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Urban Flooding

Over the past several weeks, Bengaluru has witnessed unprecedented rainfall and severe flooding in several parts of the city, especially the ill-planned newly developed areas such as Bellandur Varthur corridor. The Bengaluru Mysore Highway, built by NHAI,  the 10 lane expressway due to be opened in October this year also witnessed flooding by torrential rains. In this section, we share ESG’s opinion on the state of the city, the cause of the urban flooding, the contrasting effect it has had on the different economic groups, the attribution of the problem to climate change, the relevance of the two decade struggle in protecting and rehabilitating water commons and finally the way forward.

In an interview with Frontline, Leo Saldanha shares his thoughts on the historical loss of lakes in Bengaluru and the shoddy system of development that has led to flooding in many parts of Bengaluru. “The corrupt gnawed into every open space … and somehow managed to get building permits’ he said. In another article, Saldanha shares his views on the shaping of the metropolis by caste and community influences, where feudal lords were at a clear advantage to form massive layouts of their farms around the city, which then led to the emergence of gated communities for villas and mega apartment complexes.

Bhargavi Rao attributes the urban flooding situation to the poor imagination of the local politicians, bureaucrats, real estate tycoons and foriegn consultants. She says that “The flooding that the city suffers now is the cumulative impact of these (development- apartment and commercial building) projects that were recklessly developed and their absolute exemption from environmental review. 

The flood has clearly shown that disasters strike the haves and have nots very differently. With little help from the local and state Governments, the people in the inundated slums and squatter settlements are left to fend for themselves.

As Bhargavi Rao puts it:

“As parts of the city crawl back to life, the rich will get by living in hotels, claim their insurance to get back into comfort zones, and perhaps slip back to raising noise about their lost comforts and well-being. It is the poor who have always been left out, and are worse off when such disaster strikes. They are left to fend for themselves, in whatever manner they can manage, scavenging what little is left of their homes. They have no insurance, get little support from local and state governments, and rebuilding lives leaves them in debt and despair. The renewal required now must particularly look at their needs and ensure they are quickly rehabilitated.” 

This has been further illustrated by Eshwarappa through field reporting of a slum settlement next to Bellandur lake. Here, children, women and cattle are suffering silently as high rise construction continues in their surroundings close to the lake. Eshwarappa finds that only NGOs and Trusts are providing relief through food packets to these inundated settlements while the Government is not seen in the picture.

Saldanha further highlights that wise rehabilitation of the lakes and rajakaluves has been in discussion in the Honourable High Court in two petitions since 2008. Despite being under judicial oversight, Subramanyapura Lake, South Bangalore, and its kaluves continue to suffer destruction. Saldanha also argues that the current desilting exercise in our lakes is contractor driven with little regard for the ecologically viable design of lakes as per the Justice NK Patil reports.  To sum it all up, Leo Saldanha says: “careless disregard for the role wetlands play in supporting and sustaining human settlements.” has resulted in this urban mess. He elaborates the history of ‘development’ of this metropolis, the various pressures and forces that shaped it to its present state.

In what appears to be a disaster impending, the flooding also affected the largest solar park in India. Several tanks and bunds in Pavagada, which was a drought prone area for several decades, were levelled off to give way for the mega solar project that was commissioned there. Unfortunately the heavy rainfalls led to the submergence of a large portion of the solar park which was said to have been built on a lake bed. 

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