Vishwanath Srikantaiah, popularly known as the ‘Rainman’, has been in the news recently for his ambitious project to build one million recharge wells in Bengaluru. Given the dire situation we find ourselves in vis-à-vis water, the initiative could not have come at a better time.
While Vishwanath has been the face of this project, a tiny community has been helping with the groundwork – the Bovi community who are the traditional well-diggers of Bengaluru. Our guest on Citizens Live this week is Ramakrishna Bovi, who has been working with Vishwanath to recharge Bengaluru’s groundwater. So why is this important?
While the core areas of Bengaluru still enjoy Cauvery water supply, many of the newly-added areas – especially those that house the IT corridors and their employees’ residences – largely depend on exorbitantly-priced tanker water. The issue here is not just the cost of water. Tankers source their water from borewells in surrounding villages, without a care about replenishing what they draw. Hence we need to consider a scenario where we may run out of money, water, or both.
Our earlier water management systems, even those as old as 4000 years, worked on conserving local water resources. A system of boulis, kalyanis and bawdis were used to store and recharge water. An understanding of water cycle was extremely important then. Ramakrishna and Vishwanath are looking to bring together this native intelligence with modern science.
“Rainwater is the purest form of water we have. You need to conserve it, regardless of whether you are drinking Cauvery or borewell water,” Ramakrishna says. But will it bring us back from the brink? And then there is the obvious question – what does an almost defunct system of water storage really have to offer us?
Ramakrishna argues that wells aren’t a thing of the past, and are in fact better than borewells, if only we understand how to use them. “Borewells are expensive and don’t offer certainty in finding water. But when we dig wells in the core city areas, we find water almost all the time. In the unlikely event we can’t find water, these wells can be converted into rainwater recharge wells. Even today, we don’t have dig beyond 10 to 30 feet to find water for a well in the core areas of Bengaluru. So you are recharging while you draw water.”
This dual method of supplementing your requirements while recharging the earth is the need of the hour, he says.
Ramakrishna is quick to point out that wells wouldn’t work in the newly-added areas of Bengaluru that face more water scarcity. “We need borewells in these areas. But while you drill borewells, you also need to dig rainwater recharge wells so that you replenish what you take. That’s the only way our city won’t run out of water.” (Read the Citizen Matters guide on how to dig a recharge well here)
Ramakrishna, who learnt the trade from his father, has an unparalleled understanding of ground water and topography, having worked in this domain since he was 15. He is 39 today, and has seen his profession die out slowly over the years. Nobody has the space or inclination to have a large well in their premises. Overhead tanks, underground sumps, super-strong motors, jet taps have not only meant convenience and luxury, but also a divide in terms of where we get our water from.
“When people drew water from wells, they took only as much as they needed, since was it physically taxing. Today you turn on a tap and you get your water. But the truth is, we can’t go back to the olden ways. So how do we get people to realise that they need to save water, before their taps go dry?” he asks.
While scientists can give you statistics to emphasise Bengaluru’s looming crisis, Ramakrishna has a simple analogy to explain why each of us has a role in water conservation. “MV built the KRS dam to act as a storage space for water, to tide us over the times when we don’t have rainfall. These recharge wells are tiny dams each of us needs to build, to store water for the times we will run out of it. Because every drop counts,” Ramakrishna says.