How Bengaluru’s notorious ‘water tankers’ can be regulated

Private tanker operators in Bengaluru often draw water from dubious sources and charge predatory prices during summer. Here are some suggestions on how they can be reined in.

Bengaluru, predicted to be the fastest growing city in the world for the next 15 years, is already facing an acute water crisis. Its rapid infrastructural expansion has led to an ever-increasing demand for water, and local government bodies haven’t been able to keep up.

The BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board), tasked with water supply, still doesn’t cover the 110 surrounding villages that had been merged into the city in 2007. Over the years, private water tanker operators have bridged this gap in water supply, playing a crucial role in the city’s daily life.

However, they operate without trade licenses and don’t follow norms, which means there are no checks on the quality of water. Reports have suggested that the groundwater supplied by private tankers could be unfit for consumption. They also charge exorbitant amounts, especially in peak summer, mainly due to the lack of regulation and their monopoly over the business.

Since private tankers are an essential service for Bengalureans, authorities need to ensure they operate in a legally-regulated manner.

Are tanker operations monitored at all?

Tanker operators in Bengaluru have:

  • No license to operate: BBMP is tasked with issuing trade licenses to water tanker operators. But it has never issued these licenses, leaving the business entirely unregulated. This leads to lack of checks or oversight on the quality of water supplied.
  • No permits to draw water: In Bengaluru, BWSSB is responsible for issuing permits to dig borewells. But since 2017, it has issued no permits for commercial borewells, on grounds that the groundwater levels are dangerously low. Tankers, as a result, draw thousands of litres of water daily from domestic borewells or illegally-dug borewells.

How can water tankers be regularised?

Until BWSSB is able to ensure piped water supply to the entire city, steps need to be made to regularise water tankers. This can be done by:

  • Transferring the power and responsibility to grant licenses from BBMP to BWSSB:

BWSSB already collects water cess from residential and commercial buildings in the city, and is better suited to oversee operations locally. Moreover, BWSSB specifically looks after water and sewerage while the BBMP has diverse responsibilities. Along with issuing trade licenses, BWSSB must also collect and store information of all tankers operating in the city as well as their water sources. 

  • Amending the BWSSB Act, 1964:

The Act must be amended to empower the BWSSB to make bylaws to regulate water tankers in the city. These bylaws must contain provisions on the requisite physical condition of the tankers, mandatory EPI (Ethoxylated polyethylenimine) coating requirements (to prevent rusting inside tankers), water quality standards, and the power to cap prices to curtail predatory pricing in peak summer months.

  • Creating comprehensive sub-aquifer plans (database of groundwater levels) throughout the city:

Sub-aquifer plans stringently map the amount, uses, quality, etc of groundwater within each aquifer (water-bearing formations that exist underground). This needs to be done so as to ascertain the water resources available in the city, and to calculate the number of tankers necessary to fulfill demand.

This data can go a long way in ensuring better water supply throughout Bengaluru. BWSSB should coordinate with the Karnataka Ground Water Authority in this regard as it already has some data on borewells and groundwater levels in the state.

  • All commercial borewells must be metered to ascertain the amount of water they draw from borewells.

Metering will allow the government to know the extent of groundwater that is being drawn. Once the withdrawal is ascertained, the extraction of groundwater by commercial exploiters can be kept to a certain sustainable limit. A charge can be levied for the use of groundwater resources as well, which can then be spent on increasing recharge and cleaning up groundwater resources.

However, these solutions will bear fruit only if human resources in the BWSSB are increased in a commensurate manner, especially in terms of hiring experienced hydrogeologists, engineers and ground staff.

Regularisation will be a win-win for both tanker operators and consumers. Tanker operators will gain legitimacy in the eyes of the law, leading to greater expansion of their businesses. Their cost of operations will also reduce as they will no longer have to bribe authorities for their operations. Residents will benefit directly as there will be increased competition which will lead to better services, competitive pricing and better water quality.

[This article was first published on the blog of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, and has been republished with permission. The original blog post can be read here. The author would like to acknowledge Mr Vishwanath Srikantaiah for his valuable inputs.]


  1. Mansoor says:

    these will definately give an adge to jack up the price again,of course this is a lobby particularly in few areas like whitefield. the prices have increased from 250 350 500 650 of course no quality or measurement authenticity. So is the supply by BWSSB. no timing,also hand in glove with few building owners. in using motors with water supply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Similar Story

Chennai’s water woes worsen as reservoirs dry up and groundwater levels decline

Of the 51 revenue blocks in Chennai where groundwater is extracted, 46 are over-exploited. How is the government addressing this problem?

The devastation that hit the coastal parts of Tamil Nadu and Chennai during the December 2023 floods still haunts the people affected here. Just five months later, the city is already staring at a potential water shortage. Reservoirs serve as the main source of water supply to Chennai residents. However, Veeranam Lake reached dead storage on February 28th due to a lack of inflow from the Mettur dam. As of the lake storage report of the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) on May 27th, the reservoirs currently hold only 42.28% of their total capacity. The CMWSSB proposes…

Similar Story

For home-buyers in Bengaluru, a checklist to assess water security

Here is a comprehensive list of the critical questions to ask about water systems and availability, when buying a home in Bengaluru.

Sneha (name changed) decided to buy a flat in a gated community in Bengaluru this year. She was worried about the availability and sufficiency of water supply. She ticked off her checklist by asking one question to the builder: “How many borewells are there?” But could she have done more to assess water security in her new home? “Beyond that one question on borewells, no one could ask anything more,” she says, adding: “It is hypothetical, whether these borewells would supply the required water. Everyone felt that the use of tankers was inevitable. And that eventually the government would solve…