- Much of Bangalore was inundated in the recent floods
- Residents had to wade through waist-deep water
- The outages raise questions about the city’s future as a tech hub
- Officials are vowing to take action, but extreme weather could complicate plans
BENGALURU, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Harish Pullanur spent his weekends in the late 1980s wandering around the swamps and ponds of Yemalur, on the eastern outskirts of the Indian city of Bengaluru, where his cousins joined him to catch small. freshwater fish.
In the 1990s, once an elegant city of gardens, lakes and a cool climate, Bengaluru 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.
The unshootable expansion came at a price.
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Concrete has replaced green spaces and construction around lakes has blocked connecting canals, limiting the city’s ability to absorb and filter water.
Last week, after the city’s heaviest rains in decades, the Yemalur neighborhood along with some other parts of Bengaluru was inundated waist-deep, disrupting the southern metropolis’s IT industry and denting its reputation.
Tired of traffic congestion and lack of water during the dry season, residents have long complained about the city’s infrastructure.
But monsoon flooding 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 Pullanor, who was born near Yemalur but now lives in the western city of Mumbai, which, like many urban centers in India, experiences occasional flooding.
“The trees have disappeared. The parks have almost disappeared. There is a traffic jam on the road.”
Big businesses are also complaining about worsening breaches, which they say can cost millions of dollars in a single day.
Bengaluru is home to more than 3,500 IT companies and about 79 “tech parks” – high-end buildings with offices and entertainment areas that cater to tech workers.
Last week, they struggled through flooded highways to reach modern glass-fronted complexes in and around Yemalur, where multinational firms including JP Morgan and Deloitte operate alongside major Indian startups.
Millionaire entrepreneurs were among those forced to flee flooded living rooms and swamped bedrooms behind tractors.
Insurance companies said initial estimates of property loss ran into crores of rupees and the figures would rise in the next few days.
The latest chaos has sparked renewed concern in India’s $194 billion IT services industry, which is centered around the city.
“India is a technology hub for global enterprises, so any disruption here will have a global impact. Bangalore, the hub of IT, will be no exception,” said KS Viswanathan, vice president of the industry lobby group of the National Association. Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM).
In 2014, Bangalore was renamed Bengaluru.
NASSCOM is currently working on identifying 15 new cities that can become software export hubs, said Viswanathan, who is managing the project.
“This is not an anti-city story,” he told Reuters. “As a country, we don’t want to miss out on revenue and business opportunities because of a lack of infrastructure.”
Even before the floods, some business groups, including the Outer Ring Road Companies Association (ORRCA), run by Intel executives (INTC.O)Goldman Sachs, Microsoft (MSFT.O) and Wipro (WIPR.NS)warned companies that inadequate infrastructure in Bengaluru could encourage companies to leave.
“We have been talking about this for years,” ORRCA general manager Krishna Kumar said last week of Bengaluru’s infrastructure problems. “We’re now at a critical point where all companies are on the same page.”
Thomson Reuters (TRI.TO) It also has large operations in Bangalore.
“The safety of all employees is always our top priority,” the company said in a statement. “While Thomson Reuters staff in Bangalore continued to work remotely during the recent flooding, our operations were unaffected.”
In the early 1970s, more than 68% of Bengaluru’s area was covered by vegetation.
According to an analysis by TV Ramachandra of the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bengaluru, the city’s green cover fell to about 45% in the late 1990s and less than 3% of its total area of 741 square kilometers by 2021. .
Green spaces can help protect built-up areas by helping to absorb and temporarily store stormwater.
“If this trend continues, 98.5% (of the city) will be covered in concrete by 2025,” said Ramachandra, who is part of IISC’s Center for Environmental Sciences.
THE RUINING CITY
Rapid urban sprawl, often featuring illegal structures built without permission, has affected Bengaluru’s nearly 200 lakes and the network of canals that once connected them, experts say.
So, when the city receives heavy rains like last week, the drainage systems cannot keep up, especially in low-lying areas like Yemalur.
The government of Karnataka state, where Bengaluru is located, said last week it would spend 3 billion Indian rupees ($37.8 million) to help manage the flood, including removing unauthorized developments, improving drainage systems and controlling water levels in lakes.
“All encroachments will be dealt with without mercy,” Karnataka Chief Minister Basvaraj Bommai told reporters. “I will personally go and check.”
Authorities have identified around 50 illegally developed plots in Bengaluru. These include high-end villas and apartments, according to Bengaluru civic chief commissioner Tushar Girinath.
Last week, the state government also announced that it would set up an authority to manage Bengaluru traffic and begin discussions on a new stormwater drainage project along a major highway.
Critics have called these initiatives a knee-jerk reaction.
“Every time there is a flood, only then do we discuss it,” said IISC’s Ramachandra. “Bengaluru is rotting. It will die.”
($1 = 79.4130 Indian rupees)
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Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in NEW DELHI and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in BENGALURU, Additional reporting by Nandan Mandayam in BENGALURU; Edited by Mike Collett-White and Raju Gopalakrishnan
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