Whither B’luru’s weather?

Whither B’luru’s weather?

As late as 1997, the average April temperature in Bengaluru would hover around 26°Celsius, and a series of thunderstorms kept the temperature within 21-32°Celsius. A product of its altitude and geography, Bengaluru’s location, at an altitude of 1,000 meters above sea level, ensured a salubrious climate throughout the year.

Most homes didn’t need fans, and while the rest of India wilted in the summer heat, Bengalureans would snuggle under warm blankets at night. Today, what was once a paradise for retirees has become a nightmare! The average temperature, at 28°Celsius, is two
degrees higher and the maximum temperature has risen by 12.5%, along with a 60% decline in average April rainfall.

Once branded an ‘air-conditioned city’, with winter temperatures ranging between 14-16°Celsius, Bengaluru grew apples at Palace Orchards when temperatures hovered around zero degrees for a couple of days in December! Today, quiet tree-lined lanes of flower-decked homes have become tree-less, concrete heat islands requiring air conditioners — in a city that once did not even need ceiling fans!

In the 1980s, when Gundu Rao was the chief minister, over 15 lakh saplings were planted in different parts of the city by creating a ‘Green Belt’ division, with dynamic forest officers in charge.

Ambitious plans for urban forestry by greening the city were implemented by putting up several nurseries with lakhs of saplings grown to a height of six feet to increase their chances of survival, before planting them across the city, protected by low-cost tree guards. Today, trees are being mercilessly hacked for road and metro rail expansion, the green cover is being depleted in newer areas that were replete with orchards and farms earlier.

With no perennial source of water nearby, Bengaluru’s water bodies were a vast interconnected system of lakes and tanks, key to the ‘Garden City’ tag. Until the 1960s, Bengaluru boasted of about 260 “live” lakes connected through a healthy groundwater system.

Urbanisation has taken its toll, with the lakes being encroached upon for urban infrastructure. Today, only 17 good lakes exist, while several others got converted to bus stands, golf courses, playgrounds and residential colonies.

Right through the evolutionary phases of the city, weather played a predominant role in making Bengaluru the boom town it is today. Apart from easy availability of land, the city’s climate played a major role in the decision to set up the Indian Institute of Science, the Hindustan Aircraft Company (now HAL), other public sector units (PSU) like the Indian Telephone Industries, the watchmaker HMT, BEL, ISRO and DRDO.

After the initial thrust on PSUs, Bengaluru’s industrialisation outgrew the PSU-oriented city phase to become a private sector, technology-oriented city with a large influx of workers, technologists and IT professionals. Great weather brought people and companies to Bengaluru as well as people coming to the city for education or work or even on transfer looked to settle down permanently in the ‘IT hub’ of India.

Regaining old charm

Sadly, the weather that brought them all to Bengaluru is gone. Relaxation of Floor Area Ratio (FAR) and irrational BWSSB approvals despite lack of water, enabled builders to squeeze an ever larger number of people into an ever larger number of floors, creating heat islands within the city.

Poor architectural buildings with glass facades were permitted, leading to greater use of air conditioners and higher electricity consumption. Sustained flow of untreated sewage and mismanagement of liquid and solid wastes by dumping them in lake beds led to pollution of land, air and water and emission of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide, and the even higher emissions in the transportation sector increased the latent heat within the city.

How do we get the old weather back? It’s not as if Bengaluru alone is in the midst of this phenomena of climate change and global warming. Extreme weather events like cyclones, unprecedented heat waves, floods, droughts, erratic rainfalls, delayed monsoons are occurring all over the world.

Nevertheless, we must do our bit to bring back Bengaluru’s moderate weather, by raising our voice against unplanned urbanisation and deforestation, curbing greenhouse gas emissions and depletion of groundwater resources. The decline in green cover must be arrested, more trees must be planted, our lakes revived.

As individuals, we need to break away from age-old habits in every realm of our lives. We must eschew plastics, recycle waste, save energy and water at every opportunity. We must travel responsibly, use public transport, walk and cycle wherever possible.

Nowadays, with the onset of summer, the whole of India experiences heat waves with temperatures ranging from 45° to over 50° Celsius in some cities. Bengaluru, despite its deteriorating climate, is relatively still a better place to be in. Unfortunately, this could lead to an even greater influx of humanity into the city -- the boom town has become a victim of its celebrated weather!

(The writer is a former director on the Board of BEML)