We all have heard about man-made disaster at some point or the other–but how many of us have experienced it to appreciate the extent of destruction that man (and women!) have caused? At a macro level, there is global warming that is causing sea levels to raise, maybe changes to the climatic pattern, and so on. We may not always understand the impact of these macro level changes because the timeline over which they act is large compared with the life span of a human.
Last week, I was witness to a man-made disaster when I was caught in the deluge of water on Bangalore roads.
Monsoon time, which is the annual rainy season, sets in around July and lasts till September; it is most intense in South during July and early part of August. Farmers look forward to monsoon; a metro dweller dreads monsoon. It brings joy to a farmer; it brings nothing but misery to a metro dweller. Monsoon is a carrier of hope and expectation to a farmer, for it brings in a bountiful harvest; Monsoon is a cause of apprehension and worry to a metro dweller, for it brings with it traffic jams and water-borne diseases. Although we are all humans, how contrasting is our reaction to a natural phenomenon!!!
Bangalore, as it is today, was never planned or built to be the city it is today, although parts of it was designed by the famous engineer statesman, Sir M Visvesvaraya. The city has grown gobbling up the villages that lay on its outskirts; with every village came a temple (with a deity to protect it) and at least one lake (to meet its water requirements). No one really knows the number of lakes that was once part of Bangalore—numbers vary from an optimistic estimate of 1000+ to a conservative estimate of 100+. Whatever was the original number of lakes, today only a handful of them are left—the latest number is Bangalore has 33 lakes that are still more or less visible on satellite imagery; the remaining ones have vanished due to encroachment either by the government (to build public utilities and/or layouts) or private parties (to build layouts and slums). Even the ones that are remaining, they are in a fairly advanced state of deterioration due to pollution and it is just a matter of time before they meet their non-watery end L
But what has these lakes got to do with the dreaded dreams that a Bangalorean has during a monsoon?
It is simple: once in a while, water comes back to claim back what it was its!!! Just like a money lender (your EMI reminder!!!) comes once a month or any other regular interval to collect the interest from the lendee, monsoon is the time when water comes back to reclaim its lakes. This monsoon was no different: Water flooded most low lying areas (former lakes, in other words); encroachment of the canal systems (that once connected large lakes) did not help matters. Our city planners believe land is too precious to be wasted on storing water, using channels for preventing water logging, and refilling groundwater. Any land that they can lay their eyes on, must be monetized.
Over the weekend, the city administration went into overdrive; on TV, it was truly painful to see houses being brought down for they were supposedly on what was once canals that connected lakes. Some people were left homeless spending the night out in the open, while some people had their part of the house brought down. People had taken loans to build their dream homes, only to see them fall apart right in front of their own eyes. It may be easy to rationalize their condition for they were on the wrong side of the law: encroachment in any form is not legal.
But were they THE ONLY perpetrator? Were not the officials who approved the layout and building equally guilty? Shouldn’t the builders who made a handsome profit by selling the sites/house be punished? Will the inefficient administrative system that slept all through the year and through years of weak monsoon be held accountable? Was not official/political apathy equally responsible for what happened?
It is infuriating that we always manage to find a scapegoat for any situation we are in; we are humans after all—the most rational of all beings!