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Week 3 Webinar Report: Making Bengaluru Water Secure

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8 April 2021

Week 3 of “Bengaluru’s Climate Action Plan: Making it Participatory and  Inclusive”



In January, the then commissioner of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike  (BBMP), Mr. N Manjunatha Prasad, IAS wrote to Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles,  the Chair of ‘C-40 Cities’, voluntarily committing the metropolis of Bengaluru to take  steps to achieve the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement: i.e., to take local action  that would help the world contain global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius  compared to pre-industrial levels. 

On the occasion of World Water Day, Environment Support Group (ESG) commenced  a webinar series to discuss and debate what it takes for Bengaluru to become a climate  friendly metropolis. The webinar series is a process of engaging with multiple thematic  issues, concerns and imaginaries of leading officials of various agencies whose  functioning impacts the city, with subject matter experts, youth, representatives of  various sectors and residents from diverse sections of the city. And it is also a process  of collectivising diverse views and solutions with necessary nuance.  

In coming together this way, the steps necessary for effective and just waste  management, provisioning adequate water and safe housing for all, ensuring universal  public health and public mobility, providing infrastructure that is inclusive, and building  energy systems that are earth friendly, along with governance that is decentralised  and deeply democratic will be interrogated and pragmatic solutions identified for  action. In the process we hope to construct an assemblage of visions of Namma  Bengaluru and how the metropolis can survive with its limited resources for the benefit  of present and future generations and the good of the world.

Week 3 : “Bengaluru’s Climate Action Plan: Making it Participatory and  Inclusive”

Week 3 Recording

Mr. L. K. Ateeq, IAS, Principal Secretary, Rural Development and  Panchayat Raj, Government of Karnataka, the first speaker in the  panel, focused attention on the role of local governments in water  governance. He spoke about the structural changes necessary to  involve local governments and the public at large in securing the  water commons. Drawing from Ostrom’s first principle, Mr. Ateeq  said that the starting point of managing common water resources  should be a clear delineation and demarcation of its boundaries.  The next logical step according to him is to “vest the rights and responsibilities over  management of water assets” with the local government.  Quoting from a 2009 study by Water Resources Group, he said that a projected 50%  gap will emerge between demand and supply of water by 2030, equivalent to 755  billion cubic metres. This data highlights the serious issue of imbalance which will only  further aggravate the inequality in access and control of water resources.  Mr Ateeq believes that local governments tend to limit themselves to traditional  developmental roles, and ignore regulatory roles and holistic governance approaches.  He however chose to highlight solutions which were refreshingly far from stereotypical  technocratic solutions to address the serious problem of ground and surface water depletion. According to him, the solution lies in structural changes that empower local  bodies:

“How do we institutionalise local governments’ involvement in  water governance is a question that I have been wondering  about. First of all, ownership and control of water bodies  should be firmly vested in local governments.” 

He further opined that it was critical that local bodies should be given finances not just  for development of water bodies, but also for their maintenance. Besides, the  outsourcing of maintenance to third party agencies or higher-level bodies such as the  Zilla Panchayat, who are typically recipients of maintenance grants, must be prevented  to ensure the local governments can build their capabilities in protecting water  commons. He believes that MGNREGA can be a viable source of funds for local  governments in this respect, and that this may be supplemented by resources from  the 15th Finance Commission and other sources of revenue.  Mr. Atheeq shared that last year, Tank Conservation and Development Committees  were set up as sub-committees of the Panchayats under the Karnataka Panchayat Raj  Act, and that these need to be widely publicised among gram panchayats and made  fully functional with sustained training programs.  He stressed that these learnings were relevant even in urban settings. In Bengaluru,  for instance, he believes that a single body, i.e. the BBMP should have total ownership  and control over tanks and lakes in its jurisdiction, and should delegate control and  resources to rehabilitate and manage them to Ward Committees. Such a step will not  only lead to a clear delineation of responsibilities, but also prevent non-consultative  officer-level decisions on maintenance of lakes, and passing them on to corporates  through MOUs for maintenance. Further, planning should look at the entire watershed,  instead of individual bodies, and such practices should be based upon engagement  with people in the entire catchment area of lakes.  He ended by reiterating that more thought needs to go into how such decentralised  governance can be structured, and these changes must be incorporated into the legal  framework and taken forward with training programmes. He was optimistic that in the  presence of a clear statutory framework with a charter of roles and responsibilities for  the local governments, a new model of water resource management will emerge.

Mr. A.R. Shivakumar stressed that Bengaluru is blessed with factors such as abundant rainfall and an undulating landscape, tailor-made for rainwater harvesting(RWH). Such perfect topographies for water harvesting should egg us on to evolve a strategy for judicious use and equitable distribution of water in the city, and reduce reliance on Cauvery water. This can be achieved by expanding the capture and use of rainwater by just about everyone, and to use recycled water and groundwater for most everyday needs.

Break-up of water sources for Bengaluru proposed by Mr. Shivakumar. 

He shared that there is immense potential to reuse used water–he critiqued the term “waste water” as misleading–within the city, instead of sending it to the peripheries of the city or outside.
Towards this end, he laid out a 12-point plan of action for equitable distribution of water:

  1. compulsory rooftop RWH for all properties under BBMP;
  2. installing rainwater sumps/tanks as per size of the property;
  3. additional sump/partition in the RWH sump for Cauvery water
  4. open wells and shallow borewells recharged by overflow of rooftop RWH;
  5. strict sewage/effluent treatment and encouragement of eco-friendly
    detergents, soaps etc (since the domestic sector is the main source of groundwater contamination);
  6. groundwater recharge through intermittent recharge trenches in storm water drains and strict enforcement to avoid grey water in such drains;
  7. developing RWH and groundwater recharge through open wells in public parks and open places;
  8. developing tree-based parks and phasing out large patches of lawn;
  9. permitting groundwater withdrawal proportionate to recharge in institutions and commercial water users;
  10. BWSSB to establish dual supply system in all new places; enhance tertiary treatment and supply for secondary uses; and meter all category of users and provide used (treated) water for extra demand;
  11. bulk users to generate own recycled water (which will free up precious Cauvery water for other users in need); and
  12. rejuvenating all lakes and water bodies in BBMP area and maintaining them as reservoirs of buffer storage and for groundwater augmentation.

Thousands of rainwater harvesting tanks spread over  Bangalore at every property and hundreds of rejuvenated lakes  will together act as buffer zones to hold precious rainwater to  avoid flooding of storm water drains and low lying areas.
He concluded by stating that if such a strategy is followed, Bengaluru need not ever  see a water doomsday.

Ms. Jayna Kothari, practicing as Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court of India,  carried forward Mr. Ateeq’s suggestion of vesting responsibility and power to manage  water commons with local governmental bodies:  

“This is the crux of decentralisation… To ensure that at the  gram panchayat or village level there is, if not ownership of  water bodies, then at least maintenance, upkeep and  monitoring of encroachment and destruction of water bodies.” 

She shared her experiences in representing the petitioner in W.P.  No. 38401/2014 (Citizens Action Group v. The State of  Karnataka), a PIL raising concerns for prevention of encroachment  of storm water drains (rajakaluves) and ensuring that they were  sewage-free. Initially, the Karnataka High Court passed several  orders for removal of encroachments from storm water drains and  disconnecting them from sewage lines. However, in the last couple of years, the scope of the petition has been expanded and the High Court has taken  a proactive view on lake protection around the time when ESG impleaded and became  a party to the proceedings. 
Ms. Kothari shared that in these proceedings, BBMP reported that 20 lakes had been  totally encroached, many of them by government agencies. For other lakes, threats  included large-scale encroachments, building of unscientific islands, etc. Eventually,  the High Court passed comprehensive directions in 2019, including for the  appointment of the National Environmental Engineering and Research Institute (a  central agency) to inspect the city’s lakes and give recommendations for their revival,  for ensuring survey of lakes and storm water drains by government agencies and  removal of encroachments, and for the establishment of a grievance redressal  mechanism. The High Court also directed the implementation of directions given in  2012 in W.P. No. 817/2008 that had been filed by ESG, reiterating the importance of  implementing the recommendations of the Court-appointed Justice N. K. Patil  Committee for protection of lakes and rajakaluves. Based on these recommendations,  the High Court in W.P. No. 817/2008 had directed the formation of bodies at various  levels for the rejuvenation and maintenance of lakes, starting with a quasi judicial Apex  Lake Protection Committee at the State level followed by District and sub-district  committees, having representatives from various government agencies and public  representatives.

Ms. Kothari stated that during the ongoing proceedings, it emerged that these  committees were not functioning, and the High Court is now essentially exploring ways  to revive these committees and make them functional. It is plausible, she said, that the  High Court may even pass orders on modifying these committees based on ESG’s  intervention in court which asked for the setting up of monitoring bodies at the lowest  level (i.e. the panchayat or even the taluka level). She seconded this intervention,  opining that currently there is a governance gap since bodies functioning at the district  level, for example, cannot be the primary body responsible for governing the hundreds  of water bodies within their jurisdiction. She said that a decentralised structure of tank  management will be effective in identifying and removing encroachments and also in  undertaking rejuvenation efforts more effectively.

She also shared that NEERI has submitted its initial report for lake rejuvenation to the  High Court, which is monitoring their implementation. The High Court has also passed  orders for the protection and revival of a few big lakes already. She ended by observing  that it was promising that judges are interested in taking up the issue of lake protection,  with changes already visible on the ground, and hoped that the model of lake  rejuvenation being discussed for Bengaluru is also applied in the rest of Karnataka. 

A proposal for rejuvenating Subramanyapura Lake prepared by CGBMT and submitted by
ESG to the High Court of Karnataka in W.P. No. 38401 of 2014 re-imagines lakes and
rajakaluves as water-secure and biodiversity rich commons of Bengaluru.

Ar. Neelam Manjunath, founder of the Centre for Green Building  Materials and Technology (CGBMT) commenced her intervention  raising a crucial fact of water consumption that is widely ignored: in  urban areas, the construction sector is a major contributor to CO2  emissions and a major water guzzler. Water extracted is typically  groundwater, that too of potable quality, and 1 square meter of wall  construction on average takes 350 litres of water! By adopting green techniques in  construction it is possible to reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 5.7% and also  drastically cut down on water consumed. The IT sector in Bengaluru is particularly  water-intensive. She recalled Shivakumar’s point on sending used water out of Bengaluru, and said out of 1067.5 million litres of used water treated daily, 250-265  million litres is now being sent into the lakes of Kolar district. She drew attention to the fact that housing is unaffordable for many in the city. The  housing and construction sectors require a major attitudinal shift, towards fulfilling the  basic needs of shelter. 

“The essenti“The word “sustainability” is overused. “Simplicity” is a better  word… If everyone can live simply we’ll be able to have a more  equitable world. al requirements of building for simple living  include materials with low energy and efficient water  management.” 

She also opined: 
“The word “sustainability” is overused. “Simplicity” is a better  word… If everyone can live simply we’ll be able to have a more  equitable world.

To bring about building for “simple living”, she shared solutions that avoid the use of  energy and water intensive materials, and instead shift to using mud and bamboo,  which are aesthetically pleasing and equally strong. She also stressed that we need  to keep in mind energy or water used in the production of building materials to calculate  their actual water/energy needs.

Ar. Manjunath shared details on the energy-intensity of different construction materials
during her presentation.

Other suggestions included on-site water management and treatment, RWH, low-flow  fixtures in toilets and kitchens, natural landscaping with low water requirements  (including planting indigenous varieties and doing away with water-hungry lawns), and using natural light and ventilation. Many of these are achievable through collaboration  between architects and common residents. She also strongly supported the  suggestion made by Mr. Atheeq and Mr. Shivakumar on decentralisation of water  supply and having a rationed ward-level supply from the government, supplemented  by local sources such as RWH, water recycling and local ponds and lakes, suggesting  that a similar decentralised model should be used for energy. 
She concluded by emphasizing that we need de-urbanisation of sorts–where building  for the sake of building is discouraged, and people are encouraged to move out of  large metropolises like Bengaluru to lower-tier cities

Mr. Sagar Nambiar, a wildlife researcher, in a pre-recorded message  spoke with a acute sensitivity about the inequality he has observed  between the privileged and the not-so privileged, when it comes to  accessing and using water in Bengaluru: 

“Every morning, BWSSB releases water through a single tap  outside their wall. The queues are long and every person is  allowed to fill upto 5 to 10 litres which will account for the  families’ drinking and cooking needs for the day. But a few  meters away, a bungalow man washes his car with what  appears to be a near-limitless supply of water, and just down  the road in the apartment complex, lawns are kept clean and  water guzzling plants are allowed to thrive in the name of  landscaping. Something is plainly wrong here.”  

For Bengaluru, such reckless use of water has aggravated water woes already  compounded by the changing climate and an increasingly capricious monsoon. This  has not just affected communities, it has also proved devastating for the local flora and  fauna. The common pond frog which used to be the most common freshwater frog  species has seen a huge plunge in its numbers. This is happening in other areas of  the natural world too. But sadly there is not enough data to even understand the real  extent of such losses. 

A reed bed to treat used water at Mr. Sagar Nambiar’s residence in Bengaluru.

Mr. Jaideep Nambiar, Sagar’s father spoke about the sense of  helplessness that the youth of the city feel when they are called  upon to find solutions for the pollution and devastation caused by  the recklessness of the generation before. Water conservation  efforts according to him should not be looked upon as “merely a  fanciful activity”, but as a “responsibility of every citizen”  concerned with the inequities inherent in the current scheme of  access and usage of water.

Ms. Rema Kumar, Director of Bhoomi College focused her  intervention on the question of what institutions can do to help  solve the water crisis drawing from her lived experience in training  school children in solving real life problems. She shared the  experience at Prakriya Green Wisdom School and Bhoomi  College in inculcating water prudence in students and institutions. The institutions practice several ways of water recharge, with 7  rooftop and ground-level RWH tanks, 2 recharge pits situated on the lowest point in the land to collect surface runoff, and 10 recharge wells all over the campus. She  observed that this enables them to not draw from their borewell during good rains, and  may well be improving the water table, since they have water available at a depth of  150-200 feet. This is much above the water table of surrounding areas.
The institutions also recycle blackwater, and use chemical-free alternatives for  cleaning. 2 phytorid plants (wetland systems used to process domestic sewage) plug  the gap between demand and actual usage by recycling 90% of the blackwater from  the kitchen (which ends up using the most water in the school) and washrooms,  supplying it to the organic gardens (which actually need the most water). These  gardens, she noted, are not lawns, and contain only indigenous trees and plants. Elaborating on the phytorid plants, Ms. Kumar stated that these require no power and  little maintenance, employing natural cleansing plants such as chinese umbrellas,  cannas, water reeds and cattails. The investment of a few lakhs was fairly low for the  benefit it provided, she opined. 

Phytorid plants at Bhoomi College, Bengaluru.

The schools also regularly conduct water trails to foster consciousness of water  prudence among students, teachers, and support staff.5 In conclusion, Ms. Kumar observed: 
What we’ve seen is that when something becomes a lived  experience, it becomes a way of life, a way of thinking, a way  of practice. When something is given so much primacy, it  becomes conscious and unconscious learning. As Keats said,  education should be about lighting a fire rather than filling in pails. Practices like these help in lighting that fire, which then  helps people carry it forward in their own way.” 

Towards the end of the session, Shrestha posed a few questions from the audience  to the speakers. Mr. Ateeq responded to a question asking if rejuvenation of drinking  water wells on a priority basis will reduce the dependence on borewells. He said that  creating more open wells and rejuvenation of traditional water bodies wherever  possible is definitely a desirable action in the area of water management. However,  because every area is unique in terms of geology and geomorphology, the best course  of action should be determined by the geographical parameters.  

Mr. Shivakumar responded to a suggestion to have dual water-type supply through  existing pipes to domestic consumers by opining that the idea is good but impractical.  Since water supply is not 24×7, water collects inside, and in case of dual supply, the  two types of water would end up mixing. Dual pipelines, however, are feasible,  especially in upcoming localities, and have been used in many countries for decades. Responding to a query on low-energy building materials and their comparison with  concrete, Ms. Manjunath shared that concrete lasts for 40-70 years only, while  traditional buildings built with mud with bamboo or wood last for more than 200-300  years. She stated that natural elements could be harvested on-site: mud from the  foundation of the building, on-site water, sunlight for lighting, and air for ventilation,  along with optimal use of space, supplemented with a little cement, lime, fly ash, etc.  Bamboo is abundantly available in bamboo bazaars found in almost every Indian town.  She also shared that wood varieties like rosewood and silver oak which are often  considered inferior can be used for building.

All unanswered questions will be collated and sent to our speakers for their responses, besides detailed reports on the deliberations in these webinars after each session.

ESG will continue the webinar series “Bengaluru’s Climate Action Plan: Making it  Participatory and Inclusive” next Monday, 12 April 2021 (6.00-7.30 pm on Zoom)  addressing the theme: “Food for Thought: Towards an environmentally  sustainable and socially just food systemwhere we explore the way forward for  the metropolis to return to consuming food that is healthy, locally grown and  environmentally sustainable. More details on this webinar series can be accessed at  www.esgindia.org. A recording of the webinar is accessible here. 

Speaker Profiles 

Mr. L K Atheeq, IAS, Principal Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj,  Government of Karnataka 

Mr. Atheeq is a senior civil servant of Karnataka with 30 years of experience. He is  currently the principal secretary of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj  Department. He has earlier held positions like Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister  of Karnataka and Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister‘s Office. He has also worked  as State Project Director of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Director of Karnataka Rural  Water Supply & Sanitation Agency. He is passionate about sectors like  decentralization, rural development, natural resources management, health and  education.  

Mr. A. R. Shivakumar (Former Scientist, KSCST, Indian Institute of Science ) 

A former scientist at the Karnataka State Council of Science and Technology (KSCST)  at Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Mr. Shivakumar is a vociferous proponent of  rainwater harvesting, and has been relying entirely on collected rainwater to serve all  his family’s needs for over two decades. Over the years, Mr. Shivakumar has designed  and implemented hundreds of rainwater harvesting projects in Bengaluru, including at  the Vidhana Soudha and the Karnataka High Court. He has been honoured with  several awards like the Central Government’s National Innovation Award and the  Karnataka Government’s Ammulya award. He has also played a key role in getting the  Karnataka Government to pass an amendment to the BWSSB Act that made rainwater  harvesting compulsory for houses and offices with an area greater than 2,400 sq. ft.  in the core of Bengaluru. 

Ms. Jayna Kothari, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India 

Ms. Kothari is an alumnus of Oxford University and a Senior Advocate practising in  the Karnataka High Court and the Supreme Court of India. She is also the co-founder  and Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Policy Research. Her research and  practice interests include constitutional law, gender and sexuality law, disability rights  and discrimination law.  

Ar. Neelam Manjunath, Founder, Centre for Green Building Materials and  Technology 

Ar. Neelam Manjunath is an architect, planner, scientist, activist and theoretician. She  is also the Bamboo Ambassador of India. She has 30 years of experience in the field  of sustainable architecture and technologies. Her architecture is distinguished for the  use of low energy materials and technologies with special emphasis on the use of  bamboo. A champion of resource equity on this planet, she founded the Centre for Green Building Materials and Technology (CGBMT) with the aim of building  awareness and providing eco-education to promote sustainable living which is a  prerequisite for mitigation of global warming.  

Mr. Sagar Nambiar, Wildlife Researcher 

Mr. Sagar Nambiar has a degree in environmental science from St. Joseph’s College,  Bengaluru. He has been part of several research projects in the Western Ghats and is  currently in the Andamans learning to become a Divemaster to participate in coral reef  restoration. He has been using a greywater treatment system along with rainwater  harvesting for the last seventeen years at his residence in Bengaluru. 

Ms. Rema Kumar, Director, Bhoomi College, Bengaluru 

Ms. Rema is the current Director of Bhoomi College. She is an educationist with over  two decades of experience. She has been involved with Prakriya Green Wisdom  School, Bengaluru since its initial years. She held the roles of Principal and Director  of the school before moving on to Bhoomi Network. She has a passion and  commitment to institution building processes, enabling individuals to tap into their  potential to build learning communities. She also has a keen interest in issues of deep  ecology and the art of using stories to connect ideas and people. 

[This report has been prepared by Sana Huque, Senior Research Associate, and Malvika Kaushik, Research Associate, ESG.]

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