Opening the floodgates

Opening the floodgates

Opening the floodgates

Surveys showed that a third of the City’s 650-kilometre primary stormwater drain network was encroached upon by builders and other land sharks. But there is no urgency to clear the obstacles to meet the flooding threats of another rainy season.

Bangalore Urban Deputy Commissioner G C Prakash’s January 3 announcement on the city’s 856-km stormwater drain (SWD) network was a bombshell of sorts. He told a stunned gathering that at least 200 km of the primary SWDs were encroached upon. The dramatic declaration sparked huge expectations among the public that a demolition job was just round the corner. But five months later, the promise of the New Year has remained just that.

Prakash had arrived at the figures after an exhaustive survey of the SWDs and natural canals criss-crossing the City. Conducted by 44 surveyors from the state revenue department, the survey had covered 271 villages and localities. The findings were disturbing enough. Of the City’s 650 km of primary canals, also called Rajakaluves in Kannada, a third had been grabbed by builders and land sharks. 

The district administration and the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), it was announced, would “mercilessly” clear the encroachments in 10 days flat. Surely, the encroachers were big fish, firmly entrenched and highly influential in the corridors of power. But Prakash had sounded firm and decisive. “However influential those people are, they will be treated as encroachers and action will be taken accordingly.”

Poor demolition record

Five months later, here’s the balance sheet: There is no perceptible change in the status of the SWDs and natural canals. Not more than 60 buildings have been demolished, a marginal achievement since the number of structures erected on the encroached space and the buffer zones along the SWDs is a mind-boggling 50,000! Recently, the Palike added another 29 properties in the demolition list in the Dasarahalli Industrial area. Marginal, again.  

The message is clear, even if the Palike engineers officially admit that surveys and revival of SWDs are critical to bring back to life at least 110 lakes in the City: That the administration is not serious enough to protect the water bodies and their feeder canals. This, despite a Karnataka High Court order on the need to protect the lakes and canals, following a petition by the Environment Support Group (ESG). The SWDs, the feeder canals, could act as a fantastic soaking pit to recharge the groundwater, points out ESG’s Leo Saldanha. 

But for land sharks eyeing lakes, these feeder canals offer opportunities galore to squeeze life out of the City’s water bodies. Consider the case of the Chikka Kallasandra Lake in Padmanabhanagar near Banashankari. The SWD here has completely disappeared with hundreds of houses built over it. So has a natural canal that once connected it to the Gowdanapalya lake through the natural canal. 

Natural canals killed

Once the Gowdanapalya lake was filled to the brim, it would flow to the Chikka Kallasandra Lake through the natural canals. The lake has been systematically killed by first choking the natural canals. Google Earth images that clearly show a high density of houses over the once visible canals are proof enough. Much to the dismay of the old residents of this area, hundreds of residential and commercial structures have now emerged exactly on the lakebed . The entire government machinery has turned a blind eye to this blatant loot of public land.

Ravi Kumar S, a social activist and City general secretary of Lok Satta Party, wonders, “Why is the government machinery maintaining a deafening silence over the deliberate violation of the lake and water bodies? The water table in and around Padmanabhanagar has come down drastically due to the death of Chikka Kallasandra lake.” He fears that the land grabbers have now set their eyes on the Gowdanapalya Lake. Encroaching SWDs en route to that lake could be the next threat.

BBMP occasionally makes the right noises about clearing the SWD encroachments. But Palike insiders admit that there is intense pressure from various quarters to go slow on the Rajakaluve (SWD) restoration work. Says a Palike engineer in private: “The builder lobby, in association with their political masters apply pressure on us not to restore the canals and demolish buildings that have come up on them. It is no less a feat if we have managed to demolish about 90 structures in the last five months.”

SWD remodelling woes

No wonder then that the remodelling of the SWDs, a massive project under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) has been painfully slow in implementation. On paper, the Palike claims that in the last eight years, it has spent about Rs 500 crore to remodel and restore the primary, secondary and tertiary drains. 

The project’s objective was to inject new life into the three major valleys of Vrushabhavathi, Koramangala-Challaghatta and Hebbal. But despite all the money and time spent on it, there is nothing much to show. Worse, the Palike now insists that at least another Rs. 5,000 crore will be required to protect these valleys and their natural canals. 

Sewer lines

Since the fate of the SWDs is closely linked to the underground sewerage and manholes system, the problem gets too complicated to be solved in a hurry. As Thippeswamy, a former chief of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) explains, over 90 per cent of the waste water generated in the City is conveyed by gravity through sewers laid parallel to the SWDs. “Unfortunately, due to this, many sewer lines are now within the SWD creating problems,” he notes.

Former BBMP commissioner, K. Jairaj had insisted that all sewer lines and manholes within the stormwater drains had to be removed. “But where is the space?,” asks Thippeswamy. “Land is encroached on either side of the SWDs. Trunk sewers require more land - at least 20 ft wide - as they get bigger and collects sewage from other lines. Even smaller lines need 10- 15 ft.” 

Desilting of the drains is a regular BBMP exercise before monsoon sets in. But while doing so, the JCBs and other earthmovers damage the sewer lines, barely a feet or two below ground level. This causes leakages and mixing of sewage and stormwater. The manholes jutting out inside the SWD obstruct free flow of water, triggering floods on roads and beyond. Just round the corner, the monsoon will expose more...