As monsoon clouds brood over a parched city, a few harassed citizens gear up for an interesting harvest this season. Water.
Since May 1st, 2007, the government has been forcing rainwater harvesting (RWH) techniques at new constructions in the metro. The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), has made it mandatory for applicants of water connections to implement RWH, even though there is no formal announcement.
Was this force necessary? “Certainly!” says A. R. Shiva Kumar. Principal Investigator and Scientist, Karnataka State Council For Science & Technology (KSCST), who is advising the BWSSB on these techniques. He adds that from one angle, it is ideal that people should take up RWH voluntarily. However, there are too many constraints working here—the easy availability of water at subsidized rates makes people smug, complacent and reluctant to take to RWH. Secondly, conservation is perceived to benefit the community rather than themselves, which makes them dawdle over its implementation.
A few numbers help you figure out just how poor the response was before the enforcement. Just about 5,000 apartments, homes and industrial establishments in Bangalore have installed the RWH techniques, according to S. Viswanath, a tireless crusader for RWH and founder of the Rain Water Club in 1995. Out of roughly 10 lakh houses in a city with a population of about 6 million, less than 1% of the city’s potential has been tapped!
On the other hand, RWH has caught on after the unofficial enforcement. A. N. Prahlada Rao, the Public Relations Officer of the BWSSB points out that “In just a month or two, we have sanctioned a 1,000 to 2,000 new RWH installations.”
Rain Water Harvesting Tank (Pic: S.Viswanath)
The reasons for the absence of voluntary participation are obvious. RWH is unglamorous, and the technology lacks the oomph that can hook attention. The techniques adapt boring materials, such as a humble, plastic, oil barrel—without the oil, of course—pop-up filters, broken jelly, bricks, sand, ballast and rings for borewells. They remind you of construction debris rather than pretty accessories for the home. Thus, a middle-class family may be more open to a sexy geyser, for instance, than what is seen as “cumbersome and clumsy RWH equipment” as Ashwini at HSR Layout puts it. This, even though the cost is almost comically low—from Rs 2,000 up to about Rs 20,000 depending on the size of the apartment, the requirement and the storage tank.
Secondly, the uninitiated assume that RWH calls for a lot of work. It is a process of collecting, filtering and storing water in tanks and sumps, or recharging groundwater either through open wells or deep bore wells. What people fail to understand is that much of the work is done by the equipment once it is installed, after which the maintenance is negligible!
One more point in its disfavor is mooted by Chitra, from Sarjapur. She observes that the main resistance to the technique is from people who feel that rainwater is ‘dirty’, and unclean.
Another interesting category of nay-sayers is the apathetic group, which feels too lazy to come forward to implement and apply the RWH techniques, even though it understands the benefits.
All in all, the urgency of the ecological imperative has also not been adequately understood. Bangalore faces an acute water crisis in the coming decades. Currently, Bangalore’s main source of water is Cauvery, which is nearly a 100 kilometres away, and requires high energy levels for pumping, with an industrial tariff of Rs 60 a kilolitre. Studies show that water levels available will be enough to meet demands adequately only till 2011!
It makes sense, therefore, to collect the water that falls on the city. In an average year of rainfall a 100 square metre of roof area can yield 97,000 litres of water, of which about 77,600 litres could be harvested!
Fortunately, the government’s enforcement story does have a surprisingly happy ending—people aren’t complaining! “We have received a single complaint after we began to enforce it,” say sources within the BWSSB who do not wish to be named. People do like to take it up once they forced to explore the issue and overcome their mental blocks of lethargy and lack of will.
Another upbeat point is that this year the number of voluntary applicants from older constructions has also grown. “It is almost 20 times that of last year,” explains Viswanath. This is mainly because, as Bangalore grows, so does the water crisis. “Some apartment owners are beginning to understand the acute water crisis that is facing the city today, and the need to adopt indigenous, new technology to meet the crisis,” he adds.
It also helps that the technology is simple and flexible. “We have adopted a basket of technologies that can be customized to serve the client’s interests,” says Shiva Kumar. Some of the techniques adopted include his own inventions—the pop-up filter, the borewell recharge technique and the barrel technology. He is the only inventor of RWH techniques who has patented some of his inventions. However, there are other techniques too that the government has adopted, such as use of broken jelly, bricks—anything that is cheap and suits the purpose. Independent organizations such as the Rain Water Club and Farmland also advocate simple techniques made of local materials.
Thus, Prithvi, for instance, from Sahakarnagar, adopted the RWH technique almost six years ago. Having studied Environmental Science in college, he understood the importance of conserving our fast depleting sources of water. It cost him just Rs 3,000 to 4,000. Many people, on seeing how well it worked at his home, have also begun to install it in their places.
E.S. Krishnan, Project Manager of an engineering factory at Hoskote and the Manager of a foundry at Bommasandra adopted RWH techniques for his factories a year ago. Each factory needs 20,000 litres of water everyday, he points out. Last year, though, there wasn’t much rain; he was not able to collect much water. However, this year, during a heavy downpour, he could collect 60,000 litres of water at one of his storage tanks, built at a cost of Rs 15 lakh for his Hoskote factory. “We are yet to reap the complete benefits of RWH, but I am confident that I will able to quickly,” he says. He adds that he has applied for RWH techniques even at his house in Hoskote. “I have no regrets,” he says.
#264, 6TH Main, 6th Block, Vidyaranyapura,BEL Layout,Bangalore 560097.
Amala Rani, who was helped by the Rain Water Club to implement RWH in the Rayapuram Slum development society, has helped five major slums with 39 sub-slum areas, benefiting 2 lakh and 21,000 people! The cost of about Rs 5,000 per house was absorbed by her society. “Advantages? So do I need to spell it out?” she exclaims. “Ask the slum-dwellers who have benefited!” The buzzword, then, seems to be ‘benefit’, the only magic mantra that pushes people to toy with the idea.
However, the concept is still a seed, not yet a social revolution. It will be long before RWH can squish the water crisis that looms over the overgrown adolescence of India’s IT city.