Bengaluru Rains: How Rampant Corruption Led to Massive Lake Encroachment

One night of relentless rain, and even the wealthiest tech bosses found themselves stranded in knee-deep water in their lavish homes, searching for coracles to safety. According to the Indian Meteorological Department, Bengaluru received 370mm of rainfall in August (131.66mm on August 30), just short of the all-time high of 387mm in August 1998.

Bangalore has an 859 km long stormwater drainage network linking the four main valleys. But only about 440 km are free from encroachment and diversion.

The total built up area of ​​technology parks is around 9.85 lakh square feet and 25% of buildings [here] are found on encroached lakes or drains. —NR Ramesh, BJP leader

This day was expected. Over the years, rampant corruption within the civic body had led to massive encroachment on the lakes, lake beds, rajakaluves (storm drains) and buffer zone, cooking up a recipe for disaster.

As the sky emptied, the floodgates opened on social media. Photos of Bengaluru in the rain have spread around the world, calling into question its status as the country’s IT capital.

Now, as the waters clear, the city must work overtime to save its image on a global scale. “For the first time in the history of Bengaluru, people fled their homes on boats,” said former chief minister and senior congressman Siddaramaiah. “IT Corridor Flooding Affected Brand Bengaluru.”

The blame game continued. While State Congress Speaker DK Shivakumar asked what had stopped the ruling BJP from stamping out the encroachments, former Chief Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy dared the minister Chief Basavaraj Bommai to publish a white paper on the encroachments and the names of the culprits.

Bommai, upset by the negative headlines, claimed that only part of the city had been flooded and blamed the previous Congress government. “This is unprecedented rain,” he said. “Only two areas (out of the eight) were flooded. The Mahadevapura area has 69 tanks, all of which broke through. We install valves for these tanks. The previous Congress government… authorized construction even in the lake bed, reservoirs and buffer zone. I… gave Rs 1500 crore to develop storm drains and Rs 300 crore to remove encroachments.

Bengaluru has an 859 km long storm water drainage network linking the four main valleys: Vrishabavathi, Challaghatta, Koramangala and Hebbal. But only about 440 km are free from encroachment and diversion. The valleys are now heavily polluted as solid waste and untreated sewage is dumped there. Climate change is another factor – the infrastructure is not designed to handle so much rain in a short time, experts say.

The politician-bureaucrat-builder mafia is widely blamed for blasting Bengaluru’s civic infrastructure. “Every entrepreneur has a godfather who is a politician,” said BJP leader and former Corporal NR Ramesh. “Contracts are awarded to a coterie of contractors and invoices are paid before the work is even finished. For example, a Rs840 crore package for rainwater drainage was awarded to contractors in 2016 and full payment was made in 2017. Only 60% of the work is complete. The contractor falsely claims to have desilted the drains and dumped it into two quarries. »

Said Srikanth Narasimhan, Secretary General of the Bengaluru NavaNirmana Party: “Our analysis shows that the BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) has spent around Rs3,200 crore on storm sewers over the past five years, but they are neither connected to lakes. nor carry water from water-rich lakes to water-scarce ones.

Aiming at Bommai, AAP State Officer Prithvi Reddy said: “Captain Raja Rao’s committee report on road construction and management of primary, secondary and tertiary drains has been gathering dust since 2006, despite the High Court’s decision to implement the recommendations. The Chief Minister continues to hold the Bengaluru development portfolio and we demand that it be given to someone who can devote time to [it]. A separate commission should be set up to deal with encroachments.

As politicians bickered, businesses raised concerns about Bengaluru’s infrastructure. The fact that the pandemic-induced work-from-home model was in place was the only saving grace on this rainy day. In a letter to Bommai, the Outer Peripheral Business Association (ORRCA) said IT companies may “seek another destination” if the situation does not improve. “Our member IT businesses suffered a loss of Rs225 crore on August 30,” the letter read. “We generate revenues of $22 billion a year (32% of Bangalore’s revenues) and are the main tax contributors. The lack of focus on infrastructure development in this corridor is appalling.

Former Infosys Director TV Mohandas Pai launched a social media campaign with “#SaveBengaluru” and spoke about the crumbling infrastructure and lack of governance in Bengaluru. The campaign angered the BJP. Ramesh accused Pai of “tarnishing” the city’s image. “Companies themselves are responsible for the mess,” he claimed. “At least 79 companies affiliated with ORRCA, 250 companies with the Electronic City Industries Association and 100 companies with the ITPL, Mahadevapura, are guilty of encroachment on the storm drains and the buffer zone. The total built up area of ​​technology parks is around 9.85 lakh square feet and 25% of buildings [here] are found on encroached lakes or drains. Such creeping encroachments have been allowed by corrupt officers and dishonest elected officials.

Ramesh also reminded the businesses that the Karnataka government has always supported the IT industry. “Between 1999 and 2004, the Bengaluru civic body authorized the laying of OFC (fiber optic cable) conduits for 4,500 km without charging road cut charges for the benefit of IT-BT companies and technology and business parks “, did he declare. “Government has also borne the cost of road restoration of Rs3,000 crore.”

Aravind Limbavali, MP for Mahadevapura, however, defended the IT companies, saying they only rented or leased the buildings. The builders, he said, were responsible for the encroachments. “Most residential and office complexes have either diverted storm sewers or encroached on them, reducing their width,” the BJP leader said. “We want builders to set up a rainwater drainage system for their premises. The drains can then be connected to the common pipe, which the government will build.

To limit the damage, Karnataka’s IT Minister, Dr. CN Ashwathnarayan has urged heads of IT companies to help build Brand Bengaluru and assured them of monthly virtual meetings to discuss the progress of development projects. .

Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, who heads the state government’s IT Vision group, called on companies not to be discouraged. “I think the Bengaluru brand will remain intact,” he said. “Any city would come to a standstill in the face of such a downpour. While 80% of the city had no problem, Mahadevapura faced an unexpected situation.

State Industries Minister Murugesh Nirani was more radiant in his assessment. He said no harm has been done to Brand Bengaluru and investors are heading to the city. “In fact, we now incentivize investors who choose to invest outside of Bengaluru, as part of our Beyond Bengaluru policy,” he said. “We promote the concept of ‘walking to work’ by encouraging autonomous townships on the outskirts to reduce the pressure on the city.”

Many industry experts THE WEEK spoke to said Bengaluru’s brand image was too strong to be affected by the rain. “Floods can occur due to heavy rains and in the height of summer there might be water shortages,” said Dr. HS Srivatsa, a professor at the Faculty of Management and Commerce of the MS Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences, Bengaluru. “IT hubs in other states are also facing similar conditions. This does not mean that Bangalore will lose its focus as a startup and IT city. Even cities like California are facing many problems like this.

He felt that the administration, politicians and citizens must work together to design new water channels to divert excess water safely. “Let good civil engineering technology and social sciences solve this problem,” Srivatsa said.

Sanjay Motwani, Chairman of the Bangalore Commercial Association, said: “In the long term, the government needs to take this alarm seriously and work to build infrastructure that can handle further growth. Investments will be affected in the near future if the government does not take action.

He added that only certain areas such as Whitefield and Bellandur were flooded, and the central business district and even southern Bengaluru to some extent were unaffected. “The periphery, where exponential growth has been [achieved] flouting all the rules for the past two decades, these are the areas that are affected,” he said. “Low-lying areas and lake beds have been invaded to build apartments and sewage treatment plants.”

Girish Linganna, director of ADD Engineering Components Limited, pointed out that no one left town when Lake Bellandur burned. “We cannot rebuild an ideal Bengaluru, but we can make a sincere effort to improve infrastructure and public transport,” he said. “Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has suggested many solutions to the Bommai government. We need to see how many would be implemented. Unfortunately, the government only sees the problem from the perspective of industry. Who speaks of the urban poor? Those on the margins are further marginalized.

Linganna opined that while there is no immediate threat to Brand Bengaluru, “investors will be looking for options, startups or whatever.” However, he added that Bengaluru has secured investment not just because of weather or infrastructure but also because of the quality of manpower, cosmopolitan outlook, best educational institutes, scientific and technological research wings and Anglophone culture. “Every neighborhood in Bengaluru is like a city,” Linganna said. “There is hardly any alternative to Bangalore. Even Japanese, French or Germans can live here without communication problems. Bengaluru will therefore continue to receive investment.

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