Bengaluru Water Crisis: A Case of Inadequate Water Management
Heena Samant, Research Associate, VIF
Introduction

When Cape Town in South Africa faced a severe water crisis in 2018, it was predicted that soon many metropolitan cities across the globe would face the same fate. Unfortunately, this prediction came true for India as its third most populous city of Bengaluru has been facing the worst possible potable water crisis in its history since February 2024. [1] In fact it is not just Bengaluru, but the entire state of Karnataka which has been facing an acute water crisis. [2] The water crisis has impacted the people of the city, schools, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, fire department, offices, housing societies which have been affected by severe shortage of water due to demand and supply gap. [3] It has been estimated that the city needed 2,600 million litres of water per day (MLD) of which 1,450 MLD comes from the Cauvery River and 650 MLD from groundwater, hinting towards a shortage of 500 MLD of water. [4] It is important to note that the Cauvery River and groundwater are the two main sources of water for the city. [5] Additionally, out of the 14,000 government borewells in the city 6,900 have dried up. [6] The Karnataka water crisis has affected more than 7000 villages, 1100 wards, and 220 talukas thus far with several districts facing acute shortage of drinking water. [7] Schools were temporarily shut down due to shortage of water. [8] Many borewells on school grounds ran dry making it difficult to provide adequate water for students and staff during school hours. [9] Even the hospitals were grappling with acute scarcity of water leading to significant healthcare obstacles. [10] Apartment buildings which mostly rely on borewells for their daily water consumption, resorted to private water tanks for a hefty amount which were often inaccessible due to high demand. Farmers faced extreme hardship due to shortage of water for irrigation purposes. [11] As Bengaluru is a tech hub, many tech professionals called for a shift towards work from home. [12] These consequences transpired at the peak of the crisis during the month of February, March, and April. Although the extent of the crisis has toned down, it has not been completely averted. Certain short-term steps have been taken by the government and the people of the city to deal with the crisis. Additionally, the Chief Minister of Karnataka Mr. Siddaramaiah did mention about certain long-term actions to prevent future water shortages. [13] It is important to note that long-term strategies are key to avoid water crisis of such large scale.

The water crisis of Bengaluru can be considered to be an outcome of a combination of factors which include:

  • Unplanned urbanization[14]
  • Neglect of city’s water bodies[15]
  • Absence of conservation of water bodies[16]
  • Rainfall deficit in 2023 [17]
  • Groundwater depletion [18]
Measures

In order to bring some relief from the ongoing water crisis, some emergency measures were taken by the city and state authorities as well as the citizens of Bengaluru. Bengaluru’s resident welfare association (RWA) across the city implemented strict measures to conserve water such as initiating water rationing and imposing bans on non-essential water usage activities like vehicle washing and swimming pool maintenance. [19] Some apartment complexes also resorted to disposable cutlery and wet wipes to minimize water consumption. [20] The Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) as a significant step announced to reduce water supply by 20 percent to major consumers of water in Bengaluru from March 15 onwards which included companies, hospitals, railways, and airports. [21] Additionally, the BWSSB also prohibited the use of potable water for activities such as car washing and watering plants. [22] In case if any individual were found using drinking water for non-essential purposes they could face a hefty fine of Rs 5,000. [23] The authorities also fixed rates for water tankers supplying water to the residential areas as they were accused of charging hefty amount to the citizens. [24] The Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) also made it mandatory for the people to take prior approval to drill borewells. [25] Karnataka’s Chief Minister, Mr. Siddaramaiah on March 18 instructed the officials to increase the groundwater level by filling major lakes in Bengaluru with treated water. [26] He identified 14 major lakes which have dried up and needs to be refilled. [27] Mr. Siddaramaiah mentioned about the Cauvery Five project which is expected to begin in June this year which will help to resolve the issue of water crisis in Bengaluru. [28] He also emphasized the need for enhanced control rooms and swift response to water supply complaints. [29] He also announced the allocation of adequate funds for drinking water and planned to form an expert committee to prevent future water shortages. [30] This is the one and only long-term strategy which was announced by the honourable Chief Minister of Karnataka to prevent future water crisis situation. Educational institutions such as schools and colleges continued to operate in offline mode. [31] They are also opting for water conservation methods on their campuses. [32] Re-use of water has become the norm in the city these days. Measures such as not washing cars and balconies, bathing with half a bucket of water, mopping the floor and flushing the toilets from used water have been actively practiced by the citizens of the city. [33] The city’s tech professionals have also moved back although temporarily due to water shortage. [34]

Many a times when these kind of crisis occur, short-term actions are put in place, as the main focus is to avert the crisis. Rarely, the focus is on long-term solutions. Even in case of Bengaluru, the main focus was on short-term responses, however, it is interesting to note that the Karnataka Chief Minister did hint towards a long-term solution which is the key to solve any kind of environmental disasters that are taking place. When Cape Town faced the same fate in 2018, they did put into place immediate measures which helped to avert the crisis, at the same time they focused a lot on long-term solutions. For instance, the authorities of Cape Town paid attention to increasing and diversifying its water supply resources and also focussed a lot on inculcating water conservation practices amongst its citizens. In case of Bengaluru, some of the long-term and even permanent solutions given by the experts include:

  • Rooftop rainwater harvesting[35]
  • Rejuvenation of lakes[36]
  • Wastewater treatment[37]

In fact, one of the most effective methods which can be inculcated into every city’s long-term strategy across the world to deal with water crisis is the “Effective Communication Strategy”. Effective Communication strategy is a strategy by the government with the people in which the authorities keep it simple by telling the people how much water they really have. [38] Introduced as a short-term measure during the Cape Town water crisis of 2018, this strategy aimed to encourage water conserving behaviours amongst its citizens. [39] They introduced a simple information public website called Think Water which provided information on the water levels in the dams of the city and about the water-saving techniques. [40] Additionally, the city flashed the dam levels on electronic billboards across highways and within the city to let people know where the city stood in terms of water. [41] These short-term solutions can be turned into long-term and permanent solutions in order to deal with a water crisis situation in the cities across the globe.

According to Suparna Katyayani and Anamika Baruah, in their article titled “Water Policy at science-policy interface- challenges and opportunities for India”, persistent water scarcity is a serious concern in emerging economies. [42] They further argue that water scarcity in emerging economies does not only result from lack of physical water supply but also poor water quality, inefficiency of various uses and poor institutional capacity to manage water demands. [43] These arguments resonate very well with what is happening in Bengaluru. According to T V Ramachandra, Coordinator, Energy and Wetlands Research Group, Indian Institute of Science (IISc) 40 percent of Bengaluru’s water requirements come from groundwater resources and 60 percent come from the Cauvery river. [44] He further discloses that the Cauvery basin, because of deforestation over a period of time and changes in climate, has lost the ability to retain water. [45] In the last five decades, the Cauvery basin has lost 45 percent of forest cover, and today there is only 18 per cent of forest cover in the region. [46] Additionally, the landscape in Bengaluru has changed drastically over the years. [47] It is estimated that in the 1800s, Bengaluru had 1,452 water bodies and 80 percent green cover while at present there are about 193 water bodies and less than 4 percent of green cover. [48] Moreover, According to the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), there has been a 1,055 percent increase in paved surface (buildings, etc), with a substantial reduction in porous surfaces. [49] It is estimated that the city up until 1961 had 262 lakes, however, now there are only 81 lakes left in the city. [50] Out of the 81 lakes, only 33 are living just because they are located in zones where land cannot be reclaimed for any activities. [51]

Hence, an important lesson that can be drawn from the above facts and arguments is that the Bengaluru water crisis is a clear case of years of neglect of its water bodies and its environment. It has become extremely important to manage the available water well as the world is facing what can be described as a “climate emergency”. Climate change is expected to impact water security across the globe and especially affect the developing economies. The future requires better planning. Although there are institutions put in place to deal with such situations, they have clearly failed in managing water. At the same time, the fact that people themselves have forgotten to respect the environment and basic resources such as that of water has taken a toll on them. Environmental pollution is a huge concern and people have got a lot to do with it. Hence it is important that people become environmentally responsible. [52]

Conclusion

What Bengaluru has faced could become a norm for several cities across the country. It needs to be kept in mind that climate change is only going to make these conditions worse as rainfall patterns are changing and extreme events such as that of droughts are becoming much more frequent and severe. Additionally, it is being argued that many cities across the country have reached its ecological limits. [53] Hence any kind of additional stress will lead to more such events occurring in future. The biggest issue flagged by the experts as far as India is concerned, is its inadequate water management and governance problem. [54] The Bengaluru water crisis can be considered to be a classic example of this case. If this taken care of, India is unlikely to face this kind of situation in future. An inclusive approach is required in which the citizens must take part actively to conserve water and take responsibility to not waste water. As T V Ramachandran has stated that it is extremely important to make everyone environmentally responsible. [55] If people become environmentally sensible, they can manage water bodies, park in the neighbourhood and will refrain from polluting water bodies etc. [56] Lastly, what comes out from these discussions is that communication is key to dealing with this kind of water stress situation. All these factors can be accumulated as a part of long-term strategy for India’s urban water crisis.

Endnotes

[1] M Raghuram 2024, “Bengaluru water crisis: Is the southern metropolis heading towards Day Zero?”, Down To Earth, [Online] Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/water/bengaluru-water-crisis-is-the-southern-metropolis-heading-towards-day-zero--94916
[2] Sushim Mukul 2024, “How Karnataka water crisis has become a fiery interstate issue”, INDIA TODAY, [Online] Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/south/story/bengaluru-water-crisis-congress-groundwater-cauvery-river-bjp-dmk-aiadmk-karnatata-tamil-nadu-supply-2514186-2024-03-13
[3] Sanath Prasad and Kiran Parashar 2024, “From schools to fire department, how Bengaluru’s water shortage is driving the city to a Cape Town-like situation”, The Indian EXPRESS, [Online] Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/bangalore/schools-fire-department-bengaluru-water-crisis-cape-town-like-situation-9206395/
[4] THE HINDU BUREAU 2024, ‘Bengaluru facing shortage of 500 MLD water daily, admits Chief Minister Siddaramaiah”, THE HINDU, [Online] Available at:
https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/bengaluru-facing-shortage-of-500-mld-water-daily-admits-chief-minister-siddaramaiah/article67964439.ece
[5] Pratiba Raman and Saikat Kumar Bose, 'Don't Work-From-Home, Go Home': Water Crisis Drives Bengaluru to The Edge’, NDTV, [Online] Available at: https://www.ndtv.com/bangalore-news/bengaluru-water-crisis-bengaluru-residents-hospitals-cry-for-help-as-water-reserves-dwindle-5229006
[6] No 4.
[7] THE HINDU BUREAU 2024, ‘Water Woes- A searing crisis in Karnataka and its IT capital, Bengaluru’, THE HINDU, [Online] Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/water-woes-a-searing-crisis-in-karnataka-and-its-it-capital-bengaluru/article67938701.ece
[8] Sushim Mukul 2024, ‘How Karnataka water crisis has become a fiery interstate issue’, INDIA TODAY, [ONLINE} Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/south/story/bengaluru-water-crisis-congress-groundwater-cauvery-river-bjp-dmk-aiadmk-karnatata-tamil-nadu-supply-2514186-2024-03-13
[9] Coovercolly Indresh 2024, ‘Bengaluru water crisis: BWSSB announces 20% water cut to bulk consumers; identifies areas bearing the brunt’, Down To Earth, [Online] available at:
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/water/bengaluru-water-crisis-bwssb-announces-20-water-cut-to-bulk-consumers-identifies-areas-bearing-the-brunt-94973
[10] Ibid.
[11] K. C Deepika and K.V Aditya Bharadwaj 2024, ‘Why is Bengaluru staring at a severe water shortage’, THE HINDU, [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eK76yNAM8A
[12] Coovercolly Indresh 2024, ‘Bengaluru water crisis: Emergency forces metropolis residents to seek alternatives’, Down To Earth, [Online] Available at:
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/water/bengaluru-water-crisis-emergency-forces-metropolis-residents-to-seek-alternatives-94944
[13] Business Today Desk 2024, ‘Bengaluru facing shortage of 500 million litres water shortage per day’, Business Today, [Online] Available at: https://www.businesstoday.in/india/story/bengaluru-facing-shortage-of-500-million-litres-water-shortage-per-day-says-karnataka-cm-421978-2024-03-19
[14] No 1.
[15] M Raghuram 2024, ‘Water every other day: Bengaluru is drying up & destruction of lakes is the reason’, Down To Earth, [Online] Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/water/water-every-other-day-bengaluru-is-drying-up-destruction-of-lakes-is-the-reason-94672
[16] Ibid.
[17] Shashank Palur and Rashmi Kulranjan 2024, ‘A possible solution for Bengaluru’s water crisis: Data’, THE HINDU, [Online] Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/data/a-possible-solution-for-bengalurus-water-crisis-data/article67939268.ece
[18] Sneha Mahale 2024, ‘6 factors that have contributed to Bengaluru’s water crisis’, money control’, [Online] Available at: https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/environment/6-factors-that-have-contributed-to-bengalurus-water-crisis-12485461.html
[19] No 1.
[20] Ibid.
[21] No 9.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid
[24] No.5
[25] No.8
[26] MONEYCONTROL NEWS 2024, ‘Bengaluru water crisis: Karnataka CM directs filling of 14 major lakes with treated water’, money control, [Online] Available at:https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/technology/bengaluru-water-crisis-karnataka-cm-directs-filling-of-14-major-lakes-with-treated-water-12482411.html
[27] Ibid.
[28] No. 13
[29] Ibid.
[30] Ibid.
[31] https://www.livemint.com/news/bengaluru-water-crisis-from-using-milk-tankers-fixing-rates-filling-lakes-to-fines-how-the-city-is-tackling-drought-11710307306143.html
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Fareha Naaz 2024, ‘Bengaluru water crisis: From using milk tankers, fixing rates, filling lakes to fines; How the city is tackling drought’, mint, [Online] Available at: https://www.livemint.com/news/bengaluru-water-crisis-from-using-milk-tankers-fixing-rates-filling-lakes-to-fines-how-the-city-is-tackling-drought-11710307306143.html
[35] M Raghuram and Rajat Ghai 2024, ‘Rainwater harvesting and wastewater treatment best options for Bengaluru: T V Ramachandra’, Down To Earth, [Online] Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/interviews/water/rainwater-harvesting-and-wastewater-treatment-best-options-for-bengaluru-t-v-ramachandra-94966
[36] Ibid
[37] Ibid
[38] Heena Samant, ‘Ending India’s Water Stress: The Road Ahead’, National Security, Vol.5, No. 2, April-June 2022, pp. 215-231.
[39] Ibid.
[40] Ibid.
[41] Ibid.
[42] Suparana Katyaini and Anamika Barua, ‘Water Policy at science-policy interface- challenges and opportunities for India’’, Water Policy, August, 2015, pp. 1-16.
[43] Ibid.
[44] Sanath Prasad 2024, ‘Bengaluru can become worse than Cape Town if mismanagement of water continues’, The Indian EXPRESS, [Online] Available at:
https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/bangalore/bengaluru-water-crisis-cape-town-mismanagement-t-v-ramachandra-9250290/
[45] Ibid.
[46] Ibid.
[47] Ibid.
[48] Ibid.
[49] No 35.
[50] No.15
[51] Ibid.
[52] No 44.
[53] The Neon Show 2024, ‘Bangalore Water Crisis Explained- Karnataka Government Failure?’, [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNS1oL0miu0
[54] Ibid.
[55] No 44.
[56] Ibid.

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