For people of Bangarpet, water is as precious as gold

For people of Bangarpet, water is as precious as gold

Parched regions: Politicians have done nothing to salve the thirst

water relief: Residents of Bangarpet collect water in plastic cans from the taps of a rice mill. DH Photo by author

For the people of this backward town whose name translates into English as ‘gold market’, the new precious commodity is water which is as scarce as gold.

Water is as scarce in Bangarpet, as anywhere else in Kolar District. Water scarcity has remained a topic of debate for many decades, but nothing has been done by politicians and the government to find a solution.

 The town has no perennial source of water. Pumping out groundwater is the only answer, but the profusion of borewells has depleted groundwater levels, and new borewells can go up 1,000 ft and beyond and yet not yield water.

“In recent months, of the 55 borewells that were drilled in the district, 14 failed to yield water. From last three decades, Bangarpet is facing water famine,” says Shantappa, CEO, Kolar ZP.

Over-exploitation of groundwater has led to sinking of borewells to greater depths, mining fossilised water with very high fluoride content that is not suitable for human consumption. Fluoridated water can lead to serious health problems, including decay of bones and teeth. Residents of the town do not use such groundwater for cooking or drinking purpose. It is unsuitable even for agricultural purposes, but farmers have no choice but to use it.   

The affluent can buy canned water, where do common people get their drinking water from? Redemption has come in the form of a rice mill owner. R V Shanmugam has taken the responsibility to provide potable water free to the town’s 50,000 inhabitants. He has been doing what the government should do.

Strangely, in the entire town, it is only the four borewells on land owned by Shanmugam that yield water safe for human consumption. Moved by the people’s plight, since 1996 he has been allowing them to collect water free of cost from his premises. Such is his generosity that he has installed diesel generators to pump water during power cuts. Water is pumped directly to taps from the borewells to prevent contamination.

It is a common sight in the town to see autorickshaw drivers transporting water collected from Shanmugam’s rice mill. Households pay Rs 15 each to auto drivers to deliver water in 20-litre cans.

John, an auto driver said, “I collect not less than 40 cans of water, but I do not sell it. The Rs 15 I collect per trip is to meet transportation costs.”

Jayaram, another driver, said that on an average, 800 cans of water are supplied by autos daily. Shanmugam’s charity has no political motives. Traders Gulab Chand and Poonam Chand, say they are indebted to Shanmugam for providing water every day.
“This man is not nursing any ambition to enter politics. He can’t contest from here because this is a reserved constituency,” they say.

How does Shanmugam’s land alone yield potable water in the entire town? “I have vacant land where I have drilled borewells. They could be tapping into an underground aquifer. Once, when it rained heavily in Malur, the water level in my borewells rose, although there were no rains in Bangarpet. Even at the height of summer, the borewells do not go dry,” Shanmugam says.

What will people do if the borewells go dry?

“I am confident it will not happen, because it has not happened in the last 15 years. God will not be so cruel to people,” Shanmugam says.