Mired in conflict over Cauvery water and too far away from the next monsoon, experts have warned of a real threat of water shortage in Bengaluru in the months to come. But when did this city, which once had 964 lakes, become so stressed for water? Years of neglect and unplanned urbanisation have taken its toll on Bengaluru’s water bodies. Experts emphasise that micro-level success stories of lakes being rejuvenated by voluntary groups can’t be replicated on a larger scale to solve the crisis. But a different strategy and concerted efforts could.
It is estimated that the cost of recovering all of the city’s lakes, ensuring that sewage does not enter them, and all the storm water drains (SWDs) are encroachment-free and functional will cost about Rs 40,000 crore, says V Balasubramanian, former chief secretary. According to a study conducted by the Bangalore Environment Trust, this is the assessed cost to reclaim Bengaluru’s lakes, he says.
Speaking at a workshop on Bengaluru’s water problems and the likely solutions, the former chief secretary emphasised that the recovery of lakes was crucial for solving the city’s water crisis. The event hosted and supported by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, Co Media Lab, the Electronics City Industries Association, and India Water Portal and Biome attempted to answer the key questions around Bengaluru’s water problem.
It is necessary to implement decentralised use of water from lakes. This can be done only after segregating sewage entry to these lakes and having efficient sewage treatment plants (STP), he pointed out, adding that repair and recovery of SWDs was absolutely necessary. About 50 per cent of STPs can also be converted to Tertiary Treatment Plants (TTP) thus enabling effective recycling of water. The city currently has 14 functional STPs and 11 are under construction. However, it has to be ensured that the existing ones are better maintained so that they function at full capacity.
This requires regular investments and all these requirements were considered while drawing up the estimate. Although Rs.40,000 crore appears to be an unachievable amount, the former civil servant says it is doable. The IT industry, he says, is responsible for a whole lot of problems in Bengaluru. Multinational companies here enjoy enough government subsidies. This can be a way they repay and save Bengaluru, he adds.
Something on the lines of cross-subsidisation (the practice of charging one group of consumers more, to subsidise the cost for another group), or betterment levy (a tax that the state collects on a plot of land that its actions have in some way made ‘better’ could be implemented here, he suggests. New international agencies such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank could also be approached.
Bengaluru was once referred to as the land of a thousand lakes. Today, it has become the land of a thousand sewages, he says. The agency that has to take care of this is not the BBMP, but the Lake Development Authority (LDA), which was recently rechristened Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority, he says, but the newly bestowed powers have not drawn any noteworthy action from this body.
According to a survey conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment four years ago (titled ‘Excreta Matters’), Bengaluru is one of the 71 cities that have high content of sewage in their lakes. “According to a study conducted by the Public Institute of Health in Karnataka, 19 per cent of the water distributed in the city has E.coli bacteria,” said Balasubramanian. “Not even Cauvery water is safe as the pipelines carrying this water are laid parallel to the leaking sewage pipes, which contaminate the water,” he says.
“Official records state that the Bengaluru Urban district [Not the BBMP region alone] once had 964 tanks/lakes. Now the number is down to 400. We have to remember the saying, a city dies when its lakes die,” he says.
credits Bangalore Mirror