Thursday 27 June 2013

Bangalore-The rains and a history of urban flooding

The recent floods in Uttarakand and other parts of north India, particularly Himachal Pradesh, and years ago in north Karnataka has once again turned the focus on the lack of preparedness of the Governments, both State and Centre and the agencies in dealing with such disasters.
While the defence forces acted with alacrity and dedication, the government, bureaucracy and even local people were found wanting. If the Government and bureaucracy vanished along with the floods, a handful of local people turned parasites and grave diggers, robbing the pilgrims and leaving them at the mercy of  a raging Nature.
While there is no possibility of what happened in Uttarakand taking place in Bangalore, there is little doubt that time is running pout for Bangalore as the powers that be continue to play a game of blind date with Nature.
The politicians, bureaucracy and even the Government has either turned a blind eye or covertly backed encroachment of  forests and grasslands, mine river beds for sand and block natural flow of water.
In Bangalore, there has been massive  and repeated deluge of water from the drains almost every time it rains and the reason is not far to seek, Rampant encroachment, mushrooming illegal layouts, wanton destruction of green cover, throwing filth and debris in rain water drains and blocking it in several places by building structures have led to a situation where even a small shower leads to roads being clogged with water.
However, flooding of Bangalore is not a new phenomenon. Contrary to popular perception, flooding in Bangalore is more than a century old. The first such recorded incident of what is now better known as urban flooding occurred exactly a century ago. It was during the monsoon season of 1912 and Bangalore then had been seeing a particularly wet spell.
It was September 28, and Bangalore that day saw very heavy rains. While the damage in Cantonment was not all that high, houses in Siddikatte (now City Market) and the petes of Bangalore, including Ranasinghpet and Gundopant Street were completely flooded and the waters entered houses and shops, leaving people stranded in knee deep water.
With the rains leaving a trail of  destruction, old Bangalore or the Pettah town looked like a war ravaged city. The then Municipality then swung into action almost immediately and decided to provide food and shelter first to the people.
Interestingly, one of the members of the then municipality was Puttanna Chetty, who later became its president. Sir M. Visvesvara9iah had just taken over as Dewan of Mysore State.
The Municipality realized that the entire infrastructure in the city was almost in shambles. The roads were completely inundated with water and drains were overflowing. Low lying areas were completely flooded and scores of people were marooned.
The municipality shifted the people to choultries and kalyana mantapas and organized food and medicine for the inmates. those associated with the civic administration of the city. The municipality also helped the inmates get their valuables and other necessities from the houses.
To prevent looting and robbery, the municipality took the help of police and posted guards in several areas. The rain havoc was so much that the municipality had to open four choultries to house people and feed them.
The floods receded only after October 2, that is six days after heavy rains lashed Bangalore. The Municipality, on its own, decided to help people rebuild their houses and even offered sites at elevated places. Adequate compensation was give to those who lost their houses.
Bangalore then, the Pettah area, had a population of just about 1 lakhs and it spread over an area of a little over 10 square miles. The Cantonment or the Civil and Military Station was more populated and it was also spread put over a larger area.
Some of the people then blamed the then municipality for the floods. They complained that the first act of the Bangalore Municipality was to dry the moat around the old fort area and drain it of all water and convert it along with Siddikatte lake into house sites.
The residents then felt that the civic agency had also made mistake in allowing construction of houses on plots it sold adjacent to the  Dharmambudhi Tank in Majestic.   
Centuries later, the rains continue to plunge Bangalore into misery and the Bruthut Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) keeps on parroting the same line every year-there will be no flooding this year but this refrain sounds as hollow as ever as no steps have been taken to prevent flooding.
(This is the first in a series of articles on Urban Flooding and Bangalore. The sources of these series of articles are the records, chronicles and books of and on civic agencies themselves such as Central Water Commission (CWC), BBMP BDA, BWSSB, Urban Development Department and studies by IISc, IISEC, Bangalore University and other scientific and research institutions.)   


  1. One of the obvious reasons for flooding is unplanned development, and levelling of lakes. Developments should be well thought of, and scientifically planned. But unfortunately that's not the case, most of the time.

    By the way, in your first sentence, shouldn't it be north India, instead of north Karnataka?

    1. You are absolutely right, Mr Nair. Theres seems to be no policy on water management and usage. Unplanned and unckeched development has led to loss of flora and fauna the total of whoch is yet to be estimated in Karnataka.

  2. A flood a century ago may be used by the insensitive and the urban - genre to pooh pooh about environmental concerns.
    The fact as I understand is that some twenty odd lakes and water bodies in Bangalore are no more there and where should the rain water flow to? The sea is far away.