Environmentalists and urban planning experts are critical of the State Government’s plan to reinforce storm-water drains with concrete, one of the measures announced, to mitigate flooding during the monsoon. Experts with whom The Hindu spoke, said concrete drains would serve no purpose apart from increasing the speed of water flow. The need of the hour is a more integrated and holistic approach for proper water management, they said.
After visiting the flood-hit areas over the last two days, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai announced a master plan to strengthen the SWD network by widening them, using reinforced cement concrete and also building new drains.
Bengaluru has over 840-km of canals, which later became SWD, that were natural drainage pathways, linking lakes and taking the excess water eventually to the rivers.
Kshitij Urs, adjunct professor of public policy, National Law School of India University, said the World Bank had normalised the concretisation of drains, but it was not the solution to Bengaluru’s problems. “In Singapore, concrete drains have a utilitarian role. The drains take the rain water to the sea. Bengaluru is different as the drains are connected to natural river valleys. These river valleys have many ecological roles and just reinforcing them with concrete serves no real purpose,” he said.
The move, he added, contradicted the Government’s earlier stand of rejuvenating valleys and afforesting them.
Prof. M. Inayatulla, Director, Water Institute, University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering (UVCE), Bangalore University, said the carrying capacity of the drain network and volume of discharge should be recomputed. “We need to also study the land-use pattern along the drain network and changes in climate pattern, besides taking up an integrated effort to rejuvenate the four valleys in the city – Hebbal, Koramangala, Challaghatta and Vrushabhavathi,” he said.
Leo Saldanha of Environment Support Group (ESG) argued that the city’s flooding problems could have been solved had the Government implemented the guidelines of Justice N.K. Patil Committee Report on management and rehabilitation of lakes. The report of the committee that was set up by the High Court of Karnataka in response to a petition by the Environment Support Group was accepted by the court and the Government around 10 years ago, said Mr. Saldanha. “The Government is actually in contempt of court for failing to implement the guidelines of the report.”
He stated that the Government was “weaponising water” by deciding to reinforce drains with concrete. The problem of flooding, he said, will not be solved but shifted to another place. “If the canal system is maintained as envisaged in the N.K. Patil report, we will have beautiful ribbons of greenery that will not just improve the city’s biodiversity, but also recharge groundwater. Else, flooding will become a common phenomenon across the city,” he added.
Veena Srinivasan, hydrologist from Ashoka Trust For Research In Ecology And The Environment (ATREE), said cities across the world were looking at ways to hold water, when on the contrary, the Government was looking at increasing the speed of water flow. “We need integrated planning and political will to bring together all agencies involved in water management, not ‘bandaid solutions’. We can work together on solutions where the drains can be made part of the city’s architecture, besides using them to better manage water resources,” she said.