- Much of Bangalore submerged in recent flooding
- Residents forced to wade waist-deep in water
- The disruptions raise questions about the city’s future as a technology hub
- Authorities vow to act, but extreme weather could complicate plans
BENGALORE, Sept 15 (Reuters) – In the late 1980s, Harish Pullanur spent his weekends roaming the swamps and ponds of Yemalur, an area on the eastern edge of the Indian metropolis of Bangalore, where his cousins would join him catching small freshwater fish. .
In the 1990s, Bangalore, a once genteel city of gardens, lakes and a cool climate, quickly became India’s answer to Silicon Valley, attracting millions of workers and the regional headquarters of some of the world’s largest IT companies.
Unimpeded expansion had to be paid.
Register now and get FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Concrete has replaced green space, and construction along the edges of lakes has blocked connecting channels, limiting the city’s ability to absorb and pump water.
Last week, after the city’s heaviest rainfall in decades, the Yemalur area was inundated with waist-deep water along with some other parts of Bangalore, disrupting the southern metropolis’s IT industry and damaging its reputation.
Fed up with traffic jams and lack of water during the dry season, residents have long complained about the city’s infrastructure.
But flooding during the rainy season has raised new questions about the sustainability of rapid urban development, especially if weather patterns become more erratic and intense due to climate change.
“It’s very, very sad,” said Pullanur, who was born near Yemalur but now lives in the western city of Mumbai, parts of which also face sporadic flooding like many urban centers in India.
“The trees are gone. The parks are almost gone.
Big businesses are also complaining about worsening disruptions, which they say could cost them tens of millions of dollars in a single day.
Bangalore is home to more than 3,500 IT companies and about 79 “technoparks” – prestigious premises that house offices and entertainment centers designed for high-tech workers.
Making their way along flooded highways last week, they have struggled to reach modern glass-fronted complexes in and around Yemalur, where multinational firms including JP Morgan and Deloitte work alongside big Indian startups.
Millionaire entrepreneurs were among those forced to flee flooded living quarters and flooded bedrooms on the backs of tractors.
Insurance companies said initial property loss estimates were in the millions of rupees and the numbers are expected to rise in the next few days.
The latest chaos has raised new concerns from India’s $194 billion IT services industry, which is centered around the city.
“India is a technology hub for global businesses, so any disruption here will have global repercussions. Bangalore, as an IT hub, will be no exception,” said K. S. Viswanathan, vice president of the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) industry lobbying group.
Bangalore was renamed Bangalore in 2014.
NASSCOM is currently working on identifying 15 new cities as software export hubs, said Viswanathan, who is leading the project.
“This is not a story of city against city,” he told Reuters. “We as a country do not want to miss out on revenue and business opportunities due to a lack of infrastructure.”
Even before the floods, some business groups, including the Outer Beltway Companies Association (ORRCA), led by Intel executives (INTC.O)Goldman Sachs, Microsoft (MSFT.O) and Wipro (WIPR.NS)warned that inadequate infrastructure in Bangalore could encourage companies to leave.
“We’ve been talking about this for years,” Krishna Kumar, general manager of ORRCA, said last week of Bangalore’s infrastructure challenges. “Now we have come to a serious moment, and all companies are on the same wavelength.”
In the early 1970s, more than 68 percent of Bangalore was covered with vegetation.
By the end of the 1990s, the city’s green cover had fallen to about 45%, and by 2021 to less than 3% of its total area of 741 square kilometers, according to an analysis by TV Ramachandra of Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Science (IISC).
Green spaces can help absorb and temporarily store stormwater, helping to protect built-up areas.
“If this trend continues, 98.5% (of the city) will be filled with concrete by 2025,” said Ramachandra, an associate at the IISC Center for Environmental Sciences.
A CITY IN DISINTEGRATION
Rapid urban expansion, often with illegal structures built without permission, has affected Bangalore’s nearly 200 lakes and the canal network that once connected them, experts say.
So when heavy rain hits the city, as it did last week, the drainage systems can’t handle it, especially in low-lying areas like Yemalur.
The government of Karnataka, where Bangalore is located, said last week it would spend 3 billion Indian rupees ($37.8 million) on flood relief, including removing unauthorized buildings, improving drainage systems and controlling lake levels.
“All encroachments will be ruthlessly eliminated,” Chief Minister of Karnataka Basavaraj Bommai told reporters. “I will personally go and check.”
The authorities have identified about 50 districts of Bangalore that were built up illegally. Among them were high-end villas and apartments, according to Tushar Girinath, Bangalore’s chief civil authority commissioner.
The state government also announced last week that it would set up a traffic authority in Bangalore and start discussions on a new project to divert stormwater along a major highway.
Critics called these initiatives a reflex reaction that could dry up.
“Every time it floods, only then do we discuss,” said IISC’s Ramachandra. “Bangalore is decaying. He will die”.
(1 dollar = 79.4130 Indian rupees)
Register now and get FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in NEW DELHI and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in BENGALUR, additional reporting by Nandan Mandayam in BENGALUR; Edited by Mike Collette-White and Raju Gopalakrishnan
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.