When dug wells began fading from citizens' memory

When dug wells began fading from citizens' memory

Bangalore, which has been consistently seeing a decline in its well population, began losing the memory of wells as early as in the mid- 1980s, a good decade-and-a-half before the IT boom and escalation of real estate activity.

Not only are the City’s wells declining, but the ground water too is being sucked out.
Till the beginning of 1980, experts, who have been studying the patterns in the decline of wells, say new houses had provisions for either traditional or recharge wells. The first sign of change in this trend, an expert points out, was in the beginning of 1984, when drilling borewells became the fad, replacing wells that were in vogue till then.

“There is no consistency in the reasons for the change, but attributions can be made to people taking to new technology, and also to the fact that the expertise to dig wells, which rested with a few people, was becoming hard to find,” S Vishwanath, one of the experts working closely with water-related problems in the City, said.

The expertise that Vishwanath talks about takes one back to the “Mannu (mud/earth) Vaddars and Kallu (stone) Vaddars.” This community, also known as ‘Bhovi’, a corrupt form of ‘Bhavi’, which means well in Kannada, are traced back to Odra Desa or Odisha, from where they are believed to have migrated to various southern states.

“These were the people who had been involved in the digging of wells and are known by many names like Bhovi, Wadda, Tudugvaddar, Voddar and Vaddar. If one goes back in time post-mid ’80s, it will be noticed that the number of people with this expertise had begun to shrink from then, which is a major contributor to people taking to borewells,” Vishwanath points out.

And thus began not only the decline in the number of wells in the City, but also the metaphorical disconnect with people and water accessed in one of the more natural ways.

Unlike the borewells, wells “spoke” to people. Ask Shantha, a vegetable vendor in Ulsoor who stays in a small yard (Vatara) with a well, and she says: “We are not blinded by pipes. We know when we can afford to use water leisurely and when we should conserve it.”

The well speaks to her and everybody in the yard. It tells them when summer is around the corner. It tells them when it is retreating.

“Such disconnect and water becoming a commodity have seen several changes in the environment of the City,” Vishwanath said. He further explains that in the earlier days, when Bangalore’s landscape was dotted with wells, water was used for all domestic purposes, including drinking, by farmers.

“Then, the city crept in and farming was given up as an occupation. Now, there is a water scarcity in the City, which mostly draws water from a piped network.

Apartments have sprung up and they need enormous quantities of water,” he explains.
Talking about a particular well in Jakkur, he says, “This well, with over 50 years of history, has now been ‘auctioned’ for Rs 15,000 a month to a water tanker operator.” The more trips the operator makes, the more profitable it is.

And an anonymous person’s thought that “water flows uphill towards money,” cannot be more apt to the situation in Bangalore today. Lying under the veils of the want of the needy (for water) without access to piped water resource resulting in over usage of ground water, is also the fact that water has become a commodity that can only be bought.

And, lost with the memory of wells is also the message that water is a community resource and not a private product. With borewells requiring lesser real estate, the City has a huge number of illegal borewells that have impacted ground water, which would have never been the case if the City had stuck to wells...

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