BENGALURU (Reuters) – Harish Pullanoor spent his weekends in the late 1980s wandering the swamps and ponds of Yemalur, an area then at the eastern end of the Indian metropolis of Bengaluru, where his cousins joined him. catching small freshwater fish.
In the 1990s, Bengaluru, once a stately city of gardens, lakes and cool weather, quickly became India’s answer to Silicon Valley, attracting millions of workers and the regional headquarters of some of the largest IT companies in the world.
Unhindered expansion came at a price.
Cement replaced green spaces and buildings along the lakeside blocked connecting canals, limiting the city’s ability to absorb and suck water.
Last week, after the heaviest rains in decades, the neighborhood of Yemalur was submerged by water to the waist along with other parts of Bengaluru, disrupting the southern metropolis’ IT industry and dealing a severe blow to its reputation.
Residents fed up with blocked traffic and water shortages during the dry season have long complained about the city’s infrastructure.
But the floods during the monsoon have raised new questions about the sustainability of rapid urban development, especially as weather patterns become more erratic and intense due to climate change.
“It’s very, very sad,” said Pullanoor, who was born near Yemalur but now lives in the western city of Mumbai, part of which also faces sporadic flooding like many urban centers in India.
“The trees have disappeared. The parks have almost disappeared. There is heavy traffic.”
Large companies also complain of worsening outages, which they believe can cost them tens of millions of dollars in a single day.
Bengaluru is home to more than 3,500 IT companies and approximately 79 “technology parks” – exclusive premises housing offices and entertainment areas that cater to technology workers.
Traveling along the flooded highways last week, they struggled to reach modern glass-fronted complexes in and around Yemalur, where multinational companies including JP Morgan and Deloitte operate alongside large Indian start-ups.
Millionaires entrepreneurs were among those forced to flee flooded living rooms and submerged bedrooms at the back of tractors.
Insurance companies said initial estimates for the loss of property were in the millions of rupees, with numbers expected to rise in the coming days.
The latest chaos sparked renewed concerns from India’s $ 194 billion IT services industry centered around the city.
“India is a technology hub for global business, so any disruption here will have a global impact. Bangalore, being the center of IT, will be no exception to this,” said KS Viswanathan, vice president of the industry lobbying group. of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM).
Bangalore was renamed Bengaluru in 2014.
NASSCOM is currently working to identify 15 new cities that could become software export centers, said Viswanathan, who is leading the project.
“It’s not a city against city story,” he told Reuters. “We as a country do not want to lose revenue and business opportunities due to a lack of infrastructure.”
Even before the floods, some corporate groups, including the Outer Ring Road Companies Association (ORRCA), led by executives from Intel, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft and Wipro, warned that inadequate infrastructure in Bengaluru could encourage companies to leave.
“We’ve been talking about it for years,” Krishna Kumar, ORRCA’s general manager, said last week of Bengaluru’s infrastructure problems. “We have gotten to a serious point now and all the companies are on the same page.”
In the early 1970s, over 68% of Bengaluru was covered in vegetation.
By the late 1990s, the city’s green coverage had dropped 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 the Indian Institute of Science. (IISC) of Bengaluru.
Green spaces can help absorb and temporarily store rainwater, helping to protect built-up areas.
“If this trend continues, by 2025, 98.5 percent (of the city) will be choked with concrete,” said Ramachandra, who is part of the IISC’s Center for Ecological Sciences.
CITY IN DECAY
According to experts, rapid urban expansion, often characterized by illegal structures built without authorization, has affected Bengaluru’s nearly 200 lakes and a network of canals that once connected them.
So when heavy rains lash the city like they did last week, drainage systems are unable to keep up, especially in low-lying areas like Yemalur.
The state government of Karnataka, where Bengaluru is located, said last week that it would spend 3 billion Indian rupees ($ 37.8 million) to help manage the flood situation, including the removal of unauthorized developments, the improvement of drainage systems and control of the water level in lakes.
“All invasions will be removed without mercy,” Prime Minister of Karnataka Basavaraj Bommai told reporters. “I’ll personally go and inspect.”
Authorities have identified around 50 areas in Bengaluru that have been illegally developed. Those included high-end villas and apartments, according to Tushar Girinath, chief commissioner of Bengaluru’s civic authority.
Last week, the state government also announced that it would set up a body to manage traffic in Bengaluru and start discussions on a new stormwater drainage project along a major highway.
Critics have called the initiatives an instinctive reaction that could run out.
“Whenever it floods, only then do we argue,” Ramachandra said of the IISC. “Bengaluru is decaying. It will die.”
($ 1 = 79.4130 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in NEW DELHI and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in BENGALURU, Additional reporting by Nandan Mandayam in BENGALURU; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Raju Gopalakrishnan)