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Why the Garden City is submerged under apathy

By Alnoor Peermohamed and Raghu Krishnan
December 18, 2015 09:48 IST
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The Bengaluru airport.Many of the lakes in the city have 'disappeared' along with their water-spreads because of rapid and unbridled urbanisation

A frothy lake in Bengaluru is a tourist attraction as shown on Google Maps.

The chemical-filled foam from the culvert near Bellandur Lake spills on to the road whenever it rains, disrupting traffic and causing health issues to the locals.

The Raja Kaluve or the big canal connects lakes -- around 100 with each other to ensure water flow across the city.

Today, half the lakes in Bengaluru are encroached upon and two-thirds of them are sewage-fed, preventing water flow when it rains.

“Bengaluru is not prepared at all, even though it is at a height, because the drains have been blocked. With whatever little rain we get, we see flooding in many areas. If you get 25 mm or 34 mm in one day, Bengaluru will be a terrible place,” says T V Mohandas Pai, a business leader, who is active in Bengaluru’s governance issues.

On December 1 and 2, Chennai was ravaged by 400 mm of rains.

Bengaluru’s annual rainfall is 866 mm, with the wettest month being October when the city receives 160-170 mm of showers.

The city has natural valleys and artificial storm-water drains built in the 1950s and 1960s to move water away from low-lying regions that were prone to flooding.

These canals connected lakes across the city. In the past three decades, a majority of the lakes have been encroached upon illegally and sometimes with the sanction of the government, too.

“If Bengaluru gets even 50 per cent above-normal rainfall, this place is going to collapse,” says V Ravichandar, an urban affairs expert, who is advising the Karnataka government on Bengaluru’s civic issues.

“The kind of rainfall in Chennai was unprecedented. It was a one-in-a-100-year kind of thing. If there is normal rainfall pattern and that exceeds by about 50 per cent, the city will be in a mess.”

Even with low rains, Bengaluru sees deaths of people who are drowned in floods in lowlying areas.

T V Ramachandra, a scientist at the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, has studied Bengaluru’s failing ecology for three decades.

“Encroachment has exposed weak and inefficient governance. We do not have appropriate drains or sufficient lakes/wetlands to mitigate floods,” says Ramachandra.

Bengaluru’s unrealistic growth (unplanned urbanisation) clearly highlights administrators and decision-makers’ lack of knowledge of landscape management to mitigate water-related eventualities.

A pensioner’s paradise town till the 1980s, Bengaluru had a concentration of trees that also earned it the name of Garden City. The city has grown 10 times since then, mostly unregulated and unplanned converting it into a concrete jungle.

The population of Bengaluru, which has a high concentration of technology workers, has doubled to 8.4 million, according to a 2011 census data. In addition, there is a floating population of workers from across the spectrum.

The economic boom aided by software outsourcing resulted in more vehicles on roads.

In 1991, Bengaluru had 361,000 vehicles on its roads. It has grown 16 times to 5.87 million as of October this year.

This is among the highest density of vehicles in India.

During peak hours, vehicles crawl on main roads at less than 10 kmph.

The city is also a transit route for heavy vehicles travelling from north India to southern cities.

Another proxy to showcase Bengaluru’s overgrowth is a study by the IISc by Ramachandra on the number of trees required per person, which is seven.

“Quantification of number of trees in the region using remote sensing data with field census reveals 1.5 million trees and human population is 9.5 million, indicating one tree for seven persons in the city. This is insufficient even to sequester respiratory carbon,” the study said.

Can Bengaluru come out of this mess? Not really, as successive governments have ignored concerns of citizens in favour of urban growth and come with only short-term measures.

“As a citizen, I want to see a disaster recovery plan for Bengaluru.

"We want the government to tell citizens that if they simulate such a rain in Bengaluru, what are the repercussions and what are the disaster management processes put in place to respond to such as disaster,” asks Pai.

“It is very critical for Bengaluru to be prepared for anything because only the government can respond; private citizens cannot do anything.”

FLOOD OF DESPAIR

  • 8.42 million: Population in 2011; doubled from 4.3 million in 2001, according to census data
  • 5.87 million: Vehicles in October 2015, an increase from 361,000 in 1991
  • 1,466: Tanks encroached upon, according to NSRC data. In the 1900s, Bengaluru had close to 2,800 tanks. Today, Bengaluru has 143 tanks within the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s jurisdiction, 54 per cent of which are encroached upon, according to an IISc study
  • You need seven trees per person, but in Bengaluru that figure is one tree per seven people

Sources: Census 2011, NSRC, Isro, Bengaluru Traffic Police, transport department & IISc

Image: The Bengaluru airport. Photograph: Rediff Archives

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Alnoor Peermohamed and Raghu Krishnan in Bengaluru
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