Akhilesh K Prasad
Bengaluru recorded 1200 mm rainfall in the monsoon of 2017. Despite the fact that this was more than double over 2016, the water table in various taluks of Bengaluru witnesses a paltry appreciation of about 2-9%. Later in the year, the table depleted even further.
The primary reasons for the depletion of the water table were said to be erratic rains, concretisation and unabated exploitation of groundwater. Bengaluru received 1200 mm rain within 2 months of 2017. If the rains are slow and steady, it allows the water to percolate. But with sudden, intense rains, the water flushes out. Moreover, concretisation doesn’t allow water to seep through to the ground, leaving little scope for recharge of groundwater.
In a bid to control the exploitation of groundwater, the state government passed the Karnataka Groundwater (Regulation and Control of Development and Management) Act was in 2011. The objective of the act was the equitable and sustainable distribution of groundwater with access to all. The act recognised groundwater as a common resource to be held in public trust by the government. In principle, all users who use groundwater in Karnataka come within the purview of this act. This may include individual users, industries, and commercial establishments, drilling agencies and infrastructure projects.
However, in the absence of any government provision for water for construction, the same is sourced from tanker operators. These tanker operators in turn source the water from illegally drilled bore wells in public spaces, including footpaths and parks. The water is used for the construction of roads, drains, grade separators, flyovers and underpasses. The scale of operations is such that while BWSSB has just 69 tankers of its own, there are estimably 3,000 to 4,000 tankers supplying water in Bengaluru with an annual turnover most likely in excess of Rs. 1,000 crores.
In 2017, Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Commissioner N. Manjunath Prasad issued internal circular directing zonal officials to look out for such activities and initiate criminal proceedings in case of violations. An RTI query has also revealed that the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage board (BWSSB) had not given any permission for drilling any commercial bore well. Implicitly, every borewell being used for any purpose other than domestic is therefore illegal.
While the growth of tanker operations did not happen overnight, the government and the municipal authorities have woken up to the threat only lately. This begs the question- why do governments and municipal authorities need a court order or a crisis before they act?
The more disheartening fact is that as the state inches closer to the assembly elections, free water supply is used as a bait to woo voters. Thus, the tanker mafia gets political patronage. Such a nexus can only be broken once citizens realise that their elected representatives should provide them legal means to regular water supply, rather than free water prior to every election.