Are We Heading Towards “Day Zero” In Bengaluru?

Posted by Vidyashankar Ramashesha in Environment
February 10, 2018

Cricket is not the only reason South Africa is in the news. Parts of South Africa is in severe drought. So much so that each citizens is allotted only 50 litres of water per day in Cape Town! The situation is grim and April is believed to be the ‘day zero’, the day when the taps will be turned off. It may very well be the first modern city to run out of drinking water. Climate change and mismanagement of water resources are attributed to the situation. Back in India, the situation is more or less similar or at least going to be similar if concrete steps are not taken.

Water is the bare minimum essential for survival. Yet we have treated our water bodies with nothing but apathy. Bengaluru, is a prime example of this apathy. Bellandur lake catching fire  has made it to the headlines around the world. Lakes were a natural way of preserving ground water. Bengaluru, despite being blessed with many lakes, meets its drinking water needs by pumping water from Cauvery water, situated hundreds of kilometers away. The reason for this is Bengaluru lakes are polluted and most of them are unfit for drinking or even bathing.

It is not just the lakes that face our apathy but also our rivers. Vrishabhavati river, a minor river of Bengaluru is no longer a river, it is essentially sewage water flowing. One can witnessed frothing as high as three-storey buildings in the Byramangala reservoir, into which Vrishabhavati flows.

All this has led to an over dependence on Cauvery for meeting our drinking water requirements . Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have historically locked horns over this lifeline. Considering the number of riots that have happened over this river and the emotional reverence to the river by the people of both states, one would expect that this river to be a source of good drinking water. But alas! Cauvery is the one of the most polluted (in terms of chemical pollution) rivers in the country, higher than even River Ganga.

Another popular source of drinking water is the ground water. Not all of Bengaluru has piped Cauvery water supply. Outside of core Bengaluru, citizens are left to depend on borewells (mostly private borewells). The depth of borewells that are being dug, runs into thousands of feet. There are enough anecdotes to show even these depths do not guarantee water! Bengaluru is over crowded and very little is being done to regulate a precious commodity like water. Concrete foundations and tarred roads have prevented the rain water from percolating and recharging ground water.

In order to deal with water shortage, Bengaluru made rain water harvesting compulsory (for newly built houses and those that measure over 30 x 40 feet) in 2009. However, the efforts are being negated by apathetic citizens, with less than one-tenth of the household  adopting rain water harvesting. A study by researchers at Indian Institute of Science (IISc), have already predicted that Bengaluru will be uninhabitable in a few years, A part of the reason cited by the researchers is water scarcity.

There have been civil wars fought over water scarcity. Bengaluru is heading towards a similar disaster, it is not a question of “IF” anymore, it is a question of “WHEN”. Citizens can still soften the blow that might hit us.   We need activism to rejuvenate Cauvery, rather than rioting over a dying river. As citizens, adopt rain water harvesting, prevent lakes being encroached by real estate industry. Actively report waste dumping in lakes and rivers in Bengaluru. At the governance level, a task force is needed exclusively for water and waste management.

This task force must have representation from bureaucracy, scientists, citizens and  engineers. The government needs to ration water judiciously so that we do not face what Cape town is facing. We need investments in rejuvenating our lakes. There must be concrete steps taken to drastically reduce our dependence on the already overburdened River Cauvery. One way to achieve this independence would be to develop artificial reservoirs in every ward of Bengaluru to retain rain water. This requires redesigning of our storm drains. A strong law which empowers residents staying in the vicinity of the lake to prevent garbage and sewage dumping the lakes. We might still not be able to avert the disaster which we have created, but at least we will buy some time to find a possible solution.