Tuesday 27 August 2013

Will water bust the Bangalore boom

One of the ablest and honest IAS officer that Karnataka has seen in recent years, V. Balasubramanian, who retired as Additional Chief Secretary, stirred a hornest’s nest when he took on the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) over the water supply needs of Bangalore and said half of Bangalore would have to be evacuated if alternate channels to supply water to Bangalore were not explored.
Mr. Balasubramaniam said the Government would have to evacuate half of Bangalore’s population in the next ten years if  steps were not taken to redress the water scarcity and other water related problems that Bangalore faces and would continue to face.
As chairman of Centre for Policies and Practices, Bangalore, the former bureaucrat cautioned the Government against taking things in a casual manner and called for urgent steps to streamline the water supply system.
He was not far off the mark. Many cities in India have had to be evacuated after the water supply system fell into disuse. In Karnataka, the city of Bijapur, saw a mass evacuation when the ingenious water system of tanks and lakes collapsed after its fall to Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1686.
Similarly, the Mughal Emperor Akbar had to abandon his pet city, Fathepur Sikri, when the water failed. Even the greatest Mughal Emperor, with untold wealth at his disposal and also served by the best and ablest minds, could not solve the water shortage.
Bangalore too could meet the same fate if the authorities to be fail to heed the warning.     
What are the factor that could lead Bangalore towards the dooms day saying ?. Well, here are some facts.
The Hesarghatta reservoir has completely dried up and the TG halli reservoir too is going the same way. The Hesarghatta first went completely dry in 1925 and the then Mysore Government took steps to provide drinking water from the Yelemallappa Chetty Tank, Byatha and Kakol Tanks. When this proved inadequate, the TG Halli was commissioned in 1933.
When TG Halli too proved inadequate, the Government decided to tap Cauvery in the 1970s. Today, Cauvery meets most of the needs of Bangalore but there can be no further drawal from Cauvery as the State has already reached the limits of water drawal prescribed for Karnataka for drinking water by the Cauvery River Water Tribunal.
Bangalore once had hundreds of lakes and today there are just a handful and even they are facing threats from urbanization and Government apathy.
Even as late as 1971, Bangalore has 260 lakes, Today, there are hardly 60 and most of them are highly polluted.  
The storm water drains are clogged and they need to be renovated and repaired. The water channels connecting the exisiting lakes need to be restored and encroachments around lakes removed. Some wetlands need to be restored.
A study by the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bangalore, says many dry tanks on the outskirts of the City have been encroached upon either for real estate or for agriculture.
It says conversion of farm land and encroachment of water channels in and around wetlands have weakened connectivity between Yelchenahalli and Madivala lakes and they have almost been lost.
The Public Health Institute, and the Department of Mines and Geology, Karnataka, has shown that 52 per cent of the borewell water and 59 per cent of the tap water in Bangalore is undrinkable. Shockingly, they contain 8.4 per cent and 19 per cent E.coli bacteria respectively.
Borewells, which have proliferated in the last decade and are a major cause of deepening water table in Bangalore, can only supply contaminated water. There are more than 4 lakhs borewell and only half of them are registered. The drawal of underground water is 3.7 times more than the recharge from the city’s annual rainfall 900 mm.
No wonder, the borewells have gone deeper, up to 1,250 feet and hundreds of  borewells have become dry. Moreover, the 600 lakes of Bangalore urban district have all become sewage tanks and this is highlighted in Volume 2 of Excreta Matters published  by Centre for Science & Environment, Delhi, 2011. This is study of water of 71 cities in India.
The 850 kilometres of old Raja Kaluves or storm water drains were conceived to transport surplus water from higher elevation lakes to lower levels in the Karanji system or a cascading system of natural rain water harvesting. Instead, they now carry sewage, debris, sullage and filth. Besides, the existing fourteen Secondary treatment plants, four tertiary treatment plants and ten more STPs under construction will together have a capacity to treat 1,133 MLD of waste water. However, all the existing STPs hardly treat 30 per cent of the sewage because of sewage is not flowing into the STPs but into the lakes and other water bodies. Moreover, there is no demand for treated water and it is let back into the polluted water channels and water bodies.
The sewage has to diverted away from the Raja Kaluves and they have to be treated before being let into lakes and tanks. Only then can Raja Kaluves carry rainwater to the lakes. If not., the lakes and water bodies will continue to be cess pools of filth, debris, sewage and foul smelling liquid with high health hazard.
Rainwater harvesting is yet to take off despite a law making it mandatory. It now covers just 50,000 houses out of some 18 lakh properties. Surveys have shown that only 40 per cent of  Bangalore is covered by roofs and if rain water harvesting is to be effective, it should be done on a geographical basis covering all the four basins areas or natural valleys of Bangalore, including Vrishabhavati and  Hebbal.
The Vrishabhavati, which takes birth in Bangalore, is polluted and the river has practically died. It needs to be urgently revived if the ground water level has to be recharged. The Arkavathi, which flows near Bangalore too needs to be cleaned up.
BWSSB Chairman Gaurav Das Gupta has gone on record that the peripheral areas of Bengaluru do not and will not have water for the upcoming years.
Gaurav Gupta was speaking at a discussion on­ “The Critical water situation in Bangalore- The way forward”,  conducted by Bangalore International Centre at Domlur.
It was at this meet that Balasubramanian had spoken about the water crisis. Acknowledging the water crisis, the BWSSB Chairman himself said  “If you are thinking of  purchasing or staying in a property in Bangalore, especially in the peripheral areas and in the suburbs, take them at your own risk! We really don’t have water for those areas.”
He said there are plans to provide water for peripheral areas of Yelahanka, K R Puram and Kengeri. But beyond that the BWSSB cannot supply water.
How do you tackle these problems.

Leakages, which are almost 50 per cent, needs to be urgently plugged. Alternate sources have to be tapped and rain water harvesting should be compulsory. Encroachment of  tanks, lakes and water bodies should be removed forthwith and borewell drilling has to be regulated. Raja Kaluvas have to be restored. Only then will Balasubramaniam’s remarks remain a mere statement. If not, it will become a reality.  

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