Rs 37000 crore or community action: What’s needed to solve Bengaluru’s worsening water crisis?

It has to be, ideally, a mix of both as recent deliberations at the water workshop co-organised by Citizen Matters revealed.

Instance 1:

Summer of 2012. T-Zed Homes, a gated community spread over five acres in Whitefield was facing acute water shortage, resulting in water rationing within the complex. With ever-growing water needs, even the water supplied by 10 tankers everyday proved to be insufficient for the residents of this housing complex.

In the last four years, however, things have changed dramatically for the residents of T-Zed Homes. The successful implementation of sewage water treatment and rainwater harvesting have helped them reduce the dependency on water tankers. 100% working implementation of the sewage treatment plants in the apartment space has led residents of the community to use treated sewage water for drinking purpose too.

Instance 2:

Residents of Rainbow Drive Layout on Sarjapur Road were completely dependent on borewell water in the absence of a BWSSB connection. The summer months were increasingly difficult for the residents as borewells dried up and water crisis raised its ugly head. That was when a few residents took charge and initiated rain water harvesting. Now each house in the Layout has a recharge well and the STPs are fully functional. The community has fixed water tariffs so as to ensure minimum water consumption. Water scarcity is a thing of the past for the residents of Rainbow Drive.

Instance 3:

Srinivasan Sekhar, a green champion, built his two-storey house on a 4,000-sq ft plot near Sarjapur, with a large portion of the land reserved for gardening. His house, he says, is self-sufficient in terms of water usage and does not depend on the BWSSB or water tankers. There is a system in place where the rainwater is harvested and grey and black water is treated and reused. In Sekhar’s words “each drop of water is reused twice or thrice so that no water is wasted.” 

Sustainability consultant Srinivasan Sekhar speaks about water sustainable homes. Pic: Co Media Lab

These are just some of the examples of individual and community initiatives towards solving water problems of the city. Sekhar himself (Founder and CEO of Terracura Solutions) and another Bengaluru-based water consultant Avinash Krishnamurthy (Biome Consultant) narrated these stories at a water workshop recently. The workshop – “Watershed Moment: Bengaluru’s water problems and solutions” was organised by Co Media Lab (a joint initiative of Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz and Citizen Matters), at Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) on October 1st.

The water and sustainability experts, while presenting their case studies and solutions for water problems, spoke about how small initiatives such as rainwater harvesting and sewage treatment plants in single house and community dwellings can bring about a change in the water-scarce city.

“Individual initiatives play an important role in addressing the water issue. In fact, collective initiative is a combination of individual initiatives,” Sekhar noted.

But is that really enough for a city that is grappling with water woes of such dimension and complexity?

Biome Consultant Avinash Krishnamurthy speaks about groundwater stories. Pic: Co Media Lab

The need for a systemic rehaul

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Karnataka, V Balasubramanian, emphasised the need for macro solutions over individual efforts to address a large-scale issue such as water.

Speaking about more encompassing solutions and the challenges in implementing them, he pointed to the lack of interest among the government and the BWSSB in implementing a comprehensive water management plan for Bengaluru that had been prepared by Bangalore Environment Trust and the Centre for Policies and Practice.

“We have tried to push this Rs 26,000 crore worth project with successive governments and ministers. But they have not responded positively,” the former bureaucrat said. When the plan was prepared in 2011, the estimated cost of the project was Rs 26,000 crore but the revised estimate is now closer to Rs 37000 crores.

The comprehensive water plan includes water connection to all households by 2040, converting 30 per cent of the BWSSB’s Sewage Treatment Plants into Tertiary Treatment Plants (TTPs), recovery of rajakaluves, preventing sewage from entering into lakes, rejuvenation of lakes etc..

“The BWSSB has not shown any interest in taking up the project, because a massive integrated project such as this would require funding through international funding bodies like World Bank and Asian Development Bank. When the international banks fund the projects, terms and conditions for financing is rigid. Payment is made strictly based on the project quality and quality assessment is done by independent firms. This is exactly the reason why the BWSSB is unwilling to accept the project proposal,” he alleged.

(From left) Former additional chief secretary V Balasubramanian, CAF founding president N S Mukunda, lake activist Priya Ramasubban and Rajshekar Inglay from Wipro at the panel discussion on taking forward solutions to water problems at the Water Workshop recently. Pic: Co Media Lab

Balasubramanian also felt that the BWSSB must change its water pricing and subsidy pattern, and ensure that those who can afford to pay should be charged more and vice versa. Living in an independent house, he says he pays just Rs 198 for water for his family’s monthly consumption. On the other hand, slum dwellers pay 10 times the actual rate.

Even as the debate over individual versus macro solutions was underway, N S Mukunda from Citizen Action Forum urged the IT industries in the city to provide financial support to citizen initiatives on water preservation and protection. While this was the demand of other panelists too, Priya Ramasubban from MAPSAS, who has been fighting for protection of the city’s lakes, explained the bureaucratic attitude of corporates when it comes to funding citizen initiatives towards water.

Rajshekhar Inglay from Wipro said the best way for IT industries to respond to the water problem would be by treating and reusing the waste water. “At Wipro we are treating 66 per cent of the total water used everyday. The IT industry should look in terms of becoming self-sufficient in water consumption,” he said.

With tens of water and lake activists discussing various issues during the day-long workshop, what emerged was the idea of forming a coalition of various stakeholders working for the cause. Though no concrete plan was chalked out, the very proposal perhaps reflects the necessity for Bengalureans to fight for the cause of water unitedly and in a more systematic manner.

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