The much-hyped Bengaluru–Mysuru expressway project has been in the news for all the wrong reasons these days. After the heavy rain that lashed Ramangaram district earlier this week — on August 29 — motorists using the under-construction expressway had a harrowing time. After the underpasses were flooded, vehicles were seen submerged on the flooded road at Sangabasvana Doddi.
The impact was such that cranes had to be deployed to shift the vehicles that broke down in the floodwaters. Traffic snarls forced the district administration to impose diversions and ask motorists not to use the expressway.
Last week too, the district authorities imposed diversions after several stretches of the expressway were inundated. As videos of flooded roads and traffic snarls went viral, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) came under severe criticism from various quarters, accusing it of implementing a flawed design, blocking natural drains, and encroaching waste weir of lakes.
Naveen Gowda, who was stuck in the traffic for hours, said, “People had no option but to leave their vehicles at the underpass after getting stranded in the floodwaters. It is evident that blocking natural drains or not providing proper channels for the flow of rainwater resulted in the flooding. Officials should take corrective steps before opening the expressway.”
The NHAI had awarded the project of implementing the 117-km-long expressway in February 2018. The 10-lane expressway is expected to reduce the travel time to 75 minutes between Bengaluru and Mysuru. Initially, a 30-month deadline was set for completing the project. As per the previous deadline, the entire stretch was supposed to be open for motorists before Dasara, but the NHAI is set to miss it. Officials are confident of opening the Bengaluru–Nidaghatta stretch by September 25 and are aiming at opening bypasses before Dasara. By the year-end, the NHAI is likely to complete the civil works.
Opposition parties lash out at NHAI
“The flood in Ramanagaram is a manmade disaster. The raja kaluves, canals, and other storm-water drains have been encroached upon. If the raja kaluve has a breadth of around 60 ft, the Minor Irrigation Department survey recorded it to be 25 ft to 30 ft. The district administration must clear these encroachments.”GowrishankarResident of Ramanagaram
The former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy alleged that the unscientific implementation of the project had led to the flooding of the road. “Mindless quarrying and extraction of sand while implementing the project disrupted the flow of water. The project was also responsible for the inflow of more water into Bakshi Kere that breached its bund. In Ramanagaram, Jolappana Kere too was impacted by the highway work,” Mr. Kumaraswamy said. He took a dig at Member of Parliament Pratap Simha, who had downplayed the highway works as the reason for the flooding, by saying that instead of building roads, the NHAI had built swimming pools on the highway.
On Thursday, Mr. Simha told the media that experts from the NHAI and others had inspected the highway stretch that was inundated. “Due to torrential rain, there was a heavy flow of water from Ramadevara Betta. Encroachment of nalas enroute disrupted the flow of water, resulting in inundation of the underpass.” He maintained that people having suspicion over poor work of the expressway were free to get a third-party audit done. The contractor implementing the project was liable to keep the road in good condition for 15 years, he added. Meanwhile, Mr. Kumaraswamy said he would meet Union Minister Nitin Gadkari regarding the recent flooding of the highway.
Criticising the NHAI, A. Manjunath, MLA for Magadi, said, “All that chaos happened because of the unscientific design. Without taking departments such as Minor Irrigation into confidence, the NHAI started implementing the project near waterbodies and disturbed the natural flow of water. The Kanminaki lake is the best example of that. There are instances of streams being blocked and raja kaluves being destroyed.”
In Ramanagaram district, close to 200 houses were damaged and more than 3,800 houses were flooded after lakes breached their bunds or overflowed after torrential rain that lashed the district for several days. Most of the residential areas that were affected were located in city areas in Ramanagaram and Channapatna.
Deputy Commissioner of Ramanagaram district Avinash Menon Rajendran, said, “When it comes to encroachment or blocking of waterbodies, what we have observed is that there is no problem with the inflow of water into lakes or tanks. However, the downstream canals or nalas are being blocked or encroached upon, resulting in the problem of flooding of residential areas or agricultural land. The Survey of India is doing an aerial survey of the entire Ramanagaram district. Once that exercise is over, based on the images, village maps or survey numbers could be superimposed to mark the boundary of lakes and other waterbodies.”
When asked about the alleged design flaws in the expressway project leading to flooding of underpasses and other stretches, Mr. Rajendran said, “There appears to be obstructions to the passage of water while implementing the project, resulting in inundation at some locations. We have told them what needs to be done for free flow of the water when it rains.”
“For 20 years, I used to travel on this highway to Bengaluru regularly. There was no flooding or roadblocks due to heavy rain before. But, the unscientific national highway project has caused unnatural flooding and inundation of all underpasses. Near Sangabasavana Doddi and other places, they tried to level the road by constructing big underpasses butthere is no proper drainage to allow the flow of storm-water. It led to heavy flooding of the underpasses.”RaghuResident of Sangabasavana Doddi
The district administration will hold meetings with officials concerned about rectification measures. Superintendent of Police of Ramangaram K. Santosh Babu said, “Every single blockage that led to flooding on the NH will be examined by involving various agencies. As the highway stretch is being opened for motorists in phases, there is a need to put in place corrective measures to avoid inundation of the highway by taking steps such as wider passage for water flow.”
Urban mobility expert and convener of IISc Sustainable Transportation Lab Ashish Verma said the Bengaluru–Mysuru expressway is under construction and it is too early to say that the design flaw has led to inundation. “However, it is a clear warning sign that authorities concerned should take up all the measures to prevent flooding in the coming days. After the flooding of the highway, for days, motorists were asked to use alternative roads to reach Mysuru or Bengaluru. The authorities should put in place corrective measures to avoid such inconvenience to motorists who have been enduring hardships for years during the construction of the highway,” he said.
Responding to the allegations, an NHAI official said, “Inundation is the result of unprecedented rain that lashed Ramangaram. We too are on the job on taking corrective measures by involving the respective departments wherever required.”
(With inputs from Jayanth R.)