

  17. Funny enough, this was a plot device in Kandukondain Kandukondain. Aishwarya Rai’s character Meenakshi falls into a manhole cover and then becomes deathly ill (just like Kate Winslet wandering the English countryside in driving rain and developing pneumonia). She’s rescued by Major Bala (Mammootty), then becomes smitten with him.

  18. I am surprised the US Embassy did not issue a warning about more serious monsoon hazards leptospirosis and electrocution.

  19. Maybe instead of denying the problem the officials should instead launch a PR campaign by highlighting that Indian manholes are used all over the U.S. Something like “India: Securing American holes since 19##.”

    I have my own slogan for my PR campaign:

    “Indian, scoring American holes since 2001″

  20. LOL! Here’s an alternate title “American a-holes falling into Indian manholes”

  21. This is why globalization sucks, it’s because of global demand that Indians can’t afford the very manhole covers they make. Oh to live like a pastoralist in the Narmada basin…

  22. why “manholes” are called manholes..why not womanholes. Thats a serious question!

  23. In a related story:

    When George Bush was asked why there was such a big flood in Iowa City, he responded: “Well, you know..eh… those Indians in India, now …these days they are using better quality manholes. Because of that the prices of manholes is increasing here and causing shortage of quality manholes…”

  24. a family friend died this way several years ago. it happens and is tragic. the us consulate was absolutely right to issue the warning, and instead of whining, the mumbai government should find a proper way to alleviate risks to pedestrians in their city during monsoon season.

  25. How come no one has commented on NYC basement traps that are right on the sidewalk? A friend of mine once bounced right into one that was open in the dark. One moment I was speaking to him, and the in the next he was just not there. There are thousands of such traps left open in Manhattan, and no one complains. Everyone picks on India.