Menu Menu

Explaining Bangalore’s severe water crisis

Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, is grappling with an unprecedented water crisis that has exposed an underbelly of unchecked urbanization and environmental neglect.

As summer looms, Bangalore’s water crisis is expected to worsen.

Sharaschandra, a resident of Uttarahalli in Bengaluru, paints a grim picture. ‘We are a family of six members. A tanker of water lasts for five days even if we use it judiciously. It means we need six-tankers of water a month, which will cost us about Rs 9,000 a month. How long can we spend money like this?’

How did a city that was once a paragon of urban planning and environmental consciousness descend into such a dire state? The answer is complex – and stems from a fundamental disregard for sustainable development.

What is the root of the crisis?

Deputy CM DK Shivakumar has said that out of approximately 14,700 borewells in Bangalore, a whopping 6,997 have dried up, while around 7,784 are still operational – a precarious balance that teeters on the edge of collapse.

At the heart of Bangalore’s water woes lies a stark reality: over the last four decades, the city has lost a staggering 79% of its water bodies and 88% of its green cover.

Concurrently, areas covered by concrete have increased eleven-fold, according to studies at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). This rapid and unchecked urbanization has come at a severe cost to the environment, crippling the city’s ability to replenish its groundwater reserves.

Adding to the crisis is the perennial challenge of a weak southwest monsoon, which has dented groundwater levels and reduced water levels in the Cauvery River basin reservoirs that feed the city.

The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), the agency responsible for water supply, has been forced to appeal for additional water from the Cauvery basin to shore up its dwindling supplies.

A crisis that’s been decades in the making

Bangalore’s water crisis can be traced back to decades of mismanagement and neglect. While the BWSSB claims that the drop in the water table is primarily due to poor monsoons, experts argue that this is a half-measure that fails to address the larger systemic issues at play.

One of the glaring problems is the lack of widespread water utility services in the city’s outer zones. Areas like Bellandur, Singasandra, Ramamurthy Nagar, Byatarayanapura, Jakkur, and Devarabisanahalli are highly dependent on tanker water supply, as the BWSSB has yet to lay its water pipes in these regions.

Successive governments have failed to implement various drinking water and sanitation schemes promised at the outset of their terms. This chronic neglect has compounded the crisis, leaving the city woefully underprepared to address its growing water needs.

Overexploitation of groundwater and the depletion of borewells have further exacerbated the situation.

Residents are now forced to dig borewells as deep as 800-900 feet in search of water, a stark contrast to just a couple of decades ago when water was readily available at depths of 150-200 feet.

The localized distribution network problem is another critical factor contributing to the crisis.

In the absence of government-regulated water utility services, the population is left at the mercy of an unregulated and mismanaged tanker water supply system, where pricing, sourcing, and sanitization are all fraught with issues.

Are government efforts too little, too late

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the Karnataka government has announced a series of measures aimed at addressing the water crisis.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, in the 2024-2025 budget speech, unveiled plans for the BWSSB to start Phase-5 of the Cauvery project, aiming to provide 110 liters of drinking water daily to 12 lakh people at a cost of Rs 5,550 crore.

This project, scheduled for completion by May 2024, is expected to alleviate the water shortage in the 110 villages added to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) in 2008.

In a bid to rein in the unregulated water tanker industry, Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar has urged tanker owners to register with the authorities before March 7, warning that the government will seize their tankers if they fail to comply.

This move aims to bring transparency and accountability to the tanker water supply system, curbing the exploitation of residents during this crisis.

“Water does not belong to any individual and it belongs to the government. The state has the right to take over the same in the time of water crisis,” Shivakumar said on Monday.

A war room has been set up to monitor the crisis in real-time, with ward-wise helplines and grievance centers to be established soon.

A total of Rs 556 crore has been set aside to address the crisis, with each MLA getting roughly Rs 10 crore for their constituency. All irrigation and commercial borewells are going to be controlled by the government.

However, the effectiveness of these measures remains to be seen, as the city’s water woes have been decades in the making.

A wake-up call for sustainable urbanisation

The Bangalore water crisis serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of unchecked urbanization and the disregard for environmental sustainability.

It is a cautionary tale for cities across India and the world, underscoring the urgent need to strike a balance between development and ecological preservation.

As Bangalore grapples with this crisis, it is imperative that both the government and citizens take a hard look at their collective priorities.

Sustainable water management, preservation of natural resources, and responsible urban planning must become the cornerstones of the city’s future development.