Saturday, March 25, 2023

Bengaluru or Venice? Chaotic urbanization and development

Bangaloreans shall never forget the first week of September, 2022. Wherever you go one is confronted with water, water, water everywhere. The sight of waterlogged city which used to be called as Silicon Valley – IT capital tag wore entirely a horrifying look From CEOs to migrant laborers, everyone was faced the with the brunt of water manifested in the unbridled development that the city once was once proud of. Residents right from CXOs and business heads living in some of the poshest residential complexes and bungalows in Whitefield worth crores of rupees and expensive cars to migrant workers living in temporary homes everyone was affected. Many temporary houses were washed away, while the rich moved to the hotels.
Bengaluru during these days came to complete halt or to say standstill. Delivery agents in order to survive risked themselves by travelling on their motor bikes half sunk or to say in the knee-deep water. Many of the events in Bengaluru had been re-scheduled or cancelled. Business of the restaurants, hospitality chains and small vendors were badly affected. Since Bengaluru is a city of contrasts, the poor had to manage in whatever conditions that exists, while the rich living in the Yemalur, Sarjapur Road, Marathahalli and Whitefield areas from 2nd September, 22 onwards have booked hotel rooms for bulk dates, since their battered homes need refurbishing. Hotels in Whitefield almost running nearly full occupancy and have guests booking for long stays. The rich will have a number of alternatives, but the poor have to manage in water and changing weather conditions. This is how the world function wherein the poor suffers the most.
The number of cars and bikes being brought for repairs and reboots have gone up many times. In the coming days it would increase. Public conveyance refused to ply to water-logged areas. Apart from humans, animals and birds were also badly affected by the recent downpour. Across social strata the recent rains spared none. Experts say that Bengaluru has had one of the worst rains in many decades. Barring 1998, when Bengaluru received 725 mm of rainfall, this is the highest rainfall since 1971. Bengaluru has already received around 709 mm of rainfall this year. Those in water-logged areas had no electricity and drinking water for several days.
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has released Rs. 300 cores for Bengaluru and Rs. 600 crores in total for the damages due to the rains. Since Bengaluru is the worst affected this, Rs. 300 crores would be used to restore damaged infrastructure like roads, electricity, electric poles, transformer, schools, etc. But the loss for the MNCs located in Silicon Valley and for others run to Rs. 225 crores due to rain after a five-hour traffic jam. The havoc of the recent rains in Bengaluru has created a nightmare for the city’s commuters. This year, the incessant downpours did reimpose and remind the very fact that the rains henceforth be causing perennial nightmare for the residents of Bengaluru. There are some who are contemplating to shift their homes and offices to Hyderabad or Mumbai. The downpour of heavy rains has left deep memories in the minds of people that ‘Silicon Valley’ is not safe anymore as people thought.
The incessant downpours have triggered the deeper probing which has created indelible mark in the hearts and minds of Bengeluraians that the IT capital in dire straits, especially since the Outer Ring Road near the IT hubs is the worst hit when it comes to water logged roads. Along with these the crumbling of infrastructure of Bengaluru. Civic experts and tax payers are more concerned about haphazard development of the city as an IT hub. There were more water-logging and total break-down of infrastructure particularly in the modern extension of Bengaluru compared to the older and more well-planned areas like Jayanagar, where drainage and other basic facilities were functional and other woes we take into account.
Bengaluru once claimed as city known for planned development and extension is now viewed as a city of disarray. Wreck less urbanization, unplanned and unbridled development planning and mindless concrete construction have led the downfall of the beauty and bounty of Bengaluru. Bengaluru is the city of lakes, fauna and flora. Known for plurality of cultures, multi-religious and lingual, therefore by all means is pan-Indian. Bengaluru is also called as pensioners paradise. Economic impacts of nature’s fury apart from human misery if we calculate in economic terms usually runs to crores of rupees for which materials and human resources runs to crores of rupees. At the cost nature, we keep increasing unlimited wants in order to justify mass production and mass consumption so that profits get maximized.
Tens and hundreds of lakes have vanished. In its place huge and tall concrete structures emerged. Bengaluru once a garden city is now a concrete jungle. Heavy rain that hit the city for few days changed the face of the city – from economic boom to nature’s doom. Waterlogged plush areas of India’s tech capital and skewed development models are another grim warning to all cities in the country. Going after economic boom without meticulous planning abusing the natural resources for unlimited wants and to satiate the human greed apparently results in chaos and destruction. A question that needs to raised now is: why do we face all sorts of nature’s fury more frequently now than before? Bengaluru was as much a city of lakes and tanks with interconnected channels as it was a city of parks.
The chaotic pace of the city’s development, rising land prices and scarcity of land coupled with developers’ greed and official collusion and nexus with the politicians, BBMP and bureaucrats that an intricate ecosystem meant for irrigation underwent a rapid change in character. Some lakes and tanks have been overflowing with water, while others including their channels have been choked by concrete from all sides, and many tanks could do with dredging to improve water-holding capacity. Changing patterns of climatic conditions and rainfall patterns aggravated this vulnerability. It is not cosmetic treatment, but should go deep into the roots of the problem. Real estate agents and builders ignored the problem underneath while busy in giving other exterior looks and other paraphernalia that the buyers give preference.
Concrete jungles such as Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and others face the risks spawned by rapidly depleted floodplains. It was a sight to see where CEOs, techies and others were forced to travel on tractors and boats. Some of the pictures mirror the city of Venice. If something drastically does not happen cities such as Bengaluru would eventually become during flash floods like Venice. Who is responsible for all these? It is certainly not the destruction of the nature, but human-made and thus triggered. Enormous corruption right from planning to implementation and to secure all aspects till the completion of buffer zone projects in which politicians, bureaucrats, BBMP and other agencies are fully and actively involved.
The truth is if India’s cities continue to be victims of bad and corrupt planning and political machinations, future disasters will continue and thus become annual feature. What happened recently to be taken as the glaring lesson. It is Bengaluru, a city of lakes, ponds and gardens, not a city of water. The recent rains that lashed the city of Bengaluru has mirrored the city of Venice. At this juncture, I’m reminded of Tom Morrison who thoughtfully expressed taking into account the world of nature in the following: “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”
Dr. John Mohan Razu

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