Why Bengaluru is not prepared for rains

Desilting and drain cleaning are the tasks the city administration, as part of preparing for the rainy season, should undertake before or atleast by mid-May, in the pre-monsoon season.
Last Updated : 03 May 2024, 22:35 IST
Last Updated : 03 May 2024, 22:35 IST

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While rains in Bengaluru after 168 days of dry days offered much-needed relief from the sweltering heat, ironically many areas saw waterlogs and traffic jams. Frustrated citizens were seen posting photos on X (formerly Twitter) and questioning the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) responsible for keeping the city’s drains silt-free and helping manage rainwater and flooding.

It’s a recurring tale every year. The BBMP, despite having access to historical data on flood-prone low-lying areas and weather warning and flood sensors, continues to falter in managing waterlogs and floods. Lack of timely desilting is a major reason.

Take the example of Belagere Road in Varthur ward of Mahadevapura Zone where the stormwater drain is incomplete. “The existing line is full of plastic and garbage, lying uncleaned for two years now. There is no channel for rainwater to flow freely. Officials are not responding. When it rains, this will cause bad floods,” says a citizen tracking it.

Datta Saraf, a civic activist from Nagarabavi, says desilting was done last before Covid in his area. “The rainwater drains have been covered with slabs. Now there is no way for rainwater on roads to enter the rain drain. The slabs on the drain are more than four years old. The ward officials never respond to calls,” he adds.

Leaves and garbage clog a drain entry at the underpass connecting Cunningham Road and Sankey Road, causing it to remain waterlogged after it rained in May last year.

Leaves and garbage clog a drain entry at the underpass connecting Cunningham Road and Sankey Road, causing it to remain waterlogged after it rained in May last year.

Credit: DH File Photo

Desilting and drain cleaning are the tasks the city administration, as part of preparing for the rainy season, should undertake before or atleast by mid-May, in the pre-monsoon season. Shoulder drains —the openings of drains facing roads, which carry run-off from the roads into smaller drains—get closed due to garbage and debris.

People also close these to stop rodents from coming out. During rains this causes floods on roads. Clearing of silt, debris and garbage from shoulder drains and rainwater passages on the roadsides can ensure a free flow of water.

Major stormwater drains need to be maintained well and blockages need to be identified and cleared.

‘No desilting, no transparency’

Anjali Saini, a Whitefield resident, thinks not enough work has been done in Mahadevapura zone. “I have not seen any desilting of drains. There is garbage in the drains. Some of the stormwater drains are blocked. These have been repeatedly reported to the zonal commissioner, stormwater drain division, and major roads section. If they wanted to do it, they should have done it in April,” she says. 

“I’m pretty sure that with heavy downpours we are going to see floods again,” she adds. She says there is no transparency in the way funds come in or works in progress, in the absence of ward committee meetings. 

“We have requested the joint commissioner and zonal commissioner to restart ward committee meetings as the elections are over. As per the ward committee rule, the ward committee secretary has to share a list of the budget items at the meeting,” she says.

“If Rs 50 crore has been allocated to Mahadevpura, they should give us a list of works to be undertaken and the budget for each of them, the contractor undertaking that work and when the work can start. This transparency and accountability is required by law,” she explains. 

“We only see media reports highlighting money allocated, but on the ground, nothing happens,” she says.

‘Where did the funds go?’

Kochu Shankar, a citizen in the Horamavu area of Ramamurthy Nagar ward, says each ward should have an exclusive tractor and a set of people to desilt and clear the debris.

“But these are shared between wards now. Every time we ask, they say tender is in progress, tractors are not available, and desilting has not happened for a long time. The drain slabs are damaged in many places. There is a budget allocated for this but no one knows how it was spent,” he says. 

“The rains have restarted, and now we will know the impact of all the inaction. For example, in my area called Kanakagiri, a road floods with every rain. We have to see what happens now when it rains continuously,” he adds.

R Rajagopalan, Convener of Bengaluru Residents Welfare Association, says that there are complaints about stormwater networks everywhere—Rajajinagar, Malleswaram, Kalyan Nagar, etc. but he feels Mahadevapura zone, Outer Ring Road etc end up getting more focus.

“Even in the K-100 project, where they have spent Rs 170 crores, there is visible sewage and plastic if you follow it downstream towards Ejipura and beyond. Desilting of upto 900 kms of stormwater drain cannot be done with area-based work. It has to be continuous across the network. But the network is thousands of kilometers of roadside and connecting drains. We haven’t seen any work executed with regard to these,” he explains.

He says works approved in 2022 under ward development funds for desilting have not been executed. “Where did all the wardwise desilting funds go? We have no idea whether ward maintenance funds have been used, and if yes where,” he rues.

Section 4 of the RTI act mandates public authorities to publish “the budget allocated to each of its agencies, indicating the particulars of all plans, proposed expenditures and reports on disbursements made.”

Rajagopalan says the BBMP does not follow this. It does not display wardwise allocations and spending plans on its own online.

“Ward committee members and the public should be able to see the data and decide whether particular work was done in their ward, but the data on expenditure is non-existent,” he adds.

“I filed an RTI asking for details of stormwater drain clearance across the city in 2022. There was no reply, and there has not even been a first appeal hearing,” he rues. 

‘Severe apathy in last 1.5 years’

Citizens say there are issues between politicians, contractors, and stakeholders. They say the BBMP has shown severe apathy after state elections and government changes in the last 1.5 years, and very little work has been done.

 “Engineers are not able to get work orders. After pushing for six months to one year, nothing happens, and many reasons are given, including ministerial and bureaucratic approvals and software issues. They talk about decentralisation but it’s all talk. Zonal commissioners hold no power,” says a citizen.

“Monsoon preparedness is near zero. This is May. They should have a conversation on monsoon preparedness in January or before. The burden is on the BBMP to display the data and engage with people, and make sure they are not scrambling at the 11th hour,” says Rajagopalan.

“We are going to consistently have these cycles of drought and flood. Cloudbursts will cause major downpours in a short time, and the city must be prepared to tackle these,” he cautions.

‘All is well’

Officials from various BBMP zones DH spoke to said all maintenance and desilting works are underway. An official from the West zone said desilting has been completed in most parts, and some work is underway in the Malleswaram area. 

“About 80% of the work has been done. We have a deadline of May 9 by which we should complete all the work. We also finished an intensive 15-day cleaning drive as instructed by the chief commissioner, during which garbage and debris were removed from the shoulder drains,” said an official looking after the Horamavu area. However, on Friday waterlogs on roads were seen in the Horamavu area as well.

An official from the K R Puram division of Mahadevapura zone says that new work orders according to the 2023-24 budget have not been issued due to the Model Code of Conduct ahead of elections. 

“We have finished all the desilting work for the last year. Sai Layout, a flood-prone area, needs a new vent installed. If that is not done, there may be floods. Otherwise, there is no fear of flood in this area,” he says. He says the fire department and flood response system are ready to tackle the situation if it floods.

“Every time, the lakes around here were full, and water had nowhere to go, so it caused floods. Now, all the lakes in this area are dry. They will fill up with rains and borewells will recharge,” he hopes.

Published 03 May 2024, 22:35 IST

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