Flash flooding brings JNCASR to a standstill

Worst fears come true: Flash flooding brings JNCASR to a standstill

According to a professor, 20 years worth of samples, some of which were of irreplaceable value to institutions worldwide, have been destroyed by the deluge

For months, faculty, staff and students at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) had worried about a potential flood overwhelming the institute located in northern Bengaluru. 

On Sunday, these fears were manifested when a flash flood rendered the 32-year-old institute completely inoperable and struggling to reconnect power and internet services. 

Flood-like conditions persisted into Tuesday with one senior faculty member saying that water levels again rose, disrupting salvage efforts at the institute which is at the forefront of advanced research in the country. 

Nearly all departments on-campus and about 50% of all labs had been affected, sources said, although the scale of damage is noted to be greatest at the centre’s Molecular Biology and Genetics Unit (MBGU), which is located near the main stormwater drain. Power had been partly restored but the internet was still out as of Tuesday. 

Also Read | Wedding party spends night in bus stuck on flooded road in Bengaluru

Professor Dr Maneesha Inamdar, Chairperson of the MBGU, said five labs on the ground floor had been inundated within minutes by two-foot-high floodwater, mixed with sewage that destroyed computers, fridges and high-value equipment. “The losses in equipment are severe. One piece of equipment alone was worth Rs 3-4 crore. We are trying to save what we can, but the threat of flooding has not receded because more rainfall has been forecast in the days to come,” she said. 

She added that these are sterile labs that were involved in high-level international research on HIV, genetics, stem cells, parasitology, malaria...etc. “They contain reagents and 20 years worth of samples some of which were of irreplaceable value to institutions worldwide. All of these have been destroyed,” she said. 

Rampant construction

Set between two lakes, Jakkur and Rachenahalli, the JNCASR said it started to experience mild flooding in the last two years because stormwater drains had become blocked due to other construction in the area. This includes a new BDA layout. “We had conveyed this to Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and the Vice President of India, M Venkaiah Naidu, during their visit in August,” the source said. 

Bommai, who visited the campus again on Tuesday, told news reporters that 138 mm of rainfall in the span of two hours inundated lakes in Yelahanka Zone, triggering the deluge. 

Also Read | Heavy rains return after a lull, flood parts of North Bengaluru

According to staff, stormwater drains from at least four lakes upstream move water towards the JNCASR and into the Rachenahalli Lake south of the centre. From there, excess water travels through canals in Mahadevapura Zone before eventually connecting to the Pinakini River which flows into Tamil Nadu. They added that potential flooding had been previously averted by stormwater drains around the centre which have now become disrupted or blocked by other construction. 

The chief minister acknowledged that he had been informed of the problem two months ago. “BWSSB workers are clearing the blockages. We need to expand the drain system and create a new diversionary canal system to avoid future disruption of any research at this centre,” he said on Tuesday, adding later that a new master plan would be drawn up to prevent future flooding. 

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