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Traffic, water shortages, now floods: the slow death of India’s tech hub?

Traffic, water shortages, now floods: the slow death of India's tech hub?
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  • Much of Bangalore submerged in recent floods
  • Residents are forced to wade through waist-deep water
  • Outages raise questions about the city’s future as a tech hub
  • Authorities promise to act, but extreme weather may complicate plans

BENGALURU, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Harish Pullanoor spent weekends in the late 1980s roaming the swamps and ponds of Yemalur, an area then on the eastern edge of the Indian metropolis of Bengaluru, where his cousins ​​stayed with him. They came together to catch small freshwater fish. .

In the 1990s, Bangalore, once an elegant city of gardens, lakes and a cool climate, quickly became India’s answer to Silicon Valley, attracting millions of workers and the regional headquarters of some of the world’s largest companies. World’s largest IT.

Unfettered expansion came at a price.

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Concrete replaced green spaces, and construction around the lake shores blocked connecting canals, limiting the city’s ability to absorb and extract water.

The heaviest rain in decades caused flooding in India’s IT hub, Bengaluru, in early September.

Last week, after the city’s heaviest rains in decades, the Yemalur neighborhood was submerged in waist-deep water along with other parts of Bangalore, disrupting the southern metropolis’s IT industry and dealing a hard blow to his reputation.

Residents, fed up with traffic jams and water shortages during the dry season, have long complained about the city’s infrastructure.

But monsoon flooding has raised new questions about the sustainability of rapid urban development, especially if weather patterns become more erratic and intense due to climate change.

“It’s very, very sad,” said Pullanoor, who was born near Yemalur but now lives in the western city of Mumbai, parts of which also face sporadic flooding like many of India’s urban centers.

“The trees are gone. The parks are almost gone. There is heavy traffic.”

Big companies are also complaining about worsening outages, which they say can cost them tens of millions of dollars in a single day.

Bangalore is home to more than 3,500 IT companies and some 79 “tech parks,” luxury facilities that house offices and entertainment areas that cater to tech workers.

Traversing flooded roads last week, they struggled to reach modern glass-fronted compounds in and around Yemalur, where multinational firms such as JP Morgan and Deloitte operate alongside large Indian start-ups.

Millionaire entrepreneurs were among those forced to escape from flooded living rooms and flooded bedrooms on the backs of tractors.

Insurance companies said initial property loss estimates were in the crores of rupees, with figures expected to rise in coming days.

‘GLOBAL IMPACT’

The latest chaos triggered renewed concerns from India’s $194bn IT services industry that is concentrated around the city.

“India is a tech hub for global businesses, so any disruption here will have a global impact. Bangalore, being the IT hub, will be no exception to this,” said KS Viswanathan, vice president of the industry lobby group. , the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM).

Bangalore was renamed Bengaluru in 2014.

NASSCOM is currently working to identify 15 new cities that could become software export hubs, said Viswanathan, who is driving the project.

“It’s not a city versus city story,” he told Reuters. “We as a country don’t want to lose revenue and business opportunities due to lack of infrastructure.”

Even before the floods, some business groups, including the Outer Beltway Companies Association (ORRCA), run by Intel executives (INTC.O)Goldman Sachs Microsoft (MSFT.O) and Wipro (WIPR.NS)he warned that inadequate infrastructure in Bangalore could encourage businesses to leave.

“We’ve been talking about this for years,” Krishna Kumar, general manager of ORRCA, said last week of Bangalore’s infrastructure-related problems. “We have reached a serious point now and all companies are on the same page.”

Thomson Reuters (TRI.TO) it also has major operations in Bangalore.

“The safety of all employees is always our top priority,” the company said in a statement. “While Thomson Reuters employees in Bangalore continue to work remotely during the recent flooding, there has been no impact on our operations.”

In the early 1970s, more than 68% of Bangalore was covered with vegetation.

By the late 1990s, the city’s green cover had shrunk to around 45% and by 2021 to less than 3% of its total area of ​​741 square kilometres, according to an analysis by TV Ramachandra of the Indian Institute of Sciences. Bangalore (IISC). .

Green spaces can help absorb and temporarily store stormwater, helping to protect built-up areas.

“If this trend continues, by 2025, 98.5% (of the city) will be clogged with concrete,” said Ramachandra, who is with the IISC Center for Ecological Sciences.

CITY IN DECAY

According to experts, rapid urban sprawl, often featuring illegal structures built without permits, has affected Bangalore’s nearly 200 lakes and a network of canals that once connected them.

So when heavy rain hits the city like it did last week, drainage systems can’t keep up, especially in low-lying areas like Yemalur.

The state government of Karnataka, where Bangalore is located, said last week it would spend 3 billion Indian rupees ($37.8 million) to help manage the flood situation, including removing unauthorized development, improving of drainage systems and control of water levels in lakes.

“All invasions will be mercilessly eliminated,” Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai told reporters. “I’ll go personally to inspect.”

The authorities have identified around 50 areas in Bangalore that have been developed illegally. These included high-end villas and apartments, according to Tushar Girinath, chief commissioner of the Bangalore civic authority.

Last week, the state government also announced that it would set up a body to manage Bangalore’s traffic and start discussions on a new stormwater drainage project along a major highway.

Critics called the initiatives a knee-jerk reaction that could run out of steam.

“Whenever it floods, only then do we speak,” said the IISC’s Ramachandra. “Bengaluru is decaying. It will die.”

($1 = 79.4130 Indian rupees)

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Reporting from Devjyot Ghoshal in NEW DELHI and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in BENGALURU, additional reporting from Nandan Mandayam in BENGALURU; Edited by Mike Collett-White and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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