Bengaluru, predicted to be the fastest growing city in the world for the next 15 years, is already facing an acute water crisis. Its rapid infrastructural expansion has led to an ever-increasing demand for water, and local government bodies haven’t been able to keep up.
The BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board), tasked with water supply, still doesn’t cover the 110 surrounding villages that had been merged into the city in 2007. Over the years, private water tanker operators have bridged this gap in water supply, playing a crucial role in the city’s daily life.
However, they operate without trade licenses and don’t follow norms, which means there are no checks on the quality of water. Reports have suggested that the groundwater supplied by private tankers could be unfit for consumption. They also charge exorbitant amounts, especially in peak summer, mainly due to the lack of regulation and their monopoly over the business.
Since private tankers are an essential service for Bengalureans, authorities need to ensure they operate in a legally-regulated manner.
Are tanker operations monitored at all?
Tanker operators in Bengaluru have:
- No license to operate: BBMP is tasked with issuing trade licenses to water tanker operators. But it has never issued these licenses, leaving the business entirely unregulated. This leads to lack of checks or oversight on the quality of water supplied.
- No permits to draw water: In Bengaluru, BWSSB is responsible for issuing permits to dig borewells. But since 2017, it has issued no permits for commercial borewells, on grounds that the groundwater levels are dangerously low. Tankers, as a result, draw thousands of litres of water daily from domestic borewells or illegally-dug borewells.
How can water tankers be regularised?
Until BWSSB is able to ensure piped water supply to the entire city, steps need to be made to regularise water tankers. This can be done by:
- Transferring the power and responsibility to grant licenses from BBMP to BWSSB:
BWSSB already collects water cess from residential and commercial buildings in the city, and is better suited to oversee operations locally. Moreover, BWSSB specifically looks after water and sewerage while the BBMP has diverse responsibilities. Along with issuing trade licenses, BWSSB must also collect and store information of all tankers operating in the city as well as their water sources.
- Amending the BWSSB Act, 1964:
The Act must be amended to empower the BWSSB to make bylaws to regulate water tankers in the city. These bylaws must contain provisions on the requisite physical condition of the tankers, mandatory EPI (Ethoxylated polyethylenimine) coating requirements (to prevent rusting inside tankers), water quality standards, and the power to cap prices to curtail predatory pricing in peak summer months.
- Creating comprehensive sub-aquifer plans (database of groundwater levels) throughout the city:
Sub-aquifer plans stringently map the amount, uses, quality, etc of groundwater within each aquifer (water-bearing formations that exist underground). This needs to be done so as to ascertain the water resources available in the city, and to calculate the number of tankers necessary to fulfill demand.
This data can go a long way in ensuring better water supply throughout Bengaluru. BWSSB should coordinate with the Karnataka Ground Water Authority in this regard as it already has some data on borewells and groundwater levels in the state.
- All commercial borewells must be metered to ascertain the amount of water they draw from borewells.
Metering will allow the government to know the extent of groundwater that is being drawn. Once the withdrawal is ascertained, the extraction of groundwater by commercial exploiters can be kept to a certain sustainable limit. A charge can be levied for the use of groundwater resources as well, which can then be spent on increasing recharge and cleaning up groundwater resources.
However, these solutions will bear fruit only if human resources in the BWSSB are increased in a commensurate manner, especially in terms of hiring experienced hydrogeologists, engineers and ground staff.
Regularisation will be a win-win for both tanker operators and consumers. Tanker operators will gain legitimacy in the eyes of the law, leading to greater expansion of their businesses. Their cost of operations will also reduce as they will no longer have to bribe authorities for their operations. Residents will benefit directly as there will be increased competition which will lead to better services, competitive pricing and better water quality.
[This article was first published on the blog of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, and has been republished with permission. The original blog post can be read here. The author would like to acknowledge Mr Vishwanath Srikantaiah for his valuable inputs.]