The unprecedented flooding is an impetus for change.
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Praveen Gopalakrishnan (@peegeekay) of The Ken had a long conversation with me on possible changes in Bangalore after the flood disaster of September 2022.
Read Praveen’s Nutgraf over at The Ken.
I made the following points.
Bangalore’s position as a relatively better city to live and work in is unlikely to change. There are deep and complex reasons why people from around the country prefer to move to the city; and they do so despite being aware of the costs, traffic, water shortages, infrastructure deficit and so on. Rankings of India’s “most livable cities” do not explain why lots of people from those ostensibly livable cities move to Bangalore, but the movement in the other direction is insignificant. The flipside is that it is unlikely that there will be significant market pressure on the construction and real-estate industry to build better, safer and in an ecologically-conscious manner.
While there can be court judgements and executive determination to “clear all encroachments and irregularities”, this is a humongous task that the government is incapable of. Some audits identify over 2000 encroachments of drains alone; it’s impossible to count the encroachments of footpaths, roads and bridges. Neither the BBMP nor the state government has the capacity to remove these in any finite period. And if you have tens of thousands of people affected by these encroachments, it’s unlikely that politics will allow anything beyond the removal of the most flagrant encroachments.
Encroachments are a complex problem. You might have electricity poles, telecommunication and gas pipes encroaching on a footpath that is encroaching on a sewage pipe that is blocking a drain. Using a bulldozer on this will create a lot of other problems. As much as drastic solutions appear attractive at this time, the devil is in the detail.
In such circumstances, it is likely that people will do what they’ve usually done in the light of poor public services: they’ll privately provision them. At risk residential communities and buildings will invest in pumps and pipes and push the water outside their property. They will erect bunds and barriers on their boundaries, and strengthen boundary walls. In lower-income communities, local politicians will distribute money, food and relief material whenever incidents occur.
A word about civil society action and technocratic solutions: there are too many uncoordinated and unsystematic efforts, and adding some more will not improve matters. Water, electricity, traffic, sewage, greenery, solid waste, public transport, schools, shops and residential zones are interconnected. So when one group of citizens zealously promotes solutions in one domain, while caring little for the others, the problems either shift or get exacerbated. A lot of things in public policy and urban governance are non-intuitive.
T R Raghunandan sums up what needs to be done in this article in The Hindu. After explaining the policy changes required, he concludes with this:
Finally, apolitical approaches have their limitations. Political parties of all hues have been exploiting Bengaluru for decades. Let us face it. If we continue to vote for the corrupt for considerations other than development and environmental protection, we will not find solutions. Our bad political choices are keeping good politicians and bureaucrats out of decision making. While public participation may seem a suicide mission and the frustration and anger of being pushed back can take a toll, the only cure for bad politics is more politics of the good kind. Not less of it. [The Hindu]
PS. The September 2022 flooding was not a plain vanilla waterlogging incident. It was a natural disaster (and all natural disasters are also human-made ones). It is important to treat it as one. That is why I had called for the creation of a City Disaster Management Unit for such contingencies. It’s not a simple job for the cops, fire services and municipal engineers. It needs specialist knowledge, capabilities, preparation & empowerment.
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