Coauthored by Stuti Pachisia, Kartik Sundar and Chirag Chinnappa
“It only has to rain heavily for a short while for the city to get completely submerged. This makes it impossible for me to commute, and I can’t imagine what it is like for someone from a lower-income background”, says Saket, a 24-year-old resident of Bengaluru.
As an urban centre, India’s ‘Silicon Valley’ attracts a vast number of people for education and professional work every year. But, it was never designed to be the country’s third most populous city. For all of its economic prosperity, Kumaraswamy and Co. will have to mitigate the likeliness of Bengaluru coming to a complete standstill in the coming months.
Garden City or Garble City?
In a city as scattered and seemingly unstructured as Bengaluru, town planning is an extremely vital field of expertise. It involves the dynamic balancing of natural and physical elements of a region to create an economically viable habitat. The residents, the environment, the future, potentially damaged areas and expenditure are all integral working components of new plans.
By employing methods which may vary from installing a flyover to envisioning drainage systems, Bangalore has had success stories in improving its residents’ quality of life. The renovation of Church Street, inaugurated by erstwhile CM Siddaramaiah, drew applause from citizens. Looking further back, the Tender SURE roads project has garnered international fame. It focuses on improving infrastructure by uniforming road width, disincentivizing private transport, ensuring proper sidewalks and developing cycle-friendly lanes. So, the potential for positive change lies in the hands of top-level bureaucrats, especially the BBMP in preparing for the incoming monsoon.
Overflowing Stormwater Drains in Bengaluru’s 2017 floods
The Meteorological Centre in Bengaluru noted a 40%-47% increase in rainfall between June and September last year. Researchers from IISc. found that in Bengaluru Urban, floods are caused by inefficient waste disposal and drainage systems, poor city planning and rapid urbanization — which damages the city’s ecological balance.
Built to accommodate newer businesses and employees, urban constructions lead to “the expansion of impervious area, reduced surface infiltration and reduced recharged groundwater”. In turn, this causes water — that could have otherwise been absorbed into the groundwater table — to become run-off. Stagnating in low-lying or congested areas, this floodwater’s deleterious impact is well-known; apart from causing economic damage to property, decreased communication and compromising sanitation, floods bring potentially fatal diseases. “There has been a massive increase in dengue, cholera, typhoid and other protozoal diseases”, says Dr Praveen Bopaiah, a paediatrician in the city.
It is clear that residents are immensely impacted by the floods. Yet, government intervention has failed to bring any kind of long-term relief. Stormwater drains (SWDs) are integral in preventing disasters like last year’s flooding from occurring, but their present condition is far from ideal. For instance, on paper, an SWD called Rajakaluve has been designed to drain excess groundwater from impervious surfaces. This drain connects Bellandur lake from the city market side. But, the drain has been reduced by 50% of its original width of 60 meters!
Clogged and encroached, SWDs are not able to allow for the necessary free-flow of water. The BBMP has failed to clear over 700 encroachment spots over the city, leaving them vulnerable to flash floods at any moment. This danger cannot be underestimated.
Flooding aside, the lack of fencing makes these SWDs dangerous beings. Numerous instances of children falling into swiftly flowing sewage in open drains have been a direct result of the lack of fencing around the SWDs.
Where is the Money?
Bengaluru’s citizens owe their monsoon woes to the mismanagement of funds allocated under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). A major chunk of funds allocated for SWD remodelling has been diverted to less pressing projects like the renovation of the office of a BBMP chief engineer. An approximated Rs 150 crore over 2007-2011 was diverted, leaving areas like ST Bed Layout in Koramangala, which desperately need renovation, at a risk of flash floods.
Last March, the BBMP broke down a retaining wall to replace it with a concrete one. Allegedly costing Rs 600 crore, residents of the area argue that all this was done as a ploy to divert funds. It raises questions of accountability between the bureaucracy, elected MLAs of constituencies and the Government in power.
The Future for Urban Planning
An expanding city has ever-growing water demands. The BBMP needs to remedy its infrastructural inadequacies immediately, so as to minimize the debilitating effect the rains pose to the city as well as maximize the bountiful benefits that rains provide.
Uncontrolled urbanization affects the interconnectivity between the lakes in Bengaluru, which is crucial in dampening the impact of incessant rainfall. From a city with 262 water bodies in 1960, Bengaluru has only 81 remaining. Of these, only 34 are recognized as “live lakes”. Human encroachment on these ‘natural sponges’ obstructs rainwater collection, causing stagnation in low-lying areas.
Post-Chennai in 2015, a standing committee’s half-hearted recommendation that illegal encroachers should be removed is tokenistic — if HDK’s government bites the bullet by going after cash-rich corporate constructions on lake beds, it would significantly bolster the citizens’ faith in the alliance.
Fostering a more participatory approach within local communities could go a long way in maintaining clean drainage paths. Automobile use and factory refuse should be kept in check; because both these enterprises generate heat, they result in what is known as the “heat island effect”. This heat generation and the particulate dust makes an urban area more likely to experience showers, akin to a hot island exclusively experiencing rain. Being cognizant of their actions, apart from reporting authorities’ negligences will go a long way in protecting Bangaloreans from the rains.
Perhaps the most effective method (albeit ambitious for Bengaluru in the next month) would be by the creation of a “Sponge City”, a concept that the Chinese government also holds in high regard. This seeks to restore the lost hydrological characteristics of a development area through rainwater harvesting.
Ousted CM Siddaramaiah made some last-ditch efforts to restore lakes and draw attention to his activities on Twitter and Facebook. Yet, the city’s residents are crying out for action. Imminent intervention and active flood-control monitoring by the BBMP could restore the ecological balance for this man-made disaster that Bangaloreans have come to call ‘monsoon’.
Featured image courtesy Jishnu Ghose