It’s not just the five electoral promises made by the Congress that the Siddaramaiah-led government needs to deliver in the coming weeks; they have a bigger immediate responsibility — to prepare Bengaluru for the upcoming monsoon and prevent the recurrence of havoc caused by last year’s rains. However, the city seems to crumble after every bout of rainfall.
The IT capital has been put on yellow alert due to heavy rains since Tuesday. According to officials of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), this has been the “wettest May” for Bengaluru in 66 years, with 31 cm of rainfall.
The heavy rainfall that pounded Bengaluru resulted in flooded and congested arterial roads, particularly in areas like Bellandur, Outer Ring Road (ORR) and Yamalur that experienced severe flooding and waterlogging during last year’s deluge. Just last April, a 45-minute downpour brought the city to a standstill, causing flooding once again in the areas affected by the September 2022 deluge.
Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar holds the crucial portfolio responsible for Bengaluru City development. In a high-level meeting of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Shivakumar is said to have asked the officials to do their best, ensure quick action, and prevent Bengaluru’s image from being tarnished globally due to urban flooding.
News18 spoke to several urban experts to gather insights on both short-term and long-term measures that can be implemented to protect Bengaluru from another devastating deluge like the one witnessed in September 2022, and help the city during incessant and unpredictable rainfall.
Bengaluru-based civic evangelist V Ravichandar stresses that in the current climate, contingency measures and a recovery plan are essential. It is necessary to be prepared and able to recover from excessive rainfall and the associated damages.
“Coordination among the fire force and other agencies is necessary, and this should be implemented in the immediate short run. Having standby pumps ready to provide immediate relief during flash rains is important,” says Ravichandar. Fixing issues like flooding and drain overflow overnight is not possible, but the focus needs to be on establishing a central control room to identify critically affected areas and direct resources to those areas. This is crucial, he said.
“Furthermore, a vulnerability framework is needed, particularly for low-lying areas like Bellandur, ORR, and Madiwala. Addressing the issue requires a larger watershed management view to determine the flow of water and fix the problem. While working on long-term solutions, immediate measures like installing barricades to prevent people from using underpasses and waterlogged areas are also essential,” he adds.
Areas like Mahadevapura and Bellandur in Bengaluru are the worst-affected regions because the KC valley has a steep slope, which becomes like a crucible in the region. This causes the floodwater to rush in, but it cannot drain out fast enough. The situation is exacerbated because of multiple engineering lapses including, population explosion and illegal encroachments, says Nagesh Aras, a Bengaluru-based civic issues expert.
“Many roads are laid across the flow of water, and they do not have culverts to let the water flow across. Thus, they act as dams, and cause waterlogging (e.g. floods at Rainbow Drive, Ecospace). The authorities have not demarcated floodplains in the valley, where any construction should not be allowed, because the area would be flooded naturally. Many SWDs were allowed to be diverted for property development. The diverted drains cannot carry the water efficiently,” he said.
Aras feels the only possible solution is to acquire some built-up properties, demolish them, and lay new sewage treatment plants and underground drainages.
Following the unfortunate incident at KR Circle, where a young techie lost her life when her MUV became submerged in a flooded underpass, efforts have been made to block most underpasses during heavy rains to prevent further tragedies.
To ensure the safety of citizens first, Aras points out another solution.
“It is crucial to have water level indicators painted in key areas, especially underpasses, to alert people of dangerous conditions. A yellow line should be painted, accompanied by a sign stating that people should not venture beyond that line,” he told News18.
The underpasses across the city get flooded because of a basic blunder in their design, he pointed out. “They are the lowest part in the neighborhood, so rainwater comes to the underpass, and cannot get out. None of the underpasses are fitted with pumps to bail out this water… BBMP now proposes to cover up these underpasses to prevent flooding, but that will not solve the problem. On the contrary, it will turn the underpass into a deadly tunnel, and make the situation even more dangerous,” he said.
The Bengaluru Development portfolio holds significant importance for any political party in power. Experts say one of the most significant stumbling blocks in managing Bengaluru lies in the fact that most agencies, such as the BBMP, BWSSB, BDA, and BESCOM, work in silos.
Kathyayini Chamaraj is an urban expert and Executive Trustee of CIVIC-Bangalore, a group that works closely in the areas of urban governance, decentralisation, and citizen participation. Chamaraj highlights the need for a Ward Disaster Mmanagement Cell (WDMC) in every ward as mandated in the Rules. Having a local action group like this is essential for a prompt response in times of disaster. Although immediate action may be limited, WDMCs need to be constituted policies can now be put in place to prevent future disasters, she points out.
This was also proposed by Prof. Jonathan Schwartz, a researcher on disasters, as the solution.
“Unfortunately, we have not had a BBMP council for two and a half years, which is a significant setback. The WDMC ward disaster cell should be headed by the corporator, but currently, there is no-one in that role. Until the BBMP elections are conducted, informal disaster management cells should be set up under nodal officers as an interim measure. Once the BBMP is established, these WDMCs should be permanent bodies… have an action plan for “Preparedness, Rescue, Recovery, and Mitigation” of disasters she suggests.
“The bigger issue lies in the design of roads. We need to redesign roads and drains to ensure better drainage during monsoons. Despite the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) encouraging rainwater harvesting in private homes, the BBMP concretises roadside drains without incorporating percolation pits. Also, as a result, these box drains do not have a proper engineering plan to facilitate the flow of water to secondary drains or the Rajakaluve, leading to flooding,” she adds.
Srinivas Alavilli, another Bengaluru civic expert, suggests that the immediate priority should be clearing the drains in the problem areas identified after the November floods. The agencies should proactively start clearing the drains, regardless of whether it is raining or not. Areas prone to flooding should be given priority over less affected areas. Evacuating people from low-lying areas and restoring the capacity of the lakes and storm water drains should also be prioritised in consultation with local citizen groups.
“In the long term, a resilient plan needs to be developed as the city is facing a climate crisis. The current situation is not just another rain event but a significant climatic change. The unprecedented amount of rain witnessed in May calls for planning for the worst-case scenario, considering the ongoing climate crisis. Many domain experts are working on this issue. However, all these efforts will only be effective if there is a proper governance structure in place, including an empowered mayor, city council and a functioning Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC),” Alavilli said.
In its election manifesto, the ruling Congress pledged to establish comprehensive legislation solely dedicated to the management of the city civic corporation, and bring its different departments under a unified agency. Additionally, the new government must address the issue of conducting elections for the BBMP, which has been without elected councillors since 2020.
Volunteers, who reached out to the BBMP for coordination and rescue assistance in anticipation of more showers, have expressed concerns. They have observed that the drains, which were cleared of blockages since September last year, are once again filled with plastic and garbage, leaving no space for water to recede.
“We have been removing all kinds of waste material from the drains. It’s the same story every time. People should be more responsible instead of just complaining,” said Sharath Kumar, a volunteer from Bellandur.
“Some videos show drivers attempting to pass through flooded underpasses. We urge drivers not to take such risks. It’s better to wait a few hours than to lose one’s life,” said David Mathias, a young college student who volunteered to assist the BBMP.
BBMP commissioner Tushar Girinath conducted inspections in rain-affected areas and instructed officers across all divisions of the BBMP to remain vigilant, asking for the round-the-clock operation of control rooms and the readiness of rescue equipment and vehicles for any contingencies.
Bengaluru got its first dedicated city development and planning minister when Siddaramaiah was the chief minister in 2015. The portfolio was initially entrusted to Ramalinga Reddy, followed by KJ George. In the subsequent Congress-JDS coalition in 2018, G Parameshwara was given the portfolio.
In the previous BJP government, chief minister Basavaraj Bommai held the Bengaluru development portfolio. However, urban experts pointed out that his hectic schedule hindered him from allocating sufficient attention to Bengaluru’s critical problems, which further added to its failing infrastructure.