Understand Bengaluru’s water status – make BWSSB accountable for it

Last October, we spoke about several instances of individual and community initiatives towards solving water problems of the city. Sewage water treatment and rainwater harvesting are tools households and communities can use for decreasing their water dependency.

These are small initiatives in comparison with the water issues Bangalore faces, but aggregating initiatives at the city scale holds potential; such is the discourse, right or wrongly, held by some activists, public servants, businesses etc. Stretching the idea slightly we have: the water problem of Bangalore can be solved through collective action. Stretching it even further: the BWSSB can do its own thing, we can get off the grid.

Shifting some responsibility from the government to the individual produces positive outcomes like awareness and parsimony in use. However, it should not make us forget that the government remains the sole actor able to provide fair access to water at the city scale.

Thus, not all households and communities in Bangalore can afford sewage water treatment facilities, nor do they have access to enough roof space to collect significant amounts of water. Only 40% of Bangalore’s area is covered by roofs, and in no way can  methods such as rain harvesting be considered sufficient to provide water for the whole population. By putting excessive emphasis on such alternatives, and by shifting the responsibility onto the individual, the risk is that we lose our focus on who’s the principal agent of change – the government.

It is a fact that most slum residents still lack individual connections and end up paying up to 20 times more for their water relative to connected residents. The government needs to keep expanding the water network to yet unconnected places; only a systematic approach can tackle the issue at the city scale.

Bangalore Environment Trust and the Centre for Policies and Practice crafted an integrated and comprehensive water management plan that included water connection to all households by 2040, along with directives to clean up lakes, segregate sewage from Storm Water Drains (SWDs), upgrade Secondary Treatment Plants (STPs), and fix leakages. The project was not taken on by the BWSSB for various reasons including that would require funding through international funding bodies – and the scrutiny it would entail.

Meanwhile the BWSSB projects a shortfall in demand of about 650 Millions of Liters Per Day (MLD) in 2021 for the BBMP area, a shortfall that is only to grow for the next 30 years. Its 14 STPs are not functioning at full capacity only accounting for 30% of Bangalore’s total sewage. Almost half of the the water supplied by BWSSB is Non-Revenue Water due to leakages, faulty meters and theft; as a result – and without even mentioning its populist and counter-productive low tariffs policy – the BWSSB is in deficit, which further limits its action.

If the BWSSB refrains from international donors scrutiny – so be it. Then, it is Bangalore citizens’ duty to apply pressure so it provides the services it is meant to. It is a fallacy that citizens bear the entire responsibility for the management of water in their city; it is, however, their responsibility to make BWSSB – the institution in charge accountable.

Good practices such as rain harvesting and water savings are at best components of today’s water management policy. Let us not divert our attention to what, at the end of the day, really matters.

In our urban data portal OpenCity, we have grouped together BWSSB data sourced from their website. These datasets are the start of a database that will support active citizenship and urban inquiry.

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Don’t hesitate to add any data on water, Bangalore, or any Indian cities here so we can bring some transparency to the way our cities are managed.

About Pierre Chahine 5 Articles

Pierre de Masse is a student of SciencesPo University, Paris, interning at Oorvani Foundation.