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BENGALURU: The recent floods in Northern Bengaluru after heavy rains showed poor urban planning. Former Karnataka chief secretary A Ravindra, known as the “Demolition Man” in the late 1990s when he was then administrator of what was then Bangalore Mahanagara Palike for his fight against illegal construction, spoke to The New Sunday Express about what went wrong and what can be done to put things right.
What are the factors contributing to flooding not just in urban areas but across the country?
The causes are both natural and man-made. Heavy rains, landslides and climatic factors are natural causes. Factors like urbanization, deforestation and unscientific building are some of the man-made reasons. Karnataka has seen heavy rains for the past two years. In 2019, only one district, Kodagu, recorded a deviation of over 450% from its normal rainfall, causing tremendous damage to life and property. The 2019 Geological Survey of India report pointed to surface cracks caused by trenches dug by the Ministry of Forestry that resulted in infiltration. Throughout Karnataka, strong water runoff from reservoirs after heavy rains, especially in the north of Karnataka, led to flooding of cities and villages. In urban areas, indiscriminate land use and development, as well as interference, cause flooding. In a city like Bengaluru, the advance of Rajakaluves and buffer zones of lakes and drains results in severe flooding.
How can urban planning be improved to ensure future floods do not occur or affect life?
An urban development change must be made within the framework of urban planning. It is a long-term process that includes street remodeling, runoff control and rainwater containment measures. Plans drawn up in the past to redesign SWDs were not implemented. Poor road quality, recurring potholes, uncleaned drains only add to the misery. Urban planning is a comprehensive exercise that involves all of the physical infrastructure. Ad hoc measures are not a permanent solution.
What solutions are there for landscape modifications? How can engineers or developers create a landscaping action plan in advance to mitigate climatological situations?
Landscape changes require certain measures such as preventing the fragmentation of forest landscapes. The pointless deforestation leads to a reduction in the basin’s ability to hold water, which leads to flooding. The Green India Mission, launched in 2014, aims to protect, restore and improve India’s forest area and respond to climate change with mitigation and adaptation measures. To what extent Karnataka has implemented the necessary measures, the government should say. A government action plan for climate change has also been drawn up and it is the responsibility of the government to inform citizens of the progress made.
Is there a model that Karnataka can adopt to ensure there is no flooding or climatological impact?
There cannot be a single model, nationally or internationally, to prevent floods across the country. The topographical conditions, weather conditions and regional differences must be taken into account. As a general orientation, it can be stated that factors such as the control of rampant urbanization, deforestation, interventions and unscientific construction play an important role in flood protection. However, best practices can be examined and lessons learned from in all countries.
Where do you think citizens have failed?
Citizens have failed not only because of a lack of awareness, but also because of their apathy towards protecting nature and properly caring for their own neighborhood and the city or living space in general. Aren’t they responsible for building illegal structures and violating them? Whether developers, organizations or individuals, it is their primary responsibility to obey the laws that protect the environment. Rather, the blame rests with those who are aware of the harm caused by violating the laws of nature, let alone man-made laws. I agree that awareness programs about the effects of climate change are essential not only for the people but also for politicians and officials responsible for policy making and implementation. This responsibility can be shared between the government, academic institutions dealing with relevant issues, and NGOs dealing with environmental issues.
Japan often revises or changes its urban design based on seismic activity. Is a similar change needed here in Karnataka?
Japan’s design is more relevant to this country as it is exposed to strong and frequent earthquakes. In addition, it has evolved over time and they have now developed a very resilient system to deal with earthquakes and other natural disasters. We still have a long way to go in India. We can perhaps look at what is known as the “sponge city” concept that was developed in China, where urban flooding is said to have doubled in recent years. A Sponge City is designed to naturally hold, purify and drain water with an ecological approach. The retained water can be used to fill aquifers, gardening, flushing toilets and for urban forests. A pilot project is said to have started in the city of Wuhan. The details need to be studied to understand the model and how, if possible, it can be adopted in India.
For our part, we need to focus on what can be done in India. Some measures include building a sustainable drainage system, designing permeable walkways and sidewalks. The construction of cement roads in Bengaluru is a wrong step as it prevents permeability and is, in the long run, catastrophic for the urban environment. We also need to provide a robust flood warning and early warning system, as described in s
Some coastal states like Odisha to deal with cyclones. Above all, the government and the population must learn to work together to prevent the looming threat of climate change.