Bengaluru rains: City's transformation into 'Venice' reveals its civic mess

Don't come to Gurugram unless you want to be transported back to the age of Mahabharatha. That was a clever tweet by someone clearly angry with the state of affairs in Delhi's neighbourhood.

About 2,100 km away, I wonder if Bengaluru should offer a Tipu Sultan historical reference. Though it has been raining off and on since 26 July in Bengaluru, Thursday night's heavy rainfall saw a large part of south Bengaluru turning into Venice. To make the visual complete, boats were indeed deployed by the fire department in localities like Kodichikknahalli. The Madiwala lake overflowed into the road and people actually came out with fishing nets to catch fish on the road.

With the kind of images doing rounds on social media, Bengaluru cannot afford to ever fish for a compliment about being a livable city. Internationally, the city has already been defined by its frothing lakes and terrible traffic.

 Bengaluru rains: Citys transformation into Venice reveals its civic mess

People fishing in the overflowing lake water in Bengaluru on Friday. Twitter

But Bengalureans say Friday's flooding in parts of the city, is just a warning sign. If Bengaluru sees even half the rainfall that Chennai saw in December last year, the city would sink. Because Bengaluru, bursting at the seams, has not quite paid attention to keeping itself fit, thanks to the enormous amount of unregulated construction it sees.

The Karnataka government and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah have come in for a lot of flak for the mess. Understandable, given that the Congress controls both the Vidhana Soudha and Bengaluru Municipal Corporation (BBMP). The netas blame the elements and point to the Skymet weather data that says Bengaluru has recorded 135 mm of rainfall in the last four days, 30 mm more than its monthly rainfall in July. 41 mm of that rainfall came down just in the last 24 hours.

Experts say while the BBMP has to take the blame for not cleaning up the stormwater drains before the arrival of monsoon, the Bengalureans have contributed to the mess as well.

"Encroachments in the form of residential apartments over rajakaluve (stormwater drains) and lake beds mean the water has no way to get out. These buildings are given permission to construct by the town planning department of the BBMP," says V Balasubramanian, former Additional Chief Secretary in the Karnataka government. Three years back, Balasubramanian had famously predicted that half of Bengaluru will have to be evacuated because of a drinking water crisis by 2023. He says, with this kind of civic mess, the day will arrive sooner.

The Namma Bengaluru Foundation, that focuses on the city's civic issues, says this is a wake-up call to ensure the water bodies are taken care of. "Over 500 years of Bengaluru's development, smartly managing the rainwater through interlinked lakes was seen as a key survival strategy. Unfortunately, over the last 40 years, we have ignored this vital role of our lakes," says Sridhar Pabbisetty, CEO of Namma Bengaluru Foundation.

The challenge is to bring about order in a city that is ruled by builders. One in every two corporators in the previous BBMP of 198 members was from a real estate background. The numbers have jumped to 60 percent in the present body that was elected in 2015. Top ministers in Siddaramaiah cabinet have their hand in the developer pie, making them interested parties in encouraging encroachments, bending the rules and killing the water bodies.

In a nutshell, Bengaluru is a city in ICU, with the political class in the process of cutting off the oxygen supply.

If the politicians are land sharks in disguise, the administrative class of the BBMP does not do any better. It lacks the will to police the city, to ensure those who flout the law are brought to book.

The local Kannadiga population often blames the outsider for the mess, arguing too much floating population without a stake in Bengaluru, is zipping in and out of the city, living for short periods of 3-5 years and leaving behind a mess. This myopic approach has not helped solve problems but only added angst to the insider vs outsider debate.

One view is that Bengaluru is paying the price for its prosperity. With a per capita annual income of Rs 2,71,387, it contributes 34 percent to Karnataka's Gross State Domestic Product (GSPD). The city has also become home to the second highest vehicular population in India.

Therefore, one of the solutions offered, interestingly by the developer lobby, was to build two greenfield cities outside Bengaluru by declaring 15 km radius around the central business district as a no-construction zone. This, the real estate sector believes, is the only way to absorb the extra workforce of nine lakh, that the city's IT sector will see in the next seven years.

The tragedy of Bengaluru is that while it funds Karnataka's growth to a large extent, it gets little in return. In the 2016-17 state budget, an amount of Rs 5,000 crore was announced to address many of the civic issues the city faces. Citizen groups want a large chunk of the road tax and stamp duty collected from Bengaluru to be ploughed back into the state capital.

From atop the high-rises in both Bengaluru and Gurugram, the roads don't make for a pretty picture. It is time to go back to the drawing board to fix the basics. The tags of 'India's Silicon Valley' and 'The Millennium City' now look like a bad joke.

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Updated Date: Jul 29, 2016 18:33:15 IST