Webinar Report: Making Bengaluru Water Secure
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:
- compulsory rooftop RWH for all properties under BBMP;
- installing rainwater sumps/tanks as per size of the property;
- additional sump/partition in the RWH sump for Cauvery water
- open wells and shallow borewells recharged by overflow of rooftop RWH;
- strict sewage/effluent treatment and encouragement of eco-friendly
detergents, soaps etc (since the domestic sector is the main source of groundwater contamination);
- groundwater recharge through intermittent recharge trenches in storm water drains and strict enforcement to avoid grey water in such drains;
- developing RWH and groundwater recharge through open wells in public parks and open places;
- developing tree-based parks and phasing out large patches of lawn;
- permitting groundwater withdrawal proportionate to recharge in institutions and commercial water users;
- 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;
- bulk users to generate own recycled water (which will free up precious Cauvery water for other users in need); and
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 system” where 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.
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.]