Slow death by poisoned water

Tap water

Bengalureans are in all probability being administered a slow death, with one study after another pointing out that water unfit for human consumption is being supplied to the city’s residents. A recent pan-India study by the Bureau of Indian Standards listed Bengaluru as one of the top cities where the quality of tap water is below par. Another study by PES University across seven locations in Bengaluru North and South has revealed the presence of faecal matter and harmful chemicals in what is supposed to be potable water. The culprit is the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewage Board (BWSSB), which has not been able to get its act together even after over five decades since its inception. While most of the city’s domestic needs are met by water from the Cauvery river, there is little hope for citizens as all other sources of water, too, are contaminated. While most lakes have disappeared, the release of untreated sewage and other pollutants have rendered the remaining ones virtually useless. People depending on borewells do not have any reason to feel safe either, as several studies have indicated that Bengaluru’s groundwater is also contaminated with carcinogenic nitrates. Polluted water is also used for cultivation of vegetables, posing a major health hazard.

In 2010, the United Nations recognised the right to water and sanitation as a human right. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which India has signed and ratified, requires all signatory countries to progressively achieve all human rights, including those of water and sanitation. The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. By failing to adhere to even a single point of the covenant, the BWSSB is guilty of committing grave human rights violations. Supplying poisonous water to households is an issue that should be viewed seriously by the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission.

For years, BWSSB has been shifting the blame on its ageing underground pipelines which frequently burst, leading to the mixing of drinking water with sewage. Bengaluru is the fastest growing metropolis in the world and contributes over 65% of the state’s GDP. The government should do whatever it takes to ensure that water supply is not only adequate but is also fit for consumption. In doing so, a piecemeal approach, as is the wont, will not help. The government should seriously consider announcing a compressive water management policy that covers the entire gamut of domestic, irrigation and industrial requirements, rainwater harvesting, replenishing groundwater, popularising use of treated water and rejuvenating water bodies.

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