- A large part of Bengaluru has been submerged in recent floods
- Forced residents to wade into deep water
- The unrest raises questions about the city’s future as a technology hub
- Authorities have vowed to act, but severe weather may complicate plans
BENGALURU (Reuters) – Harish Polanor spent weekends in the late 1980s wandering the swamps and ponds of Yamalur, an area then on the eastern edge of the Indian city of Bengaluru, where he was joined by his cousins catching small freshwater fish. .
Once a city of parks, lakes and a cool climate, Bengaluru quickly became India’s answer to Silicon Valley, attracting millions of workers and the regional headquarters of some of the world’s largest IT companies.
Unrestricted expansion came at a price.
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Concrete replaced green spaces and construction around the edge of the lakes closed the connecting canals, limiting the city’s ability to absorb and draw water.
Last week, after decades of torrential rain in the city, Yamalur sank under deep waters along with some other parts of Bengaluru, disrupting the southern city’s IT industry and dealing a blow to its reputation.
Residents are tired of traffic and water shortages during the dry season and have long complained about the city’s infrastructure.
But floods during the monsoons have raised new questions about the sustainability of rapid urban development, especially if weather patterns become more volatile and intense due to climate change.
“It’s very sad,” said Bolanur, who was born near Yamalore but now lives in western Mumbai, parts of which are also subject to intermittent flooding like many urban centers in India.
“The trees are gone. The gardens are almost gone. There is intermittent traffic.”
Big companies are also complaining about the worsening disruptions, which they say could cost them tens of millions of dollars in a single day.
Bengaluru hosts more than 3,500 IT companies and around 79 “tech parks” – high-end buildings housing offices and entertainment areas that cater to tech workers.
Wading through flooded highways last week, they struggled to reach modern, glass-fronted complexes in and around Yemalur where multinationals including JP Morgan and Deloitte work alongside big Indian start-ups.
Millionaire entrepreneurs were among those forced to flee flooded living rooms and flooded bedrooms on the backs of tractors.
Insurers said initial estimates of property losses are in the millions of rupees, and the numbers are expected to rise in the next few days.
The recent chaos has raised renewed concerns about India’s $194 billion IT services industry that is concentrated around the city.
KS Viswanathan, Vice President of the Industry Lobbying Group of the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASCOM) said.
Bangalore was renamed Bengaluru in 2014.
Viswanathan, who is leading the project, said Nascom is currently working on identifying 15 new cities that could become hubs for software export.
“It’s not a city versus city story,” he told Reuters. “We as a country don’t want to miss out on revenue and job opportunities due to a lack of infrastructure.”
Even before the floods, some business groups including the Outer Ring Road Corporations Association (ORRCA) led by Intel executives were (INTC.O)Goldman Sachs, Microsoft (MSFT.O) Wipro (WIPR.NS)warned that inadequate infrastructure in Bengaluru may encourage businesses to leave.
“We have been talking about these for years,” Krishna Kumar, general manager of ORRCA, said last week of the problems with infrastructure in Bengaluru. “We’ve reached a serious point now and all companies are on the same page.”
In the early 1970s, more than 68 percent of Bengaluru was covered in vegetation.
By the late 1990s, the city’s green cover had fallen to about 45% and by 2021 to less than 3% of its total area of 741 square kilometers, according to an analysis by Ramachandra Television of the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru (IISC).
Green spaces can help absorb and temporarily store rainwater, which helps protect built-up areas.
“If this trend continues, by 2025, 98.5% (of the city) will be choked with concrete,” said Ramachandra, who is part of the IISC Environmental Science Center.
The city is in decline
According to experts, rapid urbanization, which often includes illegal buildings built without a permit, has affected nearly 200 lakes in Bengaluru and the network of canals that once connected them.
So when it rains as heavy as it did last week, the drainage systems can’t keep up, especially in low-lying areas like Yamalur.
The government of Karnataka, where Bengaluru is located, said last week it would spend 3 billion Indian rupees ($37.8 million) to help manage the flood situation, including removing unauthorized developments, improving drainage systems and controlling water levels in lakes.
“All encroachments will be removed without any mercy,” Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bhumi told reporters. “I will personally go and search.”
Authorities have identified about 50 districts in Bengaluru that were developed illegally. Among those are luxury villas and apartments, according to Tushar Girinath, Chief Commissioner of Civil Authority of Bengaluru.
Last week, the state government also announced that it would set up a traffic management authority in Bengaluru and start discussions on a new stormwater drainage project along a major highway.
Critics called the initiatives an unusual reaction that could fade.
“Every time it gets submerged, it’s only then that we discuss,” said IISC’s Ramachandra. “Bengaluru is disintegrating. You will die.”
(dollar = 79.4130 Indian rupees)
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(Additional reporting by Devgyot Ghoshal in New Delhi and Nivedita Bhattachary in Bengaluru.) Editing by Mike Collette White and Raju Gopalakrishnan
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