Floods and its political economy

People use coracles to move through a water-logged neighbourhood in Bengaluru on September 7, 2022.

People use coracles to move through a water-logged neighbourhood in Bengaluru on September 7, 2022. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The recent flooding of parts of Bengaluru, particularly the IT corridor, triggered an expected blame game between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress as to who “wrecked” Bengaluru. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai termed the encroachments of lakes, wetlands and storm water drains (SWDs) connecting lakes a “legacy” that his government inherited.

Looking back at how things have turned out since the 1990s, all parties that have been in power — the Congress for 13 years, the BJP, and various avatars of the Janata Dal for 10 years — will have to share the blame for the present state of affairs. Since the mid-1990s, which saw quick development of the IT corridor, this part of the city has been hit by floods many times. The Bellandur lake has spewed froth and foam and even been on fire, due to unbridled development and severe disruption of water ecology.

The IT corridor and its adjoining areas stretch from east Bengaluru along the Outer Ring Road to south-east Bengaluru. These areas were the worst-hit parts of the city by floods even before 2022. The location of Electronic City, established in 1978 to the south-east of the city, has played a key role in the spatial direction of the burgeoning IT corridor in the mid-1990s.

The IT boom saw not only tech parks and office spaces come up in the east-south-east axis of the city’s outskirts, but also residential projects, schools and other amenities to cater to those working here. With an unrelenting construction boom, it has the densest settlements of labour colonies as well as upscale apartments. Development in this region has largely been unplanned; it is guided by a demand-supply logic without any regulation and rigged by a nexus of realtors and politicians. Experts have been pointing to a complete disregard for lakes, wetlands and SWDs along the east-south-east axis of the city. Climate change has only increased the frequency of extremely heavy rains in short interval events in Bengaluru. This has been one of the main reasons for flooding of parts of the city. Flooding has been more pronounced where the water flow ecosystem has been disrupted.

This unchecked development led by market forces has happened in the absence of government intervention for provision of basic infrastructure such as housing. It is striking that the Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) never tried to develop a housing layout in the city’s bustling IT corridor. Their layouts don’t seem to spatially match the direction of development in the city. A planned development in these areas may not have allowed for the existing density and would have also addressed concerns of regional disparity in development within the city. As a testament to the resilience of planned development, older parts of Bengaluru are able to handle extreme weather events better, though chinks in their infrastructure also show up.

The areas most flooded now were mostly governed by gram panchayats and town municipalities, which have relatively weak regulatory mechanisms, during the peak of the development boom. They were included within the city limits only in 2007. Civic agencies are still playing catch-up to provide infrastructure. Ironically, the world-renowned IT hub is yet to get a functional modern drainage system and piped drinking water.

There is perhaps no quick fix for the mess and it needs a great political will to take a long-term view and set things right. The government has started a drive to remove encroachments of SWDs and wetlands, just as it has done every time there have been floods. Every time, the drive has stopped at the gates of the rich and powerful. This trend is irrespective of the party in power.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2022 1:42:14 am |