Cross connections, underground

Cross connections, underground

The spot were gas pipe damaged during the metro work at Garudacharpalya, Whitefield main road in Bengaluru on Monday 29th October 2018. Photo by Janardhan B K

Did you think the IT hub’s connected network would have naturally triggered a connected, well-coordinated network of civic agencies, perfectly in sync to propel Bengaluru to a classy world city? One Metro-sparked gas leak on ITPL Main Road last week was all it took to dramatically puncture any such illusion.

But then, inter-agency coordination has never been this city’s forte. If the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) had no clue how deep the Gas Authority of India Ltd. (GAIL) pipeline lay, it was just a manifestation of a system that has mostly worked in silos. It was just that this could got a bit more dangerous, a bit more closer to a catastrophe.

Safety endangered

Yes, it would have been catastrophic. Fortunately, the leak in GAIL’s Piped Natural Gas (PNG) main line was noticed in time, and alert police constables had immediately diverted traffic. But the fact remains: Despite huge safety issues, BMRCL and GAIL did not talk to each other, a glaring gap exposed by a GAIL official, who said: “If BMRCL had asked us, we would have told them there was a pipe there!”

But BMRCL contends its trenching operation – mapping all utilities up to a depth of 2.5 metres underneath a particular road stretch – had not revealed the GAIL pipeline that was about 3.1 metres below ground. Was there a way this could have been detected? Yes, through detailed utility maps and a centralised database updated regularly.

Now, do we need to wait for a disaster to put in place such a database? And what about the critical water, sewage, power and telecom lines that criss-cross the city?

Communication gaps

Poor coordination between the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has ensured that freshly tarred roads are dug up, redone in haste and dug up again, to lay and relay pipelines. Private telecom players drill holes at random, adding to the chaos underneath.

The conflict between water and sewage lines underneath often leads to drinking water contamination, a recurring yet avoidable reality in BBMP wards across the city. Contamination has reached serious proportions in the outlying wards, where sewage lines were laid only a couple of years ago. This is a sureshot trigger for spread of diseases, say health watchers.

Digging, undeterred

Throwing up his hands, the BBMP Commissioner N Manjunath Prasad had declared in the Council recently that the city’s roads are in poor condition not because of the Palike but due to digging by BWSSB and the Bangalore Electricity Company Limited (Bescom).

The two agencies, he informed, had dug up 23,700 roads extending up to 3,696 kms roads in the city. Most of the works involved laying pipelines for drinking water and underground drainage systems.

The Palike has similar coordination issues with the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), Public Works Department (PWD) and the city traffic police.

The strange system of governance in the city ensures that the Palike has absolutely no control over BWSSB or Bescom, although water and electric lines pass through every ward, every street. “Nobody knows how the city’s underground system works. Ideally, every agency should coordinate with BBMP,” notes Srinivas Alavalli from Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB).

Utility mapping

But this will not be an easy task. As Dr Ashish Verma from Indian Institute of Science (IISc) points out, coordination has always been weak, particularly so among the various agencies linked to mobility. The lack of utility mapping has made it even more complex.

Building mobility related infrastructure in the city has always exposed this serious lacunae. “This is where the need for a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA) arises. The Authority can look at multiple projects of multiple agencies right at the planning stage. It could, for instance, take inputs from GAIL for its future expansion plans, well supported by utility maps,” Verma explains.

Coordination mechanism

Lately, efforts are on to set up a coordination mechanism. In August, Chief Secretary T M Vijay Bhaskar appointed eight senior IAS officers as nodal officers to coordinate with BBMP and other agencies. Each officer will look into the ongoing civic works of a BBMP zone.

The nodal officers are expected to visit their respective zones, hold meetings once a month with the zonal level officials from BBMP, BDA, BWSSB, Bescom and other agencies. They will have to submit a report to the Chief Secretary every month.

Ward-level meets

But to be effecient, a grassroots approach could work better, contends Alavilli. This implies empowered ward committees that meet regularly to coordinate at the local level.

He explains, “The agencies do not care about coordination because there is no incentive to do so. Promotions and perks are not linked to this. There is no sense of ownership. But if you live in, say Jayanagar, you as a ward committee member, will care only about Jayanagar, and coordinate well with the local BWSSB, Bescom engineers.”

Inputs: Darshan Devaiah B P