Sushila, a middle aged woman, who lives with her five children, carries her water pots down the hill into the Nayandahalli slum, off the Mysore Road and fills them with the homemade taps. All these taps were not set up by Board of Water Supply, Bangalore (BWSSB) but slum dwellers themselves. It’s the Cauvery water. She and nearly 1000 other families in the slum pay nothing for the water.
On a road parallel to the slums, there is a BBMP office just around the corner. It has four rooms, and in the inner room, which is the biggest one, sits Umesh Belagudo, who handles all the issues regarding Nayandahalli area, but he is not the Councilor of Nayandahalli, his wife, H. S. Rajeshwari, is. “There are some individual connections in the houses in Nayandahalli, but since these are the poor slum dwellers, they don’t pay,” he says.
What he doesn’t say and apparently doesn’t know is that these kinds of connections are illegal and non revenue generating ones, which constitutes a large portion of water that remains unaccounted for. Bangaloreans face a water shortage of 360 million liters per day (MLD). BWSSB cannot account for around 450 MLD of the 1,200 million liters, it supplies to Bangalore every day. BWSSB attributes the unaccounted for water to illegal water connections and leaking pipes. The problem of illegal connections is not new.
Bangalore has 562 slum areas including 300 undeclared slums, which have not been provided water connections from BWSSB. Moreover, the conditions in undeclared slum and declared slums, which are entitled for water connections, are not strikingly different. Some slums recognized by the slum board don’t have water connections and come up with these kinds of taps connected from somewhere down the line, not unlike the undeclared ones.
Nayandahalli, a declared slum, is no exception. The area has two bore wells that the residents use for all sorts of domestic works except for drinking. For drinking water, Sushila and other women use taps that were set up by their late leader Tamakshi. His wife, Kamachi, holds the position now, and is respected among all the slum dwellers. She owns a small grocery shop that earns around Rs 1000 per day and lives with 12 other members of the family.
“We didn’t have drinking water. Nobody came for us. We collected money among ourselves and set up, in total, 16 taps. It cost us Rs 40,000 three years back,” she said. “Now we get Cauvery water once in two days for nearly 6 hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the afternoon.” Interestingly, the residential area, which is adjacent to the slum area, gets its water supply at the same time on the same days.
Savithriamma, a retired officer from BHEL has been living in the area for 25 years, with her family, which includes her husband, son, daughter-in-law and a grandson. “We don’t have any problem of water as such. We get bore well water every day from BWSSB for 2 to 3 hours in the morning and 1 to 2 hour in the evening,” she said. “On alternate days we get Cauvery water for 5 to 6 hours from 9 am to 2 pm.” “We pay around Rs 100 every month, but basically it depends upon how much you use,” she added.
But, in Nayandahalli, nobody pays for the water, which is taken from BWSSB and used for drinking. One of the two bore wells in the area was repaired by slum dwellers seven years back when they put in a new motor for the bore well. Now, the bore well pumps the water continuously as it gets electricity all day long, which has also been arranged by the slum dwellers. It does not have any stopper valve to turn off the motor, which results in the wastage of large quantities of water every day.
The other bore well connection, which was set up by Karnataka State Clearance Board (KSCB) one and a half years ago is actually connected to the bore wells that are being used for the construction of Ambedkar slum residential, being constructed by (KSCB) colony just behind the slum area.
But here also, the water overflows nonstop as the connection does not have any stopper. Number of bore wells in Bangalore’s BWSSB region has increased by around 15,000, according to BWSSB data online. A report by the Centre of Ground Water says that the taluks in Bangalore district are over-exploited. If usage remains at the same level, no ground water resources will be left for future development in a few years, the report said.
The slum dwellers use the Cauvery water that they get for six hours once in two days judiciously while wasting away the bore well water which they pump out continuously, using it only for washing clothes and other domestic works.
They act no different than BWSSB, which loses a huge amount of water per day without knowing how, but clings on to the notion of water shortage. “This is the duty and responsibility of the contractor to look after the bore wells,” said Basuraj, Chief Engineer, BWSSB, when informed about the situation. “BWSSB is working to provide water in 362 slum areas and work has been going on for this,” he added, clarifying why Nayandahalli doesn’t have individual water connections.
When the same question was asked to BWSSB public relation officer, A. N. Prahalad, he said, “In Nayandahalli, we are working toward providing internal and external connections in individual houses in Ambedkar slum colony [in Nayandahalli]. It will be completed in three to four months.” “Once the connections are set up they only have to pay minimal charges of Rs.40 to 50,” he added.
While talking about the problem of illegal water connection he said the situation is same all over the Bangalore.
“For water which is unaccounted for, BWSSB has launched a scheme, Unaccounted for water (UFW) program. Within one year we want to reduce the percentage of unaccounted water significantly,” he said. Currently, a total of 37 percent of supplied water go unaccounted for, as per the BWSSB data. “But if it is happening then it’s definitely illegal,” he said referring to the situation in Nayandahalli.
But Sushila faces no water shortage. She happily gets her water from Cauvery as well as bore wells for free. But even this situation is not perfect.
“But it’s still troublesome to go out and fetch so much of water,” she said. Every time the taps are turned on, she hauls five or six pots of water, enough to last for two days. “So we are waiting to get shifted in Ambedkar slum colony.”