Citizen efforts to fix flooding: needles in a haystack

Silt from drain removed but pushed back by pre-monsoon showers

Every road not maintained well carries the inherent risk of urban flooding, as most areas in Bengaluru are almost fully concretised, with rainwater unable to seep into the ground. The maintenance of the road involves pre-monsoon clearing of drains in every locality, and fixing the local problems that cause flooding.

It is with this awareness that Srinivas Alavilli, the founder of Citizens for Bengaluru group, took up a project along with a group of volunteers, to clear the roadside drain and shoulder drains of a road in Nataraj Layout, JP Nagar, in May 2016. The drains did not carry rainwater, owing to construction debris and garbage that blocked them.

The narrow road developed potholes every monsoon season, due to stagnant water. Alavilli saw the possibility of hitting two birds with one stone: to maintain the road and channel rainwater to the lake, by clearing the drains. Puttenahalli lake in J P Nagar is dependent on rain and treated sewage for water, and this would have been useful.

After three years, ask Alavilli what was the outcome of his project, and he says: “It wasn’t sustainable because construction debris came in again. Government is not the culprit here, but private citizens are.” Indiscriminate dumping by people continued, reversing the work done by the enthusiastic volunteers.

BBMP adds to the misery in its own way. The workers clear the drains, but leave the debris there. During rains, this goes back to the drain, bringing back the blockage.

Thus, when a citizen initiative fails, what is the way forward? “This is where ward committees can play a bigger role,” says Alavilli. “Individual exercises end up becoming needles in a haystack. But collectively as a ward committee it can be done. If each member of the ward committee takes up 10 streets and identifies issues and works with the BBMP ward officials to fix it, the problem is solved,” he says.

“In your area, you are aware of the specific spots where drains are clogged and roads get flooded. Even small flooding or stagnation of water affects the quality of roads by causing potholes,” he says.

This is not a subject that needs to be discussed in the BBMP council meeting but at the ward level, says Alavilli.

Pointing out that Rs 200 crore has been given to clear the storm water drains, Alavilli says the ward committees must act in order to fix street flooding, with onus of fixing it lying with BBMP - a model which involves citizen engagement and official action.

Like many other areas, Domlur layout in Domlur ward (112) also floods during rains. Local activist Shivakumar V attends ward committee meetings regularly, though he is not a member.

He says the BBMP is digging rainwater recharge pits in a nearby slum area this month. The roadside rainwater channels were re-done recently by removing the silt, but the layout is still facing the threat of floods.

Yet, “we are not prepared for rains, the layout will become a swimming pool if it rains for two consecutive days” he says. The debris removed goes back to the drain soon, as no one clears it.

Does the ward committee help? He says there is little to be expected out of the ward committee, as most members rarely attend the meets, and those who attend act like “puppets” who cannot raise their voice against the wish of the corporator.

In Chikkala Sandra ward (183), many apartments face the risk of their basements getting flooded regularly.

Ward committee meetings are not conducted regularly in this ward, and there has been no channel to seek redressal.

Due to the election Model Code of Conduct, ward committees have not been meeting regularly in most areas.

Since the polls are now finally over, it is time for these panels to urgently get to work in full swing and avoid more monsoon tragedies.

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