Ex-Army Officer is Restoring Bengaluru’s Stormwater Drains; Can it Help Fight Floods?

Captain (Retd) Santhosh Kumar

Captain (Retd) Santhosh Kumar has been on a mission to restore stormwater drains in Anekal, Bengaluru. This, he says, is the solution to prevent flooding.

Bengaluru witnessed one of the worst downpours in recent history, and parts of the city have been grappling with flooding. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted heavy to very heavy rainfall in Bengaluru on 8 and 9 September and some other parts of Karnataka on 9 and 10 September.

The first week of September saw Bengaluru’s rural area receive 752.3 mm of rainfall, 148 per cent more than its usual 303.5 mm. The urban areas received a total of 840.2mm of rainfall in the same period, compared to a normal of 313.2mm.

While excessive rainfall is one of the reasons for the city’s woes, many activists are pointing out that this problem is manmade and caused by a design and governance problem. One of the major reasons pointed out by many experts is the encroachment of stormwater drains, which has resulted in much of the flooding. 

Stormwater drains: The reason for Bengaluru flooding?

Google image of a drain restored by Santhosh Kumar
Google image of a stormwater drain revived by Santhosh Kumar

As per a report in Hindustan Times, the BBMP had identified 1988 encroachments on storm water drains in 2020 itself. The Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) had pulled up agencies for mismanagement of the SWDs. The eviction of encroachments by Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) was incomplete and didn’t improve the condition of the drains.

It is now that the authorities are clearing properties that have encroached on these SWDs, called rajakaluve. The BBMP has been razing such properties in Dodda Bommasandra, Varthur, Mahadevapura, Outer ring road, etc. These are being done on the instructions of CM Basavaraj Bommai. BBMP Chief Civic Commissioner Tushar Giri Nath said that there are 500 encroachments on these SWDs that are yet to be cleared. 

One man who has been working on clearing encroachments on SWDs for the past few years is Captain (Retd) Santhosh Kumar. 

Captain (Retd) Santhosh Kumar
Captain (Retd) Santhosh Kumar has helped revive more than 14 lakes

The retired army officer returned to his native Muthanallur in Anekal taluk in 2008. He would observe the condition of the lakes and rajakaluves near his house. It was in 2017 that he started getting worried. 

“When I was at a farm near the Muthanallur lake sometime in 2017, I observed that something was wrong. Despite getting normal rains, the lake was not getting full. Water was not reaching the lakes. At the same time, I also saw an increase in the water tanker mafia in Anekal. They were pumping water from the lakes illegally to supply water,” says Kumar.

From 2017 to 2019, he travelled across Anekal and gathered maps and data on the stormwater drains and lakes of the area. He realised that the major cause for lakes not getting filled was encroachment or non-existence of stormwater drains.

“I got maps that were made by the Britishers which clearly show each stormwater drain. I went around trying to locate each drain. Some of these drains were encroached on as early as the 1960s. Even the locals didn’t know the existence of such drains in their area,” says Kumar. 

He first started work on Muthanallur lake.

Water gushes at a lake revived by Santhosh Kumar
Muthanallur lake flowing into the stormwater drain connected to it.

He found that there were four rajakaluves recorded in 1923 between Muthanallur lake to Bidaraguppe lake. In March 2021, he found that all four drains were encroached on. One of them was completely encroached and there were no traces of the drain found.

After gathering the data, Kumar started working on clearing the encroachments.

His first project was clearing the drain that was completely encroached. Work started on 24 March 2021 and a drain of 4 km was cleared and joined with Batalakere lake on the way to Bidaraguppe lake in 100 days for Rs 60 lakhs. The cost was borne by donors and the Anekal Taluk Environment Protection Federation. 

The project was supervised and executed by citizens while the Minor Irrigation Department and deputy commissioner of Bengaluru Urban district provided technical support and permissions.

It was a success as Batalakere lake was filled with rainwater.

The Storm water drain to Bidaraguppe lake
The stormwater drain to Bidaraguppe lake restored by Santhosh Kumar

After this, Kumar worked on reviving the Singena Agrahara lake. He has since revived 14 lakes, by clearing encroachments on stormwater drains and connecting them to the lakes. 

He also says that these lakes are 1000 years old and maintained themselves all along, till we started encroaching on them.

“These lakes were built during the Chola period, by King Rajaraja Chola 1. The lakes and drains survived and flourished all these years. Now, due to construction and developmental activities, the drains are encroached on. Many constructions completely disregard the buffer zone which needs to be maintained to the left and right of the drains. Since there is no buffer zone, the drain swells and floods apartments,” says Kumar.

He says that the only way to maintain lakes is to clear encroachments around them and connect the lakes to stormwater drains.

“When people encroach these drains, they don’t realise that water has its own memory. If you divert or build over a drain, it will reclaim its space during such rains. See that’s why old Bengaluru is still better off compared to the newer areas which saw rampant encroachments,” says Kumar. 

He is now working on connecting 11 lakes to stormwater drains in Anekal.

The project has been sanctioned by the government.

“Our Anekal taluk has not been flooded in these rains. This is because we started taking action beforehand. We are going to show the world how stormwater drains are lifesavers,” says Kumar.

He says that throughout Bengaluru, stormwater drains need to be guarded to make sure that such flooding doesn’t happen again. 

“We need to protect our rajakaluves. We need to ensure that good quality drains are built. The floods also prove that mere rejuvenation of lakes without maintaining drains is of no use,” says Kumar.

Edited by Yoshita Rao

Other sources
‘Change in stormwater mgmt need of the hour, say experts’ by Arun Dev for Hindustan Times, Published on 06 September, 2022
‘Bengaluru civic body starts to clear encroachments on storm-water drains’ Published on 03 September, 2022 Courtesy The Hindu

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