Whitefield, ORR, Bellandur and surrounding areas are set for a water crisis, as the District Administration of Bengaluru (Rural) has come down heavily on tanker water suppliers for extracting groundwater from farmland. BESCOM has disconnected power supply to tanker operators’ borewells.
Bengaluru Khasagi Neeru Sarabarajudhaarara Sangha, an association of private tanker-water suppliers, has called for a strike starting 16 March. This would affect residents, especially those in apartments, who depend on tanker supply for their daily water needs as they have limited or no supply from BWSSB. Tanker water supply to Mahadevapura and East Bangalore areas has become short by about four lakh litres now.
Bangalore Apartment Federation (BAF) has termed the government action knee-jerk. Vishnu Gattupalli, Secretary of BAF’s Whitefield cluster, which is one of the areas worst hit by the strike, says, “With summer approaching, there is additional load, and with the coronavirus advisories in place, many residents are homebound. Hence disruption of water supply will create havoc.”
Tahsildar acts on advice of Mines and Geology Dept
Electricity connections to the borewells in Anugondanahalli, Muthsandra, Koturu and Harohalli panchayats of Hosakote Taluk in Bengaluru Rural District were cut on the recommendations of Hoskote Tahsildar Geetha as well as the Mines and Geology Department.
BESCOM, with the protection of Thirumalashettyhalli Police, disconnected power supply to about 35 borewells in the four villages of Hosakote taluk. Many of the borewell operators here are ex-farmers.
Geetha says that groundwater is extracted and supplied to urban areas without the Gram Panchayats’ permission. In a letter to Thirumalashettyhalli Police, she said groundwater levels had reduced, resulting in crop loss for the remaining farmers who had been demanding action against the alleged illegal groundwater extraction. Commercial extraction is not allowed as Hosakote taluk had been declared drought-hit.
Pallavi N, Senior Geologist at the Mines and Geology Department, explains that the rules to control groundwater extraction came into effect in 2012-13, and now commercial extraction is not allowed. She had written to the Tahsildar on March 13, recommending that power be disconnected as the owners had been withdrawing large volumes of water illegally in the last few years. She says, “There is permission only for (extracting the water for) drinking and agricultural uses.” Lack of resources has meant her department has not been able to track the quantity of groundwater drawn by tanker operators.
Chethan Devaraj, Muthsandra Gram Panchayat member and former APMC President of the local area, disagrees, “We have taken permission from all government departments, and there is nothing illegal in it.” He says the Department of Mines and Geology has claimed groundwater levels are down without conducting any studies.
Speaking to Citizen Matters, Harish B K, President, Bengaluru East Private Water Suppliers Association, states the position of the farmers-turned-tanker water suppliers, “First of all, groundwater supply is not just a commercial activity, but also the livelihood of farmers. Since water quality is not good in BBMP wards, (apartment residents) are dependent on the water we supply.”
Harish says BESCOM officials had disconnected power at midnight with police protection even though rules do not permit disconnection after 6 pm.
Anil Kumar A V, Assistant Executive Engineer at BESCOM, explains why: “Yes, we disconnected electricity at midnight as local residents blocked us from doing it in daytime; they threatened to commit suicide. But I have to follow my orders. All of them had commercial connections,” he says.
Residents stuck in the middle
The Bengaluru East Private Water Suppliers Association has demanded that BESCOM restore power supply to their borewells, and that police not harass tanker drivers during peak hours. They want the government to come up with a permanent solution to the water crisis, with suggestions from their association.
Vikram Rai of BAF says citizens are being victimised for no fault of theirs, “We urge the authorities to immediately restore power supply to the tanker vendors so that water supply is not hit.” He suggests the government conduct a wider consultation to hear the grievances of multiple stakeholders, so as to determine a fair and balanced course of action.
Muralidhar Rao, citizen activist and Vice President, BAF, says, “The government wants tax and revenue from Bengalureans but is not ready to provide us infrastructure. They are not ready to supply us water and neither are they allowing us to have tanker water. What should we live on then?”
[Meera K and Bhanutej N also contributed to this article]