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The Bane of Bengaluru: Years of 'White Topping' is Drowning India's Tech Capital

By: Rohini Swamy

News18.com

Last Updated: September 05, 2022, 15:22 IST

Bangalore [Bangalore], India

Fire-fighters evacuate residents from flooded Rainbow Drive Layout after heavy monsoon rains at Sarjapur, in Bengaluru on September 5, 2022. (PTI Photos)

Fire-fighters evacuate residents from flooded Rainbow Drive Layout after heavy monsoon rains at Sarjapur, in Bengaluru on September 5, 2022. (PTI Photos)

Concretisation, disastrous engineering and unplanned growth have clogged Bengaluru’s storm drains, leaving the IT corridor and the city’s 12 million residents at the mercy of civic apathy

It’s not just “nature’s fury”, but rampant corruption, indiscriminate construction and disastrous engineering that has left Bengaluru to drown. Overnight rains in the past week have once again left India’s technology hub exposed and crumbling, with its 12 million residents left at the mercy of civic apathy.

With boats hitting the streets instead of vehicles, the IT capital of the country is on the verge of sinking as a second cloudburst in a week has flooded the city. Roads have been inundated, with storms water drains overflowing, low-lying areas water-logged and several homes almost submerged as the deluge has nowhere to drain out. Vehicular movement has been brought to a standstill, and commuters advised to be cautious before stepping out.

IT companies in the city have issued an advisory to all their employees, asking them to “exercise caution, review the situation in the area and plan their travel to office with discretion”.

An advisory sent to employees working at Ecospace, one of the worst-hit IT parks in Bengaluru, said: “Bengaluru has seen heavy rains overnight which has caused several areas to flood. The heavy water-logging has affected movement of traffic and several residences and apartments have been flooded. Offices are fully operational but we request all our employees to remain safe and exercise caution, review the situation in the area and plan their travel to office with discretion.”

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Adding to the woes, the metrological department has predicted moderate to isolated heavy showers in the coming days and Bengaluru has no other option but to brave it out when nature strikes.

According to Geeta Agnihotri, head of India Meteorological Department (IMD), Bengaluru, the city is expected to continue seeing moderate to heavy showers on Wednesday. Bengaluru recorded the highest rainfall in the state on Monday at 131.1.

This is the third highest rainfall the IT city has experienced since 1988. On September 12 1988, Bengaluru saw 177.6 cm of rainfall, the highest recorded till date. This was followed by 132.3 mm on September 26, 2014 and the latest one being the third highest till date in September.

“The highest rainfall was recorded in Bengaluru city and Nelamangala in Bengaluru rural region. Stations like HAL airport and Begur in Chamarajanagar recorded more than 12 cm rainfall,” a Met official said.

Areas around Bengaluru’s IT corridor, including Outer Ring Road near Ecospace, Silk Board Junction, Varthur, Bellandur, KR market, Sarjapur Road, Airport Road and several parts of the central business district (CBD) have been completely inundated.

“This is a total failure of governance,” former Infosys director and chairman of Aarin capital Mohandas Pai told News18.

“The Outer Ring Road is a complete mess. The drains are all broken. There is flooding everywhere and total mismanagement of traffic and infrastructure. Last week, there were heavy showers. Where was the BBMP? Where is the early warning system? BBMP officials should have been on the ground and ensuring the city is not flooded. There is no governance and complete breakdown of the system,” Pai said.

“Any city in the world would be proud to host companies that provide employment to thousands, but Bengaluru is treating them unfairly. By not providing them with proper infrastructure, the IT capital is not only sinking but also losing its valuable investors,” Pai added.

Pai further said that Bengaluru has an infrastructural problem. “Corruption is deeply rooted in the system. There are MLAs who extort money from real estate builders, the rajakaluves (storm water drains) are all blocked and the BBMP is without teeth and cannot handle the situation.”

Experts News18 spoke to blamed concretisation, disastrous engineering and unplanned growth as the three main factors that have left Bengaluru crumbling.

A senior officer, who was closely associated with the building of Bengaluru’s Outer Ring Road (ORR), squarely blamed the “white topping” or concretisation of roads as the major cause for flooding.

“They have blocked all the outlets. White topping is simply spreading concrete, blocking the water flow. A concrete road is not porous that is why flooding is taking place. I have walked the entire 56-km stretch of the ORR when it was under construction and I have also now seen the mess that has been created over the years on the ORR. The drains are 5-feet deep and they are blocked or diverted and the ORR is a complete mess. The only solution to this problem is integrity. The whole situation indicates the need for good accountable officers who can deliver. They have lost control of the whole issue,” the former official said on condition of anonymity.

TM Vijay Bhaskar, former Karnataka chief secretary who had also served a tenure as BBMP Administrator, spoke of another issue that needs to be addressed — manpower. Bhaskar told News18 that the BBMP faces a severe shortage of engineers and manpower at the ward level, which is where the flooding starts.

“Every ward in Bengaluru has a silt and tractor team, their job being manually removing silt and other blockages from drains to ensure the free flow of water into the drain. Usually, there are 10 men who form a team in each ward. They have to manually lift the concrete slabs, remove the silt and load it on tractors. The Karnataka Administrative Reforms Commission has recommended in a report that they be provided mini-JCBs so that they can cover larger areas and desilt drains. Ward-level flooding happens when the ward drains are not desilted,” Bhaskar said.

“Another problem is that the BBMP is understaffed when it comes to legal staff. The legal cell in BBMP requires a team of around 100 full-time lawyers who will immediately move the courts to vacate the stay orders that the rajakaluve encroachers would have got to build in that area and against building plan violators as well as dumping of waste and debris in drains,” he explained.

Dr TV Ramachandra of the Indian Institute of Science said it’s the same story each time. In a study titled Frequent Floods in Bangalore: Causes and Remedial Measures, which was submitted to the government, Ramachandra had highlighted that there has been a 78% increase in Bengaluru’s concretised and paved surfaces, leading to severe blocking of the drainage system.

“Narrowing of the water ways, lack of appropriate drainage maintenance, encroachment into floodplains and solid waste have blocked our drainages. With sewers blocked, the water has no place to go and the drains throw water onto the roads, adding to the destruction of the city’s infrastructure,” Dr Ramachandra said.

Bengaluru’s IT corridors have been the worst-affected and Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has assured companies that his government is trying its best to bring the city back on its feet. With an estimated loss of Rs 225 crore due to rain and waterlogging in Bengaluru, Bommai also said that he would discuss compensation and other related damages.

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first published:September 05, 2022, 15:18 IST
last updated:September 05, 2022, 15:22 IST