While water-strapped Bengaluru is waiting for the mercy of rain gods to bless the Cauvery belt to quench its thirst, water mafia is busy drawing water from just about anywhere: their own bore wells, bore wells of others, lakes and water bodies – wherever one can see water. As this article goes into publication, the city water board has just announced that Cauvery water supply for Bengaluru will stop in four days.
Few know that the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) issued an order in November 2012: No more borewell digging in Bengaluru for commercial purposes. If implemented correctly, this will change the pace of ‘development’ in Bengaluru.
This order is meant to save the water level in existing bore wells, and thus help the existing population. The strict implementation of this might turn upside down the plans of water tanker mafia and many builders who start constructions indiscriminately without any long term plans for water.
However, like all other dysfunctional government rules, this also has remained only on papers.
Rules and rules – just paper tigers
The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) had notified Bangalore as an overexploited area in November 2012. This was a notification issued based on a study done by the Board, along with the state Mines and Geology Department, in 2009. Both Bangalore Urban and Rural districts, along with many other areas in the country, have been notified so far.
In November itself, the Haryana-headquartered Central Ground Water Board passed a rule that borewells cannot be drilled in notified areas for commercial purposes. They can be dug only for extracting drinking water, that too only for homes, educational institutions, government organisations and hospitals. Houses and hospitals can dig bore wells only if there is no government water supply to them already. (Apartments are considered as commercial, according to the CGWB officials.)
Until recently, CGWB had been responsible for giving permission for borewells in the state. As per its rules, CGWB did not issue permissions to commercial establishments after last November. A quick look at the CGWB site shows that many Bangalore-based businesses and water packaging companies had applied for permission in 2012-13, who figure in this list .
Here is where the Central Board handed the things over to the State Board and things got messy for Bangalore. In a classic handoff from centre to state, Bangalore has been left high and dry, literally, in control of borewells.
KGA formed; but no action
In 2011, the Karnataka state government passed the Karnataka Groundwater (Regulation and Control of Development and Management) Act. Following this, the Karnataka Groundwater Authority (KGA) was formed in March 2012 to enforce the Act. It is headed by the Secretary of state Minor Irrigation department, and has 15 other members including top officials from BWSSB, Mines and Geology Department, state Pollution Control Board etc. The Regional Director of CGWB is also a KGA member.
Once the KGA was formed, it was supposed to process the applications from industries and real estate developers asking for borewell permissions. But the KGA has been so dysfunctional that it could not do this initially. So for about a year, until the end of March 2013, it had asked CGWB to continue processing applications. From April, CGWB has been forwarding applications to KGA, but it is not clear if the KGA has been doing the job.
Like CGWB, state government’s Karnataka Groundwater Authority (KGA) has also notified Bangalore as overexploited. Officials at the state authority admitted to Citizen Matters that Bangalore’s condition is pathetic, however, they also say that a blanket ban just cannot be enforced.
Water mafia seeks no permission for bore wells
Dr K M Najeeb, Regional Director of CGWB, says, “Since November, we have not given borewell permission to industries anywhere in Bangalore as it is a notified area. When people came to apply, we would tell them about the new rule, and hence there has been no applications recently.”
But when it comes to thousands of Bangalore’s tanker water companies that roam the streets, there have never been any applications, both before or after the notification. “No tanker companies have ever applied to us. But we don’t have punitive powers, and hence never took action. Only the Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) can take action in case of complaints,” says Najeeb.
The process is that, when an industry comes up, it has to take some permissions from KSPCB. If a bore well is needed, KSPCB will ask the applicant to get permission for this from CGWB (and now from the KGA). CGWB scientists will check the area and send a report to the central authority in Haryana who will take the final decision. “If there is no permission, applicant should arrange for water from BWSSB,” says Najeeb.
Constructions that have no arrangement for water
In the meantime, as the city teeters on a crisis, there are major industries coming up in the city without even disclosing their source of water.
Citizen Matters had earlier reported about Manipal ETA Infotech, a 72-acre SEZ-cum-township coming up in Agaram village near Koramangala. This project, a joint venture by Mantri Developers and Century Group, got BWSSB NOC for only 1.8 lakh sq ft of built-up area. The total built-up area for the project is a humongous 145 lakh sq ft.
It is not clear where water will come from, for the major part of the project – SEZ, hotels, and other businesses. Citizen Matters enquired with Mantri Developers about whether they will dig bore wells in the area, but the company has not responded. Even if they dig bore wells, the water requirement for the project is so high – about 4.5 Million Litres per Day – that it will completely dry up the groundwater table in this residential area.
On the other hand, CGWB’s 2009 study named ‘Dynamic Groundwater Resources of Karnataka’ – based on which it notified Bangalore – threw up scary statistics. The study shows that, of all the 30 districts in the state, the net annual ground water availability was lowest in Bangalore. It was only 1.17 million litres, while the state average was 4.9 million litres. The highest was in Belgaum, over 11 million litres.
Bangalore was also the second highest in the extent of groundwater exploitation. Exploiting groundwater at about 142% of the actual recharge, it came second only to Kolar. The usage of Bangalore Rural was also high, at 132%. The state average was only 67.5%.
Cannot impose blanket ban: KGA
Like CGWB, KGA has also notified overexploited areas. Last August, KGA notified 35 such taluks in the state. Not surprisingly, entire Bangalore Urban and Rural districts are covered in this list too.
But even then, Karnataka Groundwater Rules do not specify blanket restrictions on commercial borewell drilling like CGWB does. The KGA’s rules say that anyone – whether for commercial, industrial or even entertainment purpose – can apply for permission. KGA will only decide the ceiling of water that can be extracted in each case. Borewell owner should fix a water meter and give monthly data to KGA on water use. KGA can use this data to restrict water extraction by the owner.
If the Groundwater Act puts any blanket restriction, it is only with respect to irrigation. The Act says that borewell permission will not be given in notified areas for irrigating water-intensive crops. But even in such cases, permission can be given after keeping some conditions, says P N Srinivasachary, KGA Chairman.
Dr Najeeb of CGWB says that the state is free to make its own rules, and CGWB can only give guidelines. “Water comes under the concurrent list of the constitution – ie., both state and Centre can make rules on it. Since water is the state’s resource, they can make the final decision,” he says.
Srinivasachary says that a new law can be made to put blanket restrictions on commercial borewells, but that it may not be effective. “The experience of other state authorities who made similar laws, is that enforcement is difficult. There is no alternate water source,” he says.
No alternative to more illegal borewells and tankers?
“When new layouts came up earlier, BWSSB gave them NOC (no objection certificate), saying that they will have to make alternate arrangements if there is no Cauvery supply. Now residents in all these areas are saying that tanker water is their only alternative”, he adds.
Srinivasachary says that banning new commercial bore wells will also give monopoly to businesses that have existing unregistered, illegal borewells. District level officers of KGA are supposed to monitor existing bore wells. “There are only a couple of people in the district level. They cannot go door-to-door and ask people to register.”
KGA has asked the BWSSB to do a borewell registration drive, but even this has not been very effective; very few people have registered so far. BWSSB estimates that there are 1.75 lakh borewells in the city, but only 13,000 have been registered. Another 3000-4000 applications are being processed. BWSSB will continue the registration drive until July 31. Rules say that those digging bore wells without permission can be fined or imprisoned, and their borewell and equipments confiscated.
But on the ground, nothing has been happening.
Dr Najeeb agrees that there are no alternatives to tanker water now, but says that government departments themselves are responsible for supplying water if there is shortage. “The price of piped water should be increased, so that there is no wastage, which will lead to surplus water. Now people waste water for cleaning cars, watering lawns etc,” he says.
But how practical this suggestion is, is another question.⊕