Excerpts from How to ruin India’s best city, India Today, Oct 2022
The recent floods, were a disaster waiting to happen since successive city administrators have messed with the natural flow of rainwater while sanctioning its expansion. Bengaluru’s topography holds the clue to why water management is key. The old city came up on a central ridge line that runs north to south. Rainwater falling east of this ridge drains into valleys, filling up the numerous interlinked man-made lakes downstream. This is where the city’s storm water drain (SWD) network came in—these primary canals, known locally as rajakaluves, were once natural rain-fed streams across which farmers built small bunds over time to arrest the flow of water and create lakes. When one lake filled up, water was let out downstream via sluice gates to the next lake. The city administrators made their third big mistake when, to meet the demand for space for construction and roads, they allowed lakes to be breached regularly. The lakes, which once numbered a thousand-odd, are now reduced to a paltry 200 or so. Worse, the rajakaluves that channelised the storm water had buildings built over them. Bellandur, the tiny village from which Bengaluru’s best-known lake takes its name, is today a mass of buildings and shanties sitting cheek-by-jowl alongside business parks—a thriving ecosystem that provides everything from paying guest accommodation to shops and restaurants.
Leo F. Saldanha, the coordinator of the non-profit Environment Support Group, which has been litigating for lake preservation for over two decades, says, “All these were natural agricultural wetlands. But while putting up buildings, planners should have ensured space for water to collect and interlinkages to lakes down-stream if they overflowed. It was a very simple thing to do, but we ignored it and the citizens are paying the price—as we all experienced in the recent floods.”