In Bengaluru, water is now gold

Once upon a time, Bengaluru had over a 100 lakes, of which many were used for water supply. Other lakes fed groundwater, which was again used for fetching drinking water through wells.

And then the city grew, first slowly, and then faster. Amenities were needed. Housing was critical. The city’s growth skyrocketed in the last two decades as the IT revolution came in. Apartments mushroomed.

With all this came piped water supply from the Cauvery, a 100 kms away. Lakes were quickly forgotten, by everyone – from politicians to citizens.

Land became precious. It turned into gold. Everyone, literally everyone – politicians, bureaucrats, builders and citizens capitalised on this.

Scores of the city’s lakes gave way to colleges, sports stadia, playgrounds, markets, golf courses, bus stations, and most importantly residential layouts. Remember Sampangi lake? It changed to Kanteerava Sports Complex.

Likewise Shoolay lake, Akkithimmanhalli lake, Dharmanbudhi lake, Challaghatta lake, Koramangala lake, all went away. The list goes on. Wikipedia has a partial of list of the lakes that became other ‘things’ in the city.

Further, wherever in the city piped water supply was erratic or did not reach at all, we drilled borewells. With lakes vanishing and groundwater levels going down, more borewells were drilled, in the tens of thousands. Many started going dry.

2010: Bangalore is in a crisis. The only immediate reaction we – politicans, water bureaucrats, builders, and citizens – have, is drilling more borewells. Move over Land. Water has become gold.

What is being forgotten in the midst of the current brouhaha about water is why this came to pass in the first place. It is not that growth in itself is bad, or that urbanisation is somehow a demon we invited into our homes. Good things do come with growth. It’s simply this – we allowed Bengaluru’s already inequitable growth to happen in a reckless manner running roughshod over the natural setup of water – that is lakes – in the region. This is the setup that kept our groundwater reserves accessible.

The way to get out of panic-mode and into a self-sustainable city has already been explained by many. It is not that our politicians do not know this. But change begins at home. Everyone needs to do their bit to restore the balance.

What could this ‘bit’ be? For citizens, a start would be to simply comply with mandatory Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) rules. A chance to return to the earth what was hitherto borrowed like using a credit card with no limit. For the administration it is making compliance on RWH happen without another eyewash or bribe raj getting in the way, and ensuring that the lakes still left intact get their due protection. For the record, a Citizen Matters interview of S Vishwanath is the most recent spelling of out some of the things that are ‘easier said’ and yet need to get done.  ⊕

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