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Unpredicted rain, predicted chaos

Bosky Khanna and Bharath Joshi, Bengaluru, DH News Service, Aug 27 2017, 2:33 IST

Despite advanced weather forecasting technologies, Bengalureans had no inkling of the massive downpour that flooded roads and low-lying areas.

Even as the city came to a virtual standstill in the wake of this unprecedented rainfall, a reality came out in the open: Forget heavy downpour, the city's infrastructure cannot even handle a mere 42.2 mm of rain, the recorded amount of showers for August 23.

Even as the city came to a virtual standstill in the wake of this unprecedented rainfall, a reality came out in the open: Forget heavy downpour, the city's infrastructure cannot even handle a mere 42.2 mm of rain, the recorded amount of showers for August 23.

Bengalureans were completely stumped by the 13-cm rainfall on the intervening night of August 14 and 15. Several areas and roads were completely under water in a flash that left everyone wondering: Why were we not warned? Why did the weathermen fail to predict such a massive downpour?

But even as the city came to a virtual standstill in the wake of this unprecedented rainfall, a reality came out in the open: Forget heavy downpour, the city’s infrastructure cannot even handle a mere 42.2 mm of rain, the recorded amount of showers for August 23.

The weathermen could not warn the public about the record rains, which could have helped them take precautions. Despite giant strides in satellite-based weather forecasting technologies, Bengalureans had to depend on generalised statements from the Meteorological Departments.

Poor infrastructure

But the weathermen blames the chaos on the city’s poor infrastructure. L Ramesh Babu, Bengaluru director of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), points out that the city cannot handle even 3-6 cms of rainfall (moderate to heavy) rainfall. This, he says, has been proved in two instances in just two weeks. The IMD head office before the onset of monsoon had forecast a good rainfall season.

Preferring anonymity, an official from the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC) says the government was already aware of the low-lying areas and the areas prone to flooding. “They could have undertaken quick short-term measures to ensure that people are not affected. But the State decided to look the other way.”

Connectivity cut off

The floods that followed the rains should be attributed to the cutting off of the connectivity between lakes and canals, contends Prof T V Ramachandra from Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science. The width of drains, he points out, has been narrowed from 60 metres to 28 metres. “Who gave them (civic authorities) the power to tamper with the system? All this has been done to help encroachers. To add to this the government now wants to denotify “dead” lakes. But as per definition there are no dead lakes. All this will lead to flooding in the coming days also,” he cautions.

Natural water recharging

All low-lying areas flood because they were the natural water recharging points which have now been concretised. The revised master plan- 2015 also declared many low-lying areas as industrial areas, which will add to the havoc. In 1990s when there was 68% concretisation there was no flooding. But flooding has been happening since 2015 onwards when concretisation has increased to 200%.

The water storage capacity of lakes, informs Prof Ramachandra, has also been diminished by concretisation and creating infrastructure around them. If the earlier storage capacity of lakes was 35 tmcft it has now been reduced to 1.5 tmcft. He blames the government for assigning engineers the job of lake rejuvenation and not environmentalists who know the subject.

Encroached drains

What does a Sulabh toilet in Adugodi have in common with the National Games Village in Koramangala? Both are encroaching storm water drains. And, as irony would have it, the two localities were the worst-affected in the heavy downpour the city received on Independence Day.

A flood-prone city that it is, Bengaluru has over 400 kms of its 857-km stormwater drain network encroached, obstructing the natural flow of rainwater. “Let there be no doubt that flooding is the direct result of drain encroachment,” BBMP Chief Engineer (storm water drains) K Siddegowda says.

Sample this: The Konanakunte Road has encroached a drain along with five homes, a commercial complex and two shed houses in Anjanapura. In Koti Hosahalli at Vidyaranyapura, asphalt roads were laid by closing existing stormwater drains. Over 200 public roads and 35 commercial/industrial establishments have encroached stormwater drains. All this the civic body has made public, backed up by Survey Settlement and Land Records (SSLR) maps that determine the exact extent of encroachment.

“We need service roads to access drains so we can take up maintenance. We need space to at least walk around the drains. The problem is, this space no longer exists, and that is the encroachment that needs to be cleared,” Siddegowda explains.

Soft encroachment

According to Whitefield Rising member Elangovan Kulandaivelu, there is also a “soft encroachment” of drains. “All the construction dust and debris end up in the drains,” he says.

Citizens are primary drivers of drain encroachment. Apparently, a rajakaluve with a 66-ft width in Thubarahalli disappeared over a period of time because the residents nearby filled it up to get a better access to their land.

Demolition drive

In an infamous demolition drive last year, authorities razed dozens of homes built on stormwater drains. The drive itself was triggered by flooding that took place July last year, when the city received 213 mm rainfall, 124% more than expected. In contrast, the city receiving a whopping 267% more rainfall between August 10-16, according to meteorology data.

Till date, the civic body has cleared encroachment in 1,175 cases out of a total 1,923 identified all over the city. “We will taken up encroachment clearance after we get surveyors from the land records department,” Siddegowda says.

No need for surveyors

Calling the BBMP’s bluff, a top official from the SSLR department says there is no need for surveyors as all encroachments have been surveyed already. The surveyed maps of encroachment are available at landrecords.karnataka.gov.in, the official pointed out.

For instance, the survey maps reveal 5.24 acres of drains encroached by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) and the Karnataka Housing Board’s National Games Village in Koramangala. “Saying that they need surveyors is just their way of delaying encroachment removal. There’s no real will,” the official says.

BBMP Commissioner N Manjunath Prasad, however, maintains that “encroachment removal is a continuous process.”

Meanwhile, the monsoon season is officially far from over. And as urban expert Ashwin Mahesh puts it, Bengaluru must brace for “needless suffering for the same reason, for years and years.”

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