Thirsty again, this summer?

Water crisis could haunt Bangaloreans yet again if issues of wastage, leakage and pilferage are not tackled urgently

Thirsty again, this summer?

Just round the corner, summer lurks in its searing, sultry avatar. But Akhilesh Rao had heard its distant knocks weeks ago. In his frantic search for water after his borewell went dry last year, Rao had hoped this year would be better. He had wished the Water Board would be ready this time, spreading its Cauvery pipeline tentacles far and wide.

To quench the thirst of lakhs of Bangaloreans spread across the city’s new BBMP areas, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) had dug deep to instal a wide network for the Cauvery IV Stage Phase II. Yet, a majority of residents there chose not to get an authorised connection. The Board struggled to rationalise its water distribution. In this confusion, is another water crisis of a different kind looming large?

The Board had readied 1.6 lakh connections under the Greater Bangalore Water Supply (GBWAS) project. But only about 70,000 households have signed up and legally got connected so far. “Most of them are not coming forward because they are used to getting free water. Through MLAs and corporators, we had repeatedly urged them but to no avail,” says Venkataraju, Engineer-in-Chief, BWSSB.

Residents with properties up to 1,200 sqft had to pay about Rs 10,000, including pro rata charges and beneficiary capital contribution of Rs 8,000. As the BWSSB official informs, many are not prepared to fork out this amount. Months after the water started flowing in these areas, water meters are still a rarity. The scene is not going to change in a hurry since BWSSB is yet to get a continuous line of authorised connections in most localities.

This has triggered big headaches for the genuine consumers, who had promptly paid the amount and even installed meters. Some of them had to even pay bribes to get authorised plumbers. They do get water, but once in a week or 10 days. These residents are worried the onset of summer will only worsen the supply. “Cauvery water is supplied for barely two hours once in two weeks. The yield is too low,” says Venugopal, resident of an apartment complex in Kaggadasapura.

The severe short supply has forced Venugopal and hundreds of dwellers in his five-block complex to rely on water tankers much before summer. “We have to engage seven to eight tankers every day. This will surely go up as summer approaches,” he says. Dozens of tankers roaming the streets of Kaggadasapura, B  Narayanapura, Marathahalli, KR Puram and other areas are proof the business is brisk. It could only get better.

This scene clearly dispels the notion of confidence in the City’s summer water situation, as voiced recently by transport and city in-charge minister, Ramalinga Reddy. He had confidently claimed that Bangalore is unlikely to face a crisis. His rationale: The government’s proposal to allocate 10 TMC of additional Cauvery water to address the demands of 110 villages under the new BBMP areas, will mitigate the problems.

Equitable distribution

But water experts such as former BWSSB chairperson Thippeswamy are not convinced. Although the Cauvery Stage IV Phase II has brought in more water, the Board, he says, is not fully geared up for equitable distribution of the scarce resource. “Many parts of Bangalore, particularly on the eastern side, are not served. BWSSB should aggressively push for authorised connections. It has to look into the unauthorised ones. This is critical, besides creating awareness on water conservation,” he says. 

To boost awareness, he suggests engaging mobile units such as seven to eight buses equipped with videos and static displays on the conservation issue. “In the West, even cities flush with water resources are doing this. Unfortunately, no such thing is being done here although our water problems are much more severe. People need to be educated about how costly it is to bring water from Cauvery, why wastage has to be minimised and why reuse of treated water is essential.”

Water wastage is rampant in the City. In Thippeswamy’s analysis, about 50 per cent of the water supplied to Bangalore is lost as “non-revenue water.” Only seven per cent of this could be attributed to physical losses such as pipeline breakage. “There are leakages from the trunk mains to individual houses. Faulty meters, under-recording and other myriad rule violations cause huge commercial losses. There is a need to save this water on a war-footing,” says the expert.

The much publicised rainwater harvesting (RWH) concept was widely expected to take off in a big way, addressing the City’s water demand to a certain extent. But this too failed to take off. For proof, check the statistics. Only about 40,000 houses have implemented RWH although the government had made it mandatory for all residential properties of 60’X40’ dimension and above. “Unless the rule is enforced strictly, it will not work. When it can be a success in Chennai why not in Bangalore. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was very strict in implementing it, even going to the extent of cutting off power and water connections of those who didn’t comply,” notes Thippeswamy.

RWH, an alien concept

Enquiries across the City’s outskirts reveal that RWH is still an alien concept. In a revenue pocket on the periphery of CV Raman Nagar, retired DRDO employee Nagaraja Reddy admits that his house has no harvesting of any kind. “Forget RWH, it will be good if people cut down on their water wastage. My own family members are guilty on this count. One fine day, there won’t be any water at all. I keep watching water conservation programmes on television and newspapers and I am aware. But the others just don’t care,” he laments.

Sinking borewells in hundreds, private individuals, builders and even BBMP corporators had collectively contributed to the dangerous slide in ground water table. Several borewells have already dried up, including the few owned by BWSSB as emergency sources. Since more borewells are now out of question, experts suggest that the big lakes should be harnessed in earnest.  

But the City’s highly polluted and encroached lakes do not inspire confidence among people. Venugopal, for instance, was enticed by the builder’s picture of an apartment block overlooking the Kaggadasapura lake in pristine state. Ten years in that apartment, and he now wants to run away from the stink raised by the water body. “We cannot even open the window. All my three children are mostly sick. The water from the borewell here cannot be touched without filtration,” he says. The borewell, which yielded water at 500 ft a few years ago, had to be redug. But today, the residents consider themselves lucky if they trace water even at 1,500 ft.

Cauvery water connections are still in their infancy in the new BBMP areas, and could prove problematic when more challenges arise during summer. As things stand, the supply schedules are random. In areas such as B Narayanapura near KR Puram, water is supplied during late night hours inconveniencing residents. One of them, Latha Ramanjaneya notes that people are fast asleep when their tanks overflow. This only leads to leakages and wastage of water, she contends. 

BWSSB Engineer-in-Chief Venkataraju says he is aware of these concerns. “We have requested KPTCL to ensure uninterrupted power supply so that the water supply is continuous. We had a meeting of engineers to take additional supplies from Cauvery if necessary, and be prepared to tackle contaminations in low-lying areas. The demand for water will surely increase during summer, and we are prepared,” he says.

The implications are clear. As experts reiterate, unless steps are taken quickly to plug the leakages, waste water treatment given priority, distribution made equitable and public made aware of the cost of bringing Cauvery water from long distances, this summer too will prove extremely tricky for BWSSB. 

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