Aathira and Nasreen Sattar
When a city struggles to provide for water, the need for which is so instinctive to human survival, it is a glaring indicator of a looming crisis. Cities such as Mumbai and Delhi, with their haphazard urbanisation, have been facing an acute shortage of water for a few years now. India’s Silicon Valley, Bengaluru, while gloating in its status as a cosmopolitan hub, is experiencing the fallout of expanding beyond its capacity. The water crisis in the city is a case of contradictions between the haves and the have-nots, of civic apathy, and of general complacency.
The local people in the small town of Dasarahalli spend the wee hours on any given day by making a trip to where the water tanker is located in the street, carrying a couple of plastic pots each to be filled with drinking water that must last to serve the needs of the entire family for the day.
They use the same for cooking. Other household needs have to be met with saline tap water, which runs dry on all days except twice a week when water is collected and saved till the pipe gushes out again.
Rudresh, who has a family of four, said that the tanker arrives at 5.30 a.m. He does not see it as a hardship and is relieved that at least drinking water is available to them at an affordable price. A young Lata, however, does not share this sentiment and complains that officials are not responsive enough to water-related complaints.
The person supplying water on behalf of Maheshpura Water Suppliers at Dasarhalli said, “Once this street saw serpentine queues with over 100 people waiting to collect water. With the availability of water from the Cauvery River now, the demand has reduced.” The situation, according to him, is gradually improving.
The local people are charged Rs 3 per vessel but it is not so much about the expense as much as it is about the daily trudge they must make to fulfil what should be easily available. Not that tankers cater to shanties alone. For senior citizen Laisamma Philip, who resides in Hoysala Nagar, a water tanker at her doorstep is just a phone call away. With an expenditure of Rs 400, she has enough water in her sump that will last for several days. Both Philip and the people of Dasarahalli are facing water shortage. However, those who can afford to buy water seem to overcome the crisis.
Water overflowing out of tankers is a common sight. The NSoJ cameraperson was threatened at the Sewa Nagar office of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board for capturing visuals of utter wastage of water.
In areas such as Whitefield, Bellandur and Bannerghatta Road, which have witnessed a steady mushrooming of apartment complexes, borewells are the primary source of water drawn from ground resources. Nidhi Joshi, a resident of Hebbal, lives in an apartment and depends on borewell water. “We get hard water which is heavily loaded with chemicals, thus making it unpotable.”
Taking us through the ill-effects of bore well water is Dr Sameen Taj, an independent practitioner in CV Ramangar. Dr Sameen says that the ill effects of bore well water are far and wide. “If the water is found within 100 feet of surface level and if fertilizers connected to agricultural lands exist closeby, there are chances of the water being contaminated with those pollutants and also with nearby sewage lines and pipes, thereby making it toxic.” She recommends the use of water purifiers to test borewell water but admits that the process causes some amount of wastage.
With the drilling of over 20 lakh borewells in the city, the groundwater levels have dwindled to an extent that the borewells have to be dug as deep as 100 feet. Huzra Sultana who works for Arghyam, an organization whose focus area is sustainable water, said, “Bangalore has grown so much…vertically, horizontally it has expanded so much that we have just lost our resources.” Bangalore was home to 261 lakes which has now come down to a dismal 25, most of which are now the upmarket locations in the city.
The need to look at alternatives is obvious with groundwater resources finding themselves incapable of catering to the city’s 10 million population. The Karnataka (Regulation and Control of Development and Management) Groundwater Act 2011, introduced to regulate the usage of groundwater has achieved little in terms of its implementation. Of the 18 lakh residences, only 44,000 have adopted rainwater harvesting. “In a city like Bangalore, it is very difficult to enforce this system. Yes, of course, rainwater harvesting was mandatory but it becomes challenging,” said Sultana. “With borewells, the metered system helps in keeping track of the consumption rate and the pressure on water resources,” she added.
Bangalore is home to those who begin each day on the constant lookout for water-bearing vehicles and are on an endless wait as they eye the dry taps for a droplet of water. The city also sees broken pipelines and running taps ignored by those who matter. At stake is the accessibility of a resource which has long turned into the most commodified among the fundamental needs of humankind.