A COLLECTIVE UNDERGROUND CHAOS

City Environment Health Insight State Tech Top story

            The 2019 IIJNM Investigative Journalism Report

          “Metro Mess” by the Watchdogs Team.

By Anuradha Sriram, Ayanti Bera, Sahana Sanjeev, Samanth Lanka, Sharathkumar Nair, and Yajush Gupta.

 

             A COLLECTIVE UNDERGROUND CHAOS

How the miscommunication and ignorance of urban authorities are deliberately putting millions of lives in danger.

Namma Metro: the city’s metro project has carried out some 10,000 blasts so far in the trenching process throughout the metro line corridor – involving several controversies around the many troublesome incidents’ project, such as gas pipe leaks, water and sewage pipes breakage.

The investigative reporting done by the Watchdogs team shows in detail how/who/why/when/and where multiple digging accidents are happening when metro, water, gas, or communication pipes are laid underground.

The metro project is not nearly finished, and many more accidents are likely to happen before it’s done.

    INTRODUCTION

Bangalore Skyline.
Photo by Ayanti Bera

Bangalore, also known as Bengaluru, is regarded as many things – the ‘IT Hub’ of the country, the Silicon Valley of India, Garden city, AC City, among others . It is also the capital of the state of Karnataka. Information tech giants like Infosys, Wipro and Accenture are making it the metropolis with the fourth highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the country.

Various organisations and institutions reside in the city like the Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Due to the sheer density of humans, animals, and energy consumption, the city has become overcrowded and surpopulated. In 2017, the population was around 11 million, making it the 24th most populous city in the world and the fastest growing Indian metropolis after New Delhi, according to a World Population Review.

In just a span of 10 years, Bangalore saw a population growth percentage of 47 percent. According to the Census of 2011, Bangalore is the fifth largest city in the country, with Greater Mumbai being the largest, and is known for the large population of people who have migrated and settled in the city in search of work.

A study titled, “Studies On Urban Sprawl And Spatial Planning Support System For Bangalore, India” by H. S. Sudhira from Indian Institute of Science, shows that in almost 60 years following up to 2007, the geographical area of Bangalore City Corporation has seen a growth rate of over 1,000 percent. In 1949 the City Corporation of Bangalore was only 69 sq km, in 2007 it was 741 sq. km and remains the same till now.

The study adds, “Bangalore faces real challenges in terms of addressing and delivery of basic infrastructure and services to all its stakeholders. In spite of numerous initiatives and activities envisaged by the urban local bodies, past and present, the rationalization of jurisdictions for these activities could mark the beginning of a coordinated effort in addressing the needs of the city.”

A significant portion of this migrant labour live in urban slums. Karnataka Slum Development Board enumerated around 600 slums, while other study by NGOs show a count of 2,000. Not only the civic agencies failed to identify the exact number of slums, but several measures suggested by civilian platforms were never put into action. Often these slums are demolished on grounds of illegal encroachment, unsanitary practices and health safety hazard by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the primary administrative local body in the city.

But addressing the problem of encroachment by demolition is where things went fundamentally wrong. This is just one of the instances of ignorance of urban authorities in  adequately identifying the problems, the volume, the significance and the consequences of taking hasten actions that further intensify the damage.

In a situation where authorities and local municipal bodies remain uncertain and blame each other over losses, due to the absence of communication and appropriate management, it is the citizens who suffer the most. This has been the case for Bengaluru, a city that has witnessed an unprecedented urbanisation, with the peripheral areas of the city experiencing increasing growth rates.

The attention of the major civic authorities in the city, the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL), the BBMP and the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) all seem to be on a ‘blame game’ rather than actually attending to several problems that the Bangaloreans face.

 

      GAS ATTACK

Gas Pipeline.
Photo by GAIL

An underground Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) gas pipeline was damaged by a BMRCL contractor while digging at Garudacharpalya, in the densely populated area of Mahadevpura, after sensing a gas leakage during metro construction work.

Mahadevpura is in the eastern side of the city of Bangalore, a part of the IT Hub of Whitefield and Electronic City. Surprisingly, this was the second incident that had occurred in Mahadevapura in a week’s span. Allegedly, the metro drilling work punctured a 70 kg force pipeline, leading to a massive gas leakage.

According to the First Information Report (FIR) filed at the Mahadevpura police station, the contractor of BMRCL, Mr Parag, damaged the gas pipeline – ignoring all the warnings and sign boards installed on the road. The leaking gas made a loud noise and left a bad odour in and around Garudachar Palya and Mahadevapura.

The statement issued by GAIL reads: “The underground natural gas steel pipeline of eight-inch diameter got punctured due to metro work. The natural gas pipeline has been laid as per safety standards and prescribed norms. Necessary civic permission is required for undertaking construction work by any agency but no permission was taken by Bengaluru Metro.”

The Bengaluru Traffic Police tweeted that the traffic had been diverted to accommodate the repair teams. It was later announced by the GAIL District General Manager (DGM) Operations, Senthil Kumar, that the leak was plugged. While there was a lot of talk about the traffic situation it caused, the accident raised several questions about safety and more importantly about what lies underneath the roads of Bangalore.

      WHAT DOES LIE UNDERNEATH

The damaged distribution line is a part of the mainline of Piped Natural Gas (PNG), coming from Dabhol to Bangalore, running in a 30 km stretch between KR Puram and Hoskote, and covering areas around ITPL. The pipes are usually laid at a depth of 1.2 meters under the road. But this line ran about 3 meters below the road.

“Since we do the trenchless laying of pipes, this has gone a little deeper. But with regard to safety, the deeper the line is, the safer it stays because it doesn’t come in contact with anybody. However if the BMRCL had asked us, we would have told them there was a pipe there,” said P Murugeshan, Executive Director, GAIL India Ltd.

BMRCL, however, chose to deny the accusations. Before the inception of any work that requires digging, the process of ‘trenching’ is carried out as a prerequisite. The first one is done before the process of tendering and the second is done before the contractor begins work. Trenching is essentially the process of digging a trench at the site of digging. It is wider and it helps to map all the utilities under the road stretch, to avoid any damage.

The BMRCL Official added, “ Every other stretch where there has been a GAIL pipeline, they were laid on the side of the roads. We have no idea how this line made it to the centre of the road.” The BMRCL official further said that due to the lack of a centralized database of the utility pipes that runs underground, no matter how much precaution or planning is done, there are always surprises.

“Sometimes even when we have the maps of the utility network, they don’t match because they aren’t updated to reflect new additions or rerouting,” says AK Mathur, Executive Director, BMRCL.

 

Underground Pipes
Photo by Ayanti Bera

The underground of a city is an intricate jungle of utility pipes. These pipes could be carrying anything – potable water, sewage water, electricity, fibre optics, television cables, telephone cables and such others. One of the most important utility lines is the gas pipeline network.

The major supplier of utility gas in the city is the GAIL, with authorization from the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB). GAIL launched its gas distribution network in Bangalore in 2015. It supplies two kinds of gas – Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), which is used for vehicles, and Piped Natural Gas (PNG) that is used for cooking purposes.

       SAFER COOKING

Gas Stove
Photo by Samanth Lanka

As compared to Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), which is a more popular choice when it comes to cooking gases in households, PNG is a safer and cheaper alternative that is equally flammable. Unlike LPG that comes in cylinders, PNG is supplied to households through individual piping system that is connected to the main gas pipeline underground.

A 14.5 kg LPG cylinder, that usually lasts up to one and a half months, costs around Rs. 540, whereas PNG bill at the end of two months comes up to Rs. 300. In case of any leaks in the main pipeline, the regulators to the individual piping system are turned off to avoid any possibility of damage inside the house.

After 2015, many households in the city changed from LPG to PNG. According to GAIL estimate, there are around 25,000 households with PNG connection. Major corporates have also subscribed to the clean gases that GAIL provides. Some of them are J.W. Marriott, Phoenix Mall, Intel, Biocon, Mother Dairy, Federal Mogul, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON), and Microsoft – to name a few.

Geeta Ramesh, a resident of Malleshwaram and teacher by profession, says, “I switched to PNG connection two years ago. It saved me the hassle of booking and rebooking gas cylinders, and also a considerable amount of money. Instead to lagging those heavy cylinders around, now I have a pipeline that directly connects to my oven. It is much more convenient.”

Goutam. G, a resident of  Sarjapur said: ” Initially  I was hesitant to opt for the PNG than continuing with the LPG  gas, as there are many hazards associated with the PNG system, but the continuous gas supply by the Gail pipeline is much better than waiting for the gas cylinder to deliver at your doorstep .”

Currently, GAIL covers HSR Layout, Bellandur Kudlu, Singasanadra, Parapanna Agrahara, Iblur, Electronic City, Whitefield, ITPL, AECS Layout, Marathahalli, HAL Road, Peenya, BEL, Yelahanka, Malleshwaram, Goraguntepalya, and a few others.

GAIL Gas Limited is a 100 percent subsidiary of GAIL (India) Limited, a Public Sector Unit and an undertaking of the Government of India, authorized by PNGRB for City Gas Distribution (CGD) in Bangalore.

Vivek Wathodkar, Chief General Manager of Gail Gas Limited in Bangalore says, “We have already laid 900-1,000 km of gas pipelines in the city in five years. Our goal is to reach 97,000 households.”

He explains the kind of pipeline that is used to distribute gas. First, there is a 100 km long steel pipeline that is the primary backbone of the gas distribution network in Bangalore. From there gas is distributed in Medium Density Polyethylene (MDPE) pipeline. Finally, from there, the gas enters individual society or residential layout in Galvanized Iron (GI) pipes.

      PLASTIC VS. COPPER

Photo by Revanth N.

Medium Density Polyethylene is a form of polyethylene or polythene plastic that is normally used to manufacture packaging products like plastic films, bags, or containers. Polyethylene or polythene is a thermoplastic (from the Greek word thermos) polymer. Its main characteristic is that they can easily be made mouldable by applying heat. The bond that holds the molecules of a thermoplastic polymer together is weak and can quickly softens when heated.

MDPE has a density range of 0.926-0.940g/cm3 range. The harder version of this, the High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) has a higher density range of 0.941g/cm3 and above. HDPE has a higher probability of hardening and leaking under stress. However, MDPE has a higher resistance to shock than other forms of polyethene pipes, but still, it does not seem to be the right choice.

H. Jagannath, a civil engineer by profession, says, “MDPE pipeline are not suitable for high-pressure contents. It tends to stretch out and often break under pressure. It is always better to use wielded copper or steel pipeline for carrying high-pressure gas.”

He adds, “Copper pipes are more expensive than plastic ones. Also, the process of lying copper pipes is more inconvenient. Hence, civic bodies tend to go for MDPE pipes.”

The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of laying utility pipelines along or across GAIL Gas pipeline includes 18 rules or procedures to follow to avoid damaging either of the pipes or nearby areas.

Wherever there is a GAIL pipeline underneath, there is a marker on the surface of the road with a toll-free number written on it. The SOP dictates that any other utility should contact the number or call the Area In-charge of GAIL gas to ascertain the presence, or absence, of a pipeline.

Once the gas lines are ascertained, the other utility shall apply for a clearance for laying its utility, with a detailed sketch depicting the proposed utility and the method of execution for laying of the same. The clearance letter should be addressed to the Area In-charge of the area under concern.

This clearance letter should also have one more thing – a permission from the BBMP for laying the utility along with an approved sketch.

The SOP further added that thereafter, when the letter from the other utility is received by GAIL, a joint site visit will be conducted by the officials of both  utilities companies. After that, a final detailed sketch will be signed and shared by  both parties.

In case of any leak, the GAIL Gas Team shall brief the team of the other utility about the characteristics of natural gas and the safety measures to be taken.

Finally, before starting construction, this SOP will be jointly signed by GAIL Gas Team and an authorized personnel from the other utility.

The SOP also mentions that to identify any leakage of natural gas, it is dosed with odorant of a distinct smell, to allow people nearby to smell a gas leak.

Different safety measures are laid down for the two different methods of laying utility.  One is Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) method, that is trenchless,  and the other one is Open Trench Method. The common precautionary measure of both the methods is to inform the GAIL Team immediately when a leak occurs in the gas pipe. Attempting to fill the leak with soil or any other substance will result in higher chances of gas fires in the surrounding areas.

The Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) for Laying of utility along/across GAIL gas pipeline states that the permission/intimation letter shall be enclosed with BBMP permission for laying utility along with sketch approved by BBMP. When asked about the above mentioned rule to Alaganathan said that “Any rule is not just in theory – it will be implemented in practice.”

Wathodkar said “Some utility bodies do not bother to take permission from GAIL before digging. They start cutting the road ignorant of the consequences of damaging a high-pressure gas pipeline. We try to create awareness regarding this, but it hardly makes a difference.”

GAIL started the ‘Dial before Digging’ campaign to encourage other civic bodies to work in coordination with GAIL, in order to avoid further leaks of the highly inflammable natural gas.

 LOST MAPS

Map by GAIL

Talking about utility maps, there is an apparent dearth of mapping the lines that run underground. Apart from GAIL, which has mapped most of their lines and put warning markers at most places, BWSSB or BESCOM or other telecom and telephone companies do not have an updated map of their own network of utilities.

When the need arises to dig up a road, there is no database to find out what is underneath. Primitive methods like trenching and digging has to be done to locate the pipes, instead of remote sensing tools like Geographic Positioning System (GPS).

In another instance, fire broke out on HSR layout road after BWSSB laid their  sanitary pipelines. BWSSB is the premier government agency responsible for sewage disposal around Bengaluru. It was formed in 1964 and supplies around 900 million litres of water to the city on per day basis. The main source of the water supply is through the Kaveri river.

The per capita water supply that BWSSB is able to provide averages from 100 to 125 litres per day. The supply of water to the rural areas is limited by the infrastructure, so for these areas the water supply is 40-45 litres per day. The per capita national standard for a city the size of Bangalore is 150 to 200 litres per day.

The bylanes of Garvebhavipalya, HSR layout erupted in flames after the BWSSB laid out sanitary pipelines beside the gas pipelines of GAIL. Its chief general manager, Vivek Wathodkar said “ In spite of the markers by the roadside, BWSSB dug the road for laying down their sanitary pipelines without taking the precautionary measures mentioned in the Standard of Procedure.”

Four people were injured due to the fire break out, but the gas supply wasn’t affected. The fire was put off by the GAIL authorities in half an hour. The BWSSB officials said that the workers were providing a cross connection to the households when the GAIL pipeline got nicked.

The GAIL officials agreed to circulate the details of the pipelines so that there is more coordination among the departments and that these accidents do not occur again in future. BWSSB will now lay over 2,000 km of underground pipes throughout the city.

  METRO, GAS, FIRE, WATER

Namma Metro.
Photo by Ayanti Bera

Over the years, various organisations and third party contractors have ended up damaging gas pipelines, and put hundreds of lives around it in danger. A number of major gas leaks have occurred during the construction work by BMRCL.

In Bengaluru, to ease the commuters transport, the Governments of India and Karnataka announced the “Namma Metro” or “Bengaluru Metro” project. A statutory board, Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) is deputed with a responsibility to regulate the Namma Metro project.

The project has already carried out more than 10,000 blasts along the metro line corridor, involving several controversies around the project. Gas pipe leaks, water and sewage pipeline leaks are the troublesome incidents that occurred during the construction work.

L. Yashavanth Chavan, BMRCL’s Public Relation Officer claims that “We got the clearance from GAIL [to dig] and started the trenching process. But we don’t know where the gas pipeline has come.”

Whereas, Ravi Prakash, speaking to the Watchdogs investigative team from IIJNM said that, “We got the clearance from GAIL. But it is the BMRCL that took all the blame for the ITPL leak incident.”

The ITPL gas pipeline leak has occurred while the construction work in progress for the section Reach-1 that comes under East Line. The line is a 6.7 km stretch between Cricket Stadium and Baiyappanahalli.

The EastWest corridor is named as Purple line. In an overview, Bangalore Metro has two lines; the Purple line and the Green line covering northernmost corridor. According to BMRCL, Commissioner of Railway Safety (CRS), Southern Circle, has been appointed by the Government of India for Safety Certification of operations of Namma Metro.

The metro project is designed in two phases: Phase-I consisting of two corridors; East-West corridor from Baiyappanahalli terminal to Mysore road terminal and North-South corridor from Hesaraghatta Cross station to Yelachenahalli.

Both the corridors cover about 42.3 km stretch running throughout the city. Phase-II is the biggest line with a stretch of 72.01 km totaling the Bangalore metro network to 114.4km.

It includes 101 stations, of which 80 are elevated stations, 19 are underground stations and two are intersection stations. According to BMRCL, it is expected that around 14.80lakh passengers per day in 2018-19 will use the metro train. Initially Rs. 26405 crores budget was proposed for Phase-II construction. However, the estimated budget has increased several times.

The work on the Namma Metro Phase 2A project, being constructed along Outer Ring Road (ORR) is proceeding at a very slow pace and contributing to traffic chaos, pollution and other environmental hazards.

 EARTH, FIRE, AND TRAFFIC

Bangalore Traffic.
Photo by Ayanti Bera

Traffic has been affected mainly in Whitefield. “There is always traffic congestion on this stretch of the road since work started here. The traffic police installed a new signal on August 15 last year to mitigate the problem,’’ said M Ravichandran, who owns a small food stall near VR mall.

‘’This is a temporary inconvenience which will disappear once the project gets completed. The main motto of the BMRCL behind this project is to lessen traffic, and it will surely do the same. After all, 30 percent of the traffic has reduced on Mysuru Road after the metro project began there, ’’ said Mr. Raghavendra Shanbag, Deputy Chief Engineer (Planning and Monitoring), Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited.

Properties along Old Madras Road are being demolished, however, the BMRCL maintains that property owners have been amply compensated and is confident of finishing the project by 2021.

“We shall finish this project within the stipulated time of two years,’’ said Mr. A K Sharma, Assistant Executive Superintendent of ITD Cementation India, a Development Public Company.

A total of 13 stations have been announced to make up the new line. No official colour for the line has yet been declared by the BMRCL. Baiyappanahalli depot will be acting as the maintenance yard for trains. The project has also been marred by land acquisition controversies.

Alaganathan, Assistant Engineer at Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) said that, “All the clearance letters to any department will be enclosed with BBMP permission. In case of cutting the road for any construction work Optic Fibre Cell (OFC) in BBMP will issue the permission.”

On October 31, 2018, another incident of gas pipe rupture happened in ITPL, when BMRCL construction workers dug up all the GAIL marker stones, carrying the warning signs for gas pipeline underneath. BMRCL blamed the rupture on the lack of presence of any senior officials at the site.

The Gail pipeline network at the city was damaged five times over the past six months by a number of civic agencies while digging the road. After BMRCL and BWSSB, BESCOM’s contractors also committed the same mistake.

In February 2019, four children were injured and seven houses were damaged due to a massive explosion of GAIL pipeline perforation caused by the Bescom contractor while digging up the road.

Further damage was averted by the electrician owner Srinivas who saved many lives by removing the cylinder after the leaking gas entered the gutter through the sewage pipe. A 10-year-old girl, Gagana Bagappa, suffered serious injuries and two children ages four years and six closely escaped.

Meanwhile, the Parappana Agrahara police station has charged the civic agency under Section 286 (Negligent conduct with respect to explosive substance) and Section 336 (Act endangering the life of the personal safety of others) of Indian Penal Code (IPC).

According to several media reports, gas leaks have intensified regularly due to the negligence of the various civic agencies including BESCOM officials and the contractors. The officials further mentioned that BESCOM goes about its work without informing the officials.

Adding to the list of urban bodies responsible for damaging gas pipelines, is the most important civic body in the city – BBMP. On January 11, a high pressure GAIL gas pipeline was ruptured by BBMP contract workers, who were excavating for their ongoing drainage project on Sarjapur Road.

Despite the numerous markers put up by GAILto aware all authorities of the presence of gas pipelines and  requesting them to contact the department before digging the ground, no one from the excavating team bothered to check up on the warning or coordinate with the GAIL Area In-charge.

If there is a gas pipeline leak not only fire accident is an issue, but people fall ill if they inhale the leaked gas. Piped Natural Gas (PNG) pipelines are laid underground in Bangalore. “If PNG gas is inhaled by human beings, it leads to hypoxia condition,”said Dr Tharun. According to Tharun, hypoxia is a condition where there is no suffcient supply of oxygen to the tissues in the human body.

The person that inhaled the gas can suffer from headaches, body pains, vomiting and weakness. As the duration of exposure to the gas increases the concentration of gas inhaled increases this in turn results in worst symptoms. It may even cause difficulty in breathing and a person can die if not treated immediately.

Anil Bhaskaran, an Urban Planner by profession, is of the opinion that the unplanned growth of Bengaluru has caused enormous confusion in the city, basically with the location and line of all utilities.

The city’s population density has grown dramatically and it has recorded a 47 percent increase over the past ten years. In 2011, there were 4,378 people per square kilometer, up from 2,985 ten years before. Due to the increase in the population growth, a lot of projects and contracts by BBMP, BWSSB, BESCOM has been sanctioned all across the city. They hope that the laying down of the pipes underground without a designated map will come out to be fruitful. There is no utility map available in any of the departments for a particular area they work on contractual basis and even if there is one – it is not updated.

The main issue to these gas pipelines leaks and sewage water leaks is that there is no single supervising authority which can coordinate between departments such as Bangalore city corporation, BDA, BWSSB and Karnataka Water and drainage board which looks after water and drainage facilities all across the state. All these departments perform according to their own designated and allotted work and what lacks is the coordination between them.

Ideally, there should be an infrastructure tie-up agency established by the government which can look into and mentor the workings of the several government agencies and serve as a common point of contact to regulate the contract details of the departments together. If such supervising department is established, it would coordinate with the working patterns of all the departments.

Lethargy, miscommunication and lack of accountability amongst the departments are the reasons for such accidents in the city. If these departments and agencies set up processes and norms and follow them aptly, this will automatically avoid such miscommunication between agencies and help in building a strong network before any contract is sanctioned and thus violation will become rare scenario.

The residents of areas like HSR Layout, Whitefield and Sarjapur, where GAIL gas pipeline leaks are a usual sight, worry for their safety and that of their family. A small leak in the LPG pipeline can explode when it comes in contact with heat or fire, and can cause irreversible damage to human lives and properties. Even a naked pipeline when exposed to heat can rupture and lead to accidents.

  CITIZENS VOICES

Prasanth S., a tea-vendor near Wipro office on Sarjapur road, says, “I am working here since six years. All year long, some or the other construction work is going on here. Traffic is a huge problem as well. Lines of cars and bikes pile up on this road during rush hours. The dust and debris from the road construction make the situation even worse. When the gas leak happened, no one initially came to know about it. We could only see black smoke coming from the dug up area where there were exposed pipes. Immediately fire engines arrived along with other officials. The traffic on the road was cut off for sometime.”

GAIL Chief General Manager Vivek Wathodkar says that there is already provision and adequate infrastructure to provide PNG gas to 97,000 households. Out of this 11,000 households have already received their gas connection and 15,000 more have paid the security deposit to receive a PNG connection.

Priya Manjusha, who resides in HSR Layout, says, “I feel there are no measures taken to curb these potential explosions. Our cooperators don’t take their responsibilities seriously. I think awareness is very crucial amongst people and especially our lawmakers. I mean you never know what can happen? Are they going to take responsibility if something massive happens? Isn’t this matter already serious enough? We have seen so many cases of people getting injured due to gas leaks, explosions and this is solely because of lack of adequate security measures by the BBMP, BMRCL and other urban authorities.”

Adit R., another resident of HSR Layout, near Garvebhavipalya where there was a gas leak by BWSSB contract workers, says, “As a resident of HSR Layout, I say that it is the duty of the Municipal Corporation to make sure that the safety of those in the locality is maintained. The contractors ought to ensure that all steps are taken to ensure this.  Even a child would know that the gas leak is dangerous. Despite getting degree upon degree, these engineers don’t understand this simple fact.”

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation is a Public Sector company under the government of India. Their website reads, “ONGC is the largest crude oil and natural gas Company in India, contributing around 70 per cent to Indian domestic production.”

Both GAIL and ONGC are two of the seven Maharatna companies in India. ‘Maharatna’ is a status given to Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSE) by the Government of India. A company has to fulfill a series of criteria to attain the status including generating an annual turnover of more than Rs. 25,000 crore, having an annual net worth of more than Rs. 15,000 crore and such others. Apart from Maharatna, there are two other statuses given out to Public Sector Units (PSUs) by the government of India.

Samrajini C., a resident of the perennially congested area of Bellandur, says, “This main road is always packed with traffic, irrespective of rush hours. To go a distance of a few kilometres it takes an hour. The metro construction has made the situation even worse. Now a gas leak, like the one happened not that far away on Sarjapur road, is going to make this area a living nightmare.”

 AND NOW WATER

The BMRCL digging hasn’t just impacted GAIL but also affected the open water sources for the residents of Bengaluru. The work being taken up on the city’s longest tunnel corridor, between Dairy Circle and Nagawara at a 14 km stretch, the BMRCL is planning to seal borewells and open wells where the alignment passes through the residential sectors.

According to a TOI report, the 14 km underground section with 12 stations is expected to be operational by 2024. The closure of borewells along the alignment of tunnelling is likely to affect thousands of residents, particularly during summer. .

“We have to seal borewells and open wells because the pressure exerted by the tunnel boring machine will result in foam used for construction spurting out of the borewell on to the ground,” said a senior BMRCL official. He added that Metro tunnels are built 12-18 metres under the ground.

Another instance of mismanagement by urban authorities is the water management in the city. The latest Niti Aayog report ranks Bangalore amongst the top in poor water management index. This has been attributed to the increasing number of borewells that are drying up due to overexploitation and lack to rejuvenation.

Borewells are wells that dug very deep to access the water-rich soil deep underground and ‘aquifers’, water stored under pressure in the cracks of rocks under the earth’s surface. Nearly 600 borewells have dried up in the city in the last four years out of the total number of 3.7 lakhs. The overuse of the groundwater by the growing population has given rise to this situation. Moreover, lack of adequate rainfall has failed to replenish the used groundwater.

 NEGLIGENCE

Metro Escalator.
Photo by Sharathkumar Nair

On January 29, BMRCL was booked for a case of death by negligence when a toddler feel through the gap in the escalator in Mahakavi Kuvempu Road metro station. The 18 month old girl slipped from the arms of her grandfather while he was getting on an escalator. The family of the child blamed the death of their girl on the lack of safety measures that was supposed to be taken by the officials of that metro line.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) 304A provides punishment for causing death by negligence. The section reads, “Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years,

Sumit, a resident of a Banaswadi, says, “I have seen the maximum number of development activities happening in this area in the past few years in Bengaluru City. There have been many activities which have affected our day-to-day life. But, despite that, we do not complain because these things are done for our welfare only. However, one thing that bothers me the most is the safety measures and quality of material used by the BBMP, BMRCL, and BDA.

“These people while working on projects like installing gas pipelines for our households do not use quality material. It is also seen multiple times that these pipes leak gases only to be later replaced after complain. Luckily, they are recognised at the time of installation but what if someday it does not happen and a big incident takes place. Despite all these scenarios, irresponsibility of the government officials and worker continue.”

He adds, “Another problem is that several times they do not put caution boards on work sites. The work of a caution board is to warn a passer by of the potential danger in that area. There have been many incidents in which several people did not know about the construction work and because of that got injured. Sometimes, BBMP does not close manholes, or sometimes BESCOM leaves hanging wires or open electricity boards on roads. We are fed up with this now and request everyone to do their job with responsibility and consciousness. Their job is not only up to completing their work, but it is also to keep peoples’ safety in mind while working on it.”

 GONE GREEN

Besides the gas, water, and fire damages caused by the metro construction, another side effect is hurting the city. Any authority digging anywhere must plant 10 trees for every one tree they cut. The BMRCL claims to have planted around 15,000 trees in association with (Bangalore Development Authority) BDA, BBMP and the Forest Department.

But the BMRCL’s claim of having planted 15,000 trees after the Metro Phase 1 is difficult to verify as the trees are positioned really far from each other and there are not enough volunteers to do the groundwork.

This creates an effect on the green cover of the city. According to a report published in the Journal of Environmental Management by scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, the green cover of the city has fallen from 68.2 percent in 1973 to 6.46 percent in 2017. That is a decrease of about 62 percent over a period of 44 years.

“Trees of Bangalore”, a study by Energy & Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc, states that in a city like Bangalore there has to be 35 to 55 trees per person to mitigate respiratory carbon-die-oxide alone. But a ward-wise analysis of the city included in the report, shows that in all the 194 wards, the majority have less than one tree per person, with hardly a few places with one to two trees person.

Cities are supposed to have a minimum green cover of 33 percent for a healthy environment and to keep the pollution in check. BMRCL’s lack of responsibility towards the hundreds of trees they are cutting to urbanize the city is destroying the already worse state of the green cover in Bengaluru.

  IS IT SMART?

A new initiative has been taken by the Government of Karnataka as a part of the Smart City Project by the Central government. Smart City Project is an urban renewal mission that aims to develop 100 cities in the country, make their citizen friendly and encourage sustainable development. The new initiative called Tender S.U.R.E. or Specifications for Urban Roads Execution aims at rebuilding the city roads infrastructure involving the integration of utilities running under the road. A report on the BBMP website states 13 salient features of TenderSure roads, that were commissioned in 2011.

The major Smart City Project include:

  • dedicated corridors below footpaths to lay conduits of essential amenities such as electricity, water, sewage, OFC etc. This will eliminate the need to excavate the roads for repairs.
  • properly designed footpaths providing ample space for pedestrians, bicycle lane to be installed wherever required.
  • Bus Bay to accommodate easy egress and ingress of passengers of public transport buses, Parking Bay for parking of vehicles, to minimize power consumption and increase longevity of usage LED street lamps are used.
  • proper storm water drainage system on both sides of the road to eliminate flowing or ponding of rain water on road and incorporating Road sign.
  • Road marking and zebra crossing in junctions for pedestrian crossing.

    A SOLUTION?

A study conducted by Janaagraha, a non-profit organization based in Bangalore, ranks 26 cities in India on the basis of their ‘city-system’. This city system includes four area –  Urban Planning & Design, Urban Capacities & Resources, Empowered & Legitimate Political Representation and Transparency, Accountability & Participation.

The study titled, “Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems” (ASICS) 2017, ranks Bangalore the worst city in terms of the pace and efficiency of city-system reforms.

The report states three major problems with the Indian cities – outdated town and country planning acts, weak preparation, implementation and enforcement of spatial development plans, and lack of design standards for public utilities. For every 400,000 citizens, India has only one urban planner, whereas the United Kingdom has 148.

The report further talks about the lack of any platform for the public to get involved in the civic matter, to demand a change, to put forward a suggestion or to simply take part in the planning of urban developments.

It says, “This impacts not just accountability of municipalities, but the quality of democracy itself. Low levels of transparency in finances and operations of municipalities only worsen the problems.”

  • Photo by Yajush Gupta
Flag of Karnataka State.
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