By Bhavana Akella
The image of Bengaluru as a garden city and the country's technology hub was dented when record rainfall this year exposed not only its infrastructure woes but also the apathy of its municipal agencies in coping with its growing needs.
The cosmopolitan city of 10 million people has witnessed phenomenal growth over the years, thanks to a thriving multi-billion-dollar global IT services industry. However, lack of proportionate investment in basic amenities like stormwater drains, roads and public utilities has made it a victim of its own success.
Even as the monsoon pounded the city with nearly 667mm of rainfall as opposed to the average 460 mm from June to October, its denizens faced a harrowing time with its fallout -- low-lying areas were inundated, and roads, colonies and houses were flooded in the hundreds, as outdated and choked drains overflowed and the civic machinery was found wanting.
"Though the city has been expanding rapidly over the years, inadequate investment in keeping pace with its growth and poor maintenance of its amenities, especially drains and roads, made it vulnerable to rains," Bangalore Political Action Committee (BPAC) Chief Executive Revathy Ashok lamented.
BPAC is a non-profit organisation of citizens groups seeking better governance and quality life in Bengaluru.
In the absence of an efficient garbage disposal system, tonnes of solid waste generated across the city found its way into the stormwater drains, blocking the flow of rainwater into the lakes. Illegal constructions on drains and encroachments in and around lakes also resulted in rainwater stagnating for days across the city.
"Failure to rejuvenate and maintain the lakes, which have been depleting due to unplanned growth and illegal construction around them have also blocked the natural flow of rainwater across the city," Revathy told IANS.
The condition of the Bellandur Lake, the largest in the city's south-east suburb, which has seen frothing due to toxic substances flowing into it through an untreated sewage system from chemical factories and housing colonies around it, outraged the citizens and brought national attention to it.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had directed the state in August to submit a detailed plan for reviving the 910-acre lake, and had asked the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) to shut down about 100 polluting units around it.
Shree DN, assistant editor at â€˜Citizen Matters, Bengaluruâ€™, a citizens' civic issues forum said the city's civic body, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), had to be given sufficient funds to manage the infrastructure and rejuvenate the amenities to improve the quality of life across the city.
"The stormwater drains and sewage system have to be de-silted regularly to ensure they don't overflow with rainwater, which causes severe damage to the city's roads, buildings and other infrastructure facilities," Shree told IANS.
The forum also felt more open areas like parks, playgrounds and lung spaces will absorb rainwater and prevent flooding of residential colonies, markets and inundation of low-lying areas across the city.
"Without a holistic approach to clearing encroachments around lakes and stormwater drains, solid waste management and protecting open spaces, the city will suffer from environmental degradation," Shree asserted.
The explosive growth of vehicles in the absence of an efficient public transport service to meet the commuting needs of citizens and a million-strong floating population has compounded the city's infrastructure woes due to gridlocks on its thoroughfares and increasing air and noise pollution.
Though the state-run Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (BMRCL) began operating the first phase in mid-June, the service has not eased the traffic congestion on the arterial roads as it covers only 43 km of the city and its ever-expanding suburbs.
But, Namma Metro, the new swanky public transport service, which ferries around 3,00,000 commuters daily across the hi-tech metropolis, represents the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of the tech city that became a victim of its success, prosperity and phenomenal growth.
As the hassle-free Metro provides speedy commuting on real-time to the citizens, the cosy ride from east to west and north to south in air-conditioned coaches beckoned many to shift from crowded and dingy buses, pricy cabs, fleecing autos and personal vehicles, as it saves their time and energy.
In spite of just three coaches per train and an unreliable feeder service for last-mile connectivity, the Metro has become popular out of necessity with all and sundry, as it is comfortable, safer and punctual, and away from choked roads, gridlocked traffic junctions, dusty thoroughfares and unkempt footpaths.
Touted as a boon for a chaotic city and a measure of development, the Metro's infrastructure, spanning awkward-looking stations, overground and underground zig-zag tracks and hundreds of pillars -- an eyesore in the middle of congested roads -- has, however, spoiled the beauty of the pensioners' paradise, robbed the city of its green canopy and changed its landscape forever.
If the efficient Metro service is flaunted as a panacea for the city's ills, the huge loss of its rich legacy, old-world charm and a slice of history is a collateral damage to its stakeholders, especially those who had to forsake homes, shops, offices, buildings and prime properties worth crores of rupees.
As an alternative travel mode for the failure of the state in providing an efficient bus service and not expanding the infrastructure in pace with the city's unchecked growth, the Metro is a costly option as it caters to only a few thousand commuters at the expense of hundreds of thousands of hapless people who use buses or other means of transport to travel through slow-moving traffic.
With more people opting for the Metro to travel faster, it's a testing time for all to endure the ordeal of standing in packed coaches like sardines. Women, children, senior citizens and physically challenged are a harried lot, as they are squeezed in and out during peak hours while its operator looks away, waiting for more coaches to ease the pressure on them.
The Metro project also reshaped the city with its old and dilapidated buildings making way for the new monstrous structure that claimed many age-old trees and invaded lung spaces.