Urgently needed: a utilities map

A GAIL team inspects the spot where a gas pipe was damaged during the Namma Metro work at Garudacharpalya, Whitefield main road in Bengaluru. DH Photo/Janardhan B K

A major catastrophe was averted near Bengaluru’s IT hub, Whitefield, recently due to the timely detection of a Piped Natural Gas (PNG) leak after an underground pipeline was damaged during excavation work for Namma Metro. This not only points to the total lack of coordination between different agencies but also highlights the government’s failure to scientifically map and track underground utilities. The Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) has defended itself saying it had conducted exploratory trenching on the stretch to identify utilities down to a depth of 2.5 metres but the PNG pipeline laid by the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) was at 3.1 metres and hence went undetected, leading to the damage. The fact that primitive methods such as trenching and digging are employed instead of remote-sensing tools like Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) for underground utility detection casts a shadow on Bengaluru’s reputation as the technology hub of the country.

The underground of a city is a veritable mess with water and sewage pipes, electric lines and optic fibre cables crisscrossing each other. A comprehensive utility map with GPS coordinates not only gives a clear picture of buried assets but also prevents their damage during digging activities. In the absence of such a map, damage to utilities like water pipes and disruption of civic services is fairly common in Bengaluru, while often construction workers are also put at great risk as they come in contact with live wires that run under the surface. Mapping will also enable better planning and execution of infrastructure projects like metro rail systems, flyovers, roads and sewage networks ensuring that they do not encounter unexpected hurdles, something that commonly causes delays, cost overruns and untold inconvenience to citizens in almost every infrastructure project in the city.

As assets are not necessarily laid in pre-defined trenches, it is a free-for-all beneath the surface. One of the reasons for the Whitefield incident was the non-availability of a map, and even where maps do exist, they are seldom accurate as they have not been updated to reflect new additions to utilities or their re-routing. In order to avoid such incidents in the future, the government should immediately appoint an independent authority to survey all utilities — irrespective of the department that owns them. The authority should employ the latest technology and build and maintain a centralised digital map that is updated on a real-time basis. No digging or excavation work in the city should be permitted without the prior permission of this authority. Only this will restore some method to the madness that is infrastructure-building in Bengaluru.

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Urgently needed: a utilities map

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