Bengaluru: Many of the 10,000-odd farmers who showed up on tractors to protest against the extreme inequity in drinking water distribution on Thursday did not expect Bengaluru to understand their problem.
“After all," as a pink-shirted man wearing a green turban sitting at the wheel of one of those tractors put it, “they are getting enough water. But from January onwards, we are getting water barely once a week."
The man was one of the thousands who were idling tractors on an arterial road, blocking thousands of vehicles coming to the city from the airport side. Before they could reach Vidhana Soudha, the legislative assembly building, the tractors decorated with empty plastic pots were stopped by the police in at least six different locations.
At one point, the police put two state transport buses and other barricades on the roads to stop them. But farmers pressed the accelerator pedal, pushing back the police barricades. They threw footwear and broke the glass panes of the buses, shouting slogans demanding water, when the police resorted to a lathicharge.
“They are beating us up because we are causing problems to Bangalore traffic," said the man quoted above, while getting down from the tractor as demanded by the police.
Bengaluru consumes 1,800 million litres (MLD) of water per day, according to Karnataka government. The city gets water almost 24x7, and the supply is augmented by about 400,000 tubewells in the city. People in the hinterland aren’t as fortunate.
“Farmers have been protesting for the past 165 days in Kolar and Chikballapur, we didn’t hear anything from the government. That’s why we are here," said Anjaneya Reddy, one of the leaders of the protest, before he was chased down and taken over by the police during the agitation.
Water scarcity is not new for Karnataka. But it has surely sharpened after it received the worst monsoon rains in nearly half a century last year. With the next monsoon almost four months away, the water crisis has peaked in many regions in the south Indian state which had declared 28 out of its 30 districts drought-hit last August.
Farmers argue that this would not have happened had the government taken care of the people in villages as much as the industrial houses and residents in Bengaluru. Thursday’s protest was to drive home this point, said Reddy.
But all of it may be only wishful thinking. In the state assembly session that started on Monday, legislators from both treasury and opposition benches have been discussing only one agenda: why does chief minister Siddaramaiah, a known socialist, wear a luxury watch?
In fact, urban experts have been highlighting how the upward spiral of India’s fastest growing city masks the neglect faced by over half the population living on the outskirts of the city.
Last July, a three-member committee—set up to come up with a plan to tackle the huge infrastructure and other urban issues in the city known as India’s Silicon Valley—noted that while the population of Bengaluru city grew by only 18% in the last decade, the outer periphery grew by over 100%.
However, they are largely neglected by the administration when it comes to providing power, connectivity and water supply, the committee noted.
Also, the depth of fresh groundwater has increased from 33 ft in the 1990s to 132 ft in 2015, according to data from the Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Board (KUWSSB).
“The resolution for Kolar and Chikbalapur problems would be to break down the areas and serve them with small water-sheds and aquifers (underground reservoirs), and work towards getting sustainability to each one of the smaller micro-water sheds," said S. Vishwanath, advisor for Arghyam, a Bengaluru-based foundation focused on domestic water and sanitation.
The only solution for fast-growing Indian cities to be self-sufficient in water resources is to treat its waste water, says M. Thippeswamy, former chief engineer at Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewage Board (BWSSB). “Cities like Singapore and Brisbane treat a significant portion of their daily total water usage," he said.
“The trick is not to focus on big projects that will have to get water from many hundred miles away but to become self-sufficient, especially by treating waste water," said Thippeswamy.