Rains dampen Bengaluru’s brand image and more

As rains brought Bengaluru’s infrastructure to its knees, especially in the IT corridor, the government has promised to set the situation right before the next monsoon. But the moot question is if it will be another quick fix or if the powers that be will muster the political will to go beyond as the State is on the threshold of an election

Updated - September 09, 2022 12:14 pm IST

Published - September 09, 2022 01:55 am IST

The Outer Ring Road was flooded after Halanayakanahalli Lake breached the banks.

The Outer Ring Road was flooded after Halanayakanahalli Lake breached the banks. | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

Bengaluru’s torrential rains over the last week have showered inexplicable miseries on everyone in the Mahadevapura zone. Images of CEOs riding on tractors and boats on waterlogged roads have gone viral on social media. Our Silicon Valley’s flood tales have reached its counterpart in the Bay Area, and industry captains are of the opinion that the situation has certainly given Bengaluru an “image-lashing” in addition to economic losses to people, enterprises and also to the State exchequer.

IT firms, large business establishments, and start-ups that are located in flood-hit areas have incurred huge financial and productivity losses that are yet to be exactly ascertained. Tech firms and banking establishments along the Outer Ring Road (ORR) alone reported a loss of ₹225 crore due to heavy rains and flooding on a single day (August 30), as per a memorandum submitted by the Outer Ring Road Companies Association (ORRCA) to the Chief Minister.

Representing companies, situated in Central Silk Board and Krishnarajapuram corridor, which employ about a million professionals, also sought Mr. Basavaraj Bommai’s attention to address the “appalling infrastructure” in the ORR region in particular and the city in general that has impacted industries in multiple ways.

| Video Credit: Murali K and Sudhakara Jain

Further cautioning the State administration, the association said, it was in the collective interest of ORRCA and the State government that Bengaluru infrastructure issues be addressed with a short/midterm and longer-term view to sustain the growth, else these companies may seek alternative destinations.

Karnataka government’s big promise

Alarmed by this, the State government on Wednesday held a high-level meeting with leaders of the industry and assured them of finding a permanent solution to the problems before the next monsoon. IT companies were also promised to be made partners in the development work in the zone so that it is completed on schedule.

However, with elections to the Karnataka State Assembly just eight months away and poll action already picking up in parties, it remains to be seen how much and how soon this will translate into action and if it will indeed be priority.

Harish Bijoor, founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, said that the sad fact is that any corrective action is often at best cosmetic and any cosmetic correction is no match to the fury of nature.

Water’s memory

“Water has a memory. It will go where it normally goes. If we have built on lake beds, water does not care. It will go into the basements of those buildings. And water will do this year after year. If you try to defy nature, nature will defy you. The greed economy of Bengaluru must re-think its strategies,’‘ he cautioned, pointing to the need to balance development and ecology.

Avinash Vashistha, Executive Chairman, Tholons, a technology, innovation, and investment firm, said the city could have avoided this disastrous situation, if administrators, local bodies, corporate leaders, and citizens together had a long-term perspective to invest in innovation.

Fire fighters evacuate residents from flooded Rainbow Drive Layout at Sarjapur after heavy monsoon rains, in Bengaluru, on Sept. 5, 2022.

Fire fighters evacuate residents from flooded Rainbow Drive Layout at Sarjapur after heavy monsoon rains, in Bengaluru, on Sept. 5, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

“Why is this happening when we have engineers and entrepreneurs who are world-class? Why is this happening to us when our companies and our innovators are building technologies, systems, and platforms for the rest of the world to make their life and work more enjoyable, comfortable and safe?’‘ asked Mr. Vashistha, who was former India head of Accenture.

According to V. Balakrishnan, former CFO, of Infosys, with a vibrant startup ecosystem and a world-class IT industry, Bengaluru is a “global brand” known for innovation and superior talent.

“However, the recent rains and their aftermath have clearly dented its global brand image. From being a world-renowned city it has become a butt of social media jokes and memes. It is a first-class city, unfortunately with third-class governance,” he said, adding that citizens deserve better from the elected government.

Mr. Balakrishnan, who is the Chairman of venture capital firm Exfinity Ventures, pointed out that the city has always had active participation from citizens, NGOs, corporates, and others, but what lacking is the political will to fix its infrastructure woes. “There is a lack of ownership and accountability in every part of governance. Also, corruption is deep-rooted and the current government is focused only on winning elections,’‘ he candidly said.

Echoing similar sentiments T.V. Mohandas Pai, a venture capitalist, and entrepreneur said, investors globally were concerned about the ability of the city to manage growth. What was unfolding in the last many days was the result of high growth with inadequate infrastructure, all thanks to bad governance and “very corrupt local administration.”

The political class, meanwhile, is at pains to argue that the situation is not owing to their actions or the lack of it. Any city in the world would have faced a similar crisis as Bengaluru did if it received the same amount of heavy rain as it received here, was the instant response of K. Sudhakar, Minister for Health and Family Welfare, referring to the collapse of business infrastructure along IT corridors.

Hundreds of migrant workers on Borewell Road in Whitefield were affected by the downpour.

Hundreds of migrant workers on Borewell Road in Whitefield were affected by the downpour. | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

“Complaining is a very easy job. During a crisis, citizens must join their hands with the government to face the situation. This is not the time for the blame game,’‘ he said.

His cabinet colleague Ashwath Narayan C.N., Minister for Higher Education, IT & BT, Science & Technology, said, “A thriving city that has been continually growing for decades is bound to face certain infrastructure issues. Recent rains in Bengaluru have been extraordinary and the government is actively monitoring the issue and working hard to resolve issues as soon as possible,” he said.

An excavator working on the Rajakaluve encroached off Borewell Road in Whitefield area, after Nallurhalli lake breach.

An excavator working on the Rajakaluve encroached off Borewell Road in Whitefield area, after Nallurhalli lake breach. | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

The opposition party Congress held a protest, which later triggered a blame game between the ruling BJP and Congress, against the failure of the State government in handling the flood situation. The Congress accused the BJP of destroying the brand image of Bengaluru it had built over the years. D.K. Shivakumar, President of KPCC, said under the BJP rule, the “Brand Bengaluru” has been demolished especially when 39% of taxpayers of the country were in this city.

Hitting back, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said several residential localities in Bengaluru had to face flood-like situations due to “unplanned rule and misrule” of the Congress government earlier in Karnataka.

According to Joseph Hoover, an environment conservationist, what is lacking is not just a lack of political will to set the infrastructure right but an understanding of the broader picture. “There has been a lot of superficial talk about overflowing lakes, encroachment of lakes and rajakaluves, choked storm-water drains, flooding, traffic snarls, and inconvenience to people. But discussions also have to be about why there have been excessive rains, floods, landslides, extreme heat, and drought... Basically, the ecosystem has to be protected to avert extreme climate events,’‘ he said.

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