Shaken from down under

Last Updated 26 November 2011, 19:51 IST

Digging deep into peripheral Bangalore’s underbelly, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) is on a surgical mode to implant water and drainage pipes. But this clinical intervention is without the much critical post-operative care. So, take a tour of the newly added BBMP areas and be shocked to find roads in total disarray.

In the chaotic medley of optic cables and telephone wires, Bescom lines and empty water and sewage pipes in downward motion, spot the Bangalorean curse his fate, his roads, the rain, the BWSSB, BBMP and the dirty life in perennial decay!

You look for answers and find the BBMP blame the BWSSB, the Water Board blame the telecom diggers, and the man on the street blame just about everyone in sight. Yet, the Palike feels it has good reason to put the BWSSB in the dock. “The Water Board should be re-laying the roads as per the agreement between the two civic agencies,” reminds a Palike official.

So, when the BWSSB asserts it is trying to provide relief to citizens with the much-needed sanitary connections, the BBMP claims it has to work overtime to re-lay the roads. “The general public usually come to the BBMP with road complaints and not to the BWSSB,” explains the official.

But the BBMP-BWSSB problems run deeper. The agreement requires the BWSSB to get permission from the local BBMP Executive Engineer or the zonal office every time it embarks on a road-digging operation to lay a sanitary or water pipeline.

“However, in many a case, the BWSSB fails to even inform us about their project,” complains a Palike official. Besides, the Water Board is also partly under pressure from the local corporator or MLA to rectify long pending damages done to age-old pipelines which need to be repaired. This only adds to the ad hoc work the Board undertakes, complicating co-ordination problems with BBMP even more.

The BWSSB, through an internal circular in 2005, had issued directions to its officials to lay “soil compacting layers of sand and quarry dust and bring it up to the original level of the road surface”, once the pipeline was lowered.

However, in most cases, as evident even in the ongoing project, the officials are conspicuously absent from the site, and there is virtually no supervision or inspection of the work taken up by private contractors engaged by the BWSSB.

The result is there for all to see. “Due to the faulty and age-old technique of using the dug-up mud while laying their water and sanitary pipelines in most parts of the City, the roads sink in leaving the streets in horrid condition,” observes an expert.

Over the last three years, the Palike says it has spent nearly Rs 2,500 crore on the City roads. While laying a kilometre of road costs between Rs 60 lakh and 80 lakh by BBMP estimates, the Indian Road Congress (IRC) fixes that amount at Rs one crore for a new road. The difference in estimation raises the stink of kickbacks.

BBMP insiders disclose that there is not much enthusiasm within the Palike to mend roads, which are to be taken care of by the BWSSB. “While the Palike, if required, can take corrective steps on behalf of the BWSSB to ensure that the roads are re-laid immediately after the project, none interfere. Reason: There is no money in the form of kickbacks if the project of re-laying the roads are commissioned by the BWSSB,” explains a source in the BBMP.

Hands full: BWSSB

On its part, the BWSSB asserts that its hands are full. It is currently implementing the Under Ground Drainage (UGD) programme as part of the Karnataka Municipal Reforms Project (KMRP) and the ambitious Cauvery Water Supply Stage IV Phase II (CWS) to ensure that a majority of Bangaloreans have access to the water and sewerage pipeline network.

The Board calculates the average Bangalorean to use roughly 130 litres of water a day. While the supply of water is presently 30 Million Litres Daily (MLD), this is set to increase more than two fold to 80 MLD by 2021. For the drainage system, the KMRP is set to cover the new BBMP areas (the erstwhile CMCs and TMC) by laying 600mm (average) pipes, roughly three metres deep underground.

CWS Assistant Executive Engineer Rajiv K N says the BWSSB wants to commission the water supply project by March 2012.

“The last time we laid pipelines for water supply at such a large scale was at least 20 years ago. But after this stage of CWS, we plan to meet water demands of Bangalore for the nest 50 years at least,” says Rajiv.

In areas not served by the CWS, a smaller pipeline system, suitable to the nature of the area, will be adopted. This alone will make up 3,000 km of pipelines across Bangalore.

Problems galore

The ambitious projects definitely required a ground plan. But a reality check reveals there’s hardly one. For the CWS project, the BWSSB is unearthing problem after problem, leading to delays and triggering unending trouble for residents and commuters alike.

In HAL and surrounding areas, particularly on Suranjandas Road, not more than three kilometres of water lines have been laid in the past nine months. Officials admit that this has been the slowest work rate ever in the history of BWSSB.

Rajiv attributes this to optic cables, telephone cables, Bescome wires, narrow roads, unauthorised digging of roads  and wire-laying by telecom companies. The drainage work faces the same hassles.

Explains N Satish, Executive Engineer, UGD, who handles the east division, “Cables are very often not laid in a straight line. We ourselves end up repairing them if any damage is caused. When we dig up tarred roads, we ensure that we bring the road back to its good condition once pipes are laid. The UGD is one of the most difficult projects, but it is for the benefit of the public.”

Here’s how the UGD lines are laid in residential areas where there is no history of a sewage pipeline system: First, the site (road) is excavated. Then follows the bedding or levelling the bed beneath with gravel or sand.

The RCC pipes are then laid. One-inch gaskets are used to connect the line of pipes. “We then fill the mud back and roll the surface. We also have to do ‘metalling’ of the road surface,” explains Sivaiah. But he too admits this process has been kept pending for long.  

The trouble only worsens with the multitude of private contractors engaged through tendering by the BWSSB. Ramky with one package, L&T with 24 and Icomm–Sierra with three are the major winners of the UGD project contracts.

As Maheshappa, a workers at a site near Venkateshwara Tent Road in K R Puram, put it, “Each construction company will have different type and quality of labourers. So, many of us do not bother to look into the comforts of residents living nearby. This creates a difference in work in different parts of the City.”

Despite all the troubles, the long-suffering Bangalorean is still ready to sacrifice his comfort, provided the troubles are temporary. But without proper planning by the implementing agencies, lack of co-ordination and a sense of urgency, he has no reason to hope for a better tomorrow.

(Published 26 November 2011, 19:51 IST)

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