Despite the heavy rain and chaos, how did the Electronic City, one of Bengaluru’s first major information technology (IT) hubs, keep itself safer compared to the relatively new IT parks on Outer Ring Road (ORR)? Mohandas Pai, former Infosys director and Chairman of Aarin capital, who has also been actively working on resolving several civic issues in Bengaluru, has a simple answer: “By just keeping the drains clear.”
Bengaluru’s Outer Ring Road, now named Dr Puneeth Rajkumar Road, is the city’s longest technology corridor which spans over 17 km and has been the epicentre of the flash floods. IT parks such as Manyata Tech Park and RMZ eco space, which have been built close to the lakes or on reclaimed land, and many buildings that have been constructed on the lake buffer zones and wetlands are among the worst-hit.
According to a paper on Land Use Land Cover (LULC) dynamics by the Indian Institute of Science, (IISc) Bengaluru, the city has seen a 1005% increase in urban built-up area between 1973 and 2016.
Experts say the new IT parks stand on contoured terrain, which means the flow of water is blocked, making them prone to flooding.
‘NATURE’s FURY’, ‘HEART ATTACK’
“Electronic City does not face such issues as it has decent drains. All of us (companies) clean our drains regularly. Companies such as Infosys and others make sure that the drains are cleaned up to 2 km, along with the government drains. There were issues earlier when water got accumulated, but now it gets cleared within hours as there is regular maintenance,” Pai told News18.
The former Infosys CFO recounted the 1986 floods in the city’s’ Millers Tank Bund area.
Electronic City does not face such issues as it has decent drains. All of us (companies) clean our drains regularly.
“Several offices were flooded then, but the water didn’t stay for long and drained quickly. The government should make sure that all drains are cleaned regularly, rajakaluves (stormwater drains) expanded to their original size and illegal construction is removed on a war footing,” he said.
Urbanist and civic expert V Ravichander said the core problems are illegal encroachments, a dysfunctional government, corruption and lack of competence to address the issues and find solutions.
“When you have corruption coupled with a dysfunctional government, erratic rapid constructions, lake bed and stormwater drain encroachments, it is a perfect storm. That is what has hit Bengaluru,’ Ravichander said.
When you have corruption coupled with a dysfunctional government, erratic rapid constructions, lake bed and stormwater drain encroachments, it is a perfect storm. That is what has hit Bengaluru.
He adds that the reason why it hit the IT corridor more is the changing local weather pattern.
“Historically, when there used to be a cloudburst, civil engineers and urban planners would base their calculations on the average peak rainfall per hour over several decades and then build the drainage system. But the rainfall pattern has changed and we have underdesigned our drain system. They do not have the capacity to hold the water flow,” he added.
Ravichander further explained that many of the constructions have been done on tank beds with no scientific methodology used to build stormwater drains around them.
“It is being done arbitrarily. The crux of the matter is that people do not respect nature’s lines, contours and also the law of the land. When stormwater drains that were built at 100 feet are reduced to 50 feet due to encroachments, it becomes a major problem like what we see today,” he said.
Civic expert Srinivas Alvalli said the parks that are built on lands that have been encroached upon and rapid massive construction and dumping of debris into the wetland and lake bund areas have led to the flooding.
“Bengaluru is facing something similar to a heart attack. When the arteries are blocked and the blood is unable to flow, you have an attack. Our drains are the arteries and the lakes store the blood. When they have no place to go, disaster follows,” said Alvalli, the head of civic participation, NGO Janaagraha.
Bengaluru is facing something similar to a heart attack. When the arteries are blocked and the blood is unable to flow, you have an attack. Our drains are the arteries and the lakes store the blood. When they have no place to go, disaster follows.
ORR AWAITS RESPITE FOR YEARS
The Outer Ring Road Companies’ Association (ORRCA), which represents several IT and BT companies along the IT corridor from Silk Board junction to KR Puram corridor, shared with News18 the letters that have been addressed to the state governments over years on the plight of their employees who are stranded or marooned due to flooding and heavy rain.
A letter dated Oct 16, 2017 stated: “We would like to bring to your attention the plight of lakhs of employees working on the Outer Ring Road on a daily basis. The situation us now at a crisis level and is affecting Brand bengaluru. The condition of the service roads on ORR is alarming having been battered due to heavy rains and is full of potholes. Further the drains are no connected to the central pipeline leading to release of water to the service roads which further worsens the situation. ORRCA did write to the BBMP for need to delisting the drain near Ecospace, 1 month ago, however no action was taken and today we have a flooding issue in front of Ecospace.”
Five years later, the crux of the letter written by RRCA to the state government remains the same and so do the problems. In addition, the association emphasised that the “flooding on ORR on August 30 has led to a loss of ₹225 crore as staff were stuck on the road for more than 5 hours”.
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“ORR IT generates a revenue of $22 billion per annum (32% of Bengaluru’s revenue) and is the highest tax contributor, however, the lack of focus on development of the infrastructure in this corridor is appalling. If there are no improvements, ORRCA will seek alternative destinations for their companies," said Krishnakumar Gowda of ORRCA to News18.
Memes and posters highlight the paradox. Posters by netizens say: “Blore IT guys are victims of their own deeds…who asked them to put everything on the Cloud?” or “Bengaluru must be the only tech hub in the world, where software developers travel two hours to get to office so that they can build apps to deliver groceries in 10 mins” or “Welcome to India’s new water themed park called ‘BLUNDER-LA”, among others.