The Cauvery Stage V project, once commissioned, is supposed to solve the water crisis in Bengaluru’s peripheral areas. Though the project is supposed to be completed by 2023, as we saw in part 1 of this series, work on many components of the project has only just started. At the same time, many apartments in these areas have not been applying to Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) for new Cauvery water connections. In this part, we explore why.
SJR Watermark apartment in Ambalipura, along Haralur main road, off Sarjapura Road, is one such apartment that hasn’t applied for a Cauvery connection yet. Montu Makadia, former president of the apartment owners’ association here, says this is because there is no assurance about the quantity of water they will get.
Currently, those who have applied for Cauvery connections in the peripheries get water only once a week, for 4-5 hours. Independent houses are able to store and use this water for at least five days a week, but the quantity is too little for large apartments with hundreds of families. Apartment residents are not sure the Stage V project will finish by 2023 itself; and even if it does, whether they will get water all days of the week.
For now, some peripheral areas are getting water, thanks to the UFW (Unaccounted For Water) project of BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board). The UFW project saved Cauvery water that was being lost (to leaks or non-metering) in the city’s core areas and diverts this water to outer areas.
“We are waiting for BWSSB to assure water (supply) at least 4-5 days a week,” Montu says, adding that senior officials in BWSSB have given no such assurance so far.
Apartment associations are keen to get Cauvery water because of the good quality of water. But if there’s not enough supply, they worry they will have to keep paying for tanker water despite the crores of rupees paid for the Cauvery connection.
High cost of Cauvery water connection a deterrent
Montu says their 529-unit apartment will have to shell out Rs 7-8 crore for the new connection. “We buy 27-30 tankers of water per day, so our monthly water bill comes to Rs 5-6 lakh. With Cauvery connection, even if our tanker water bill comes down to half or lesser, it would still be ok. But if not, we’ll be paying for both Cauvery water and the tankers.”
Freesto Francis, President of DSR Eden Greens apartment association at Carmelaram, raises similar concerns. His 197-unit apartment will have to spend Rs 1.5 cr for Cauvery connection, whereas currently, they spend Rs 2 lakh a month on tanker water. “Considering this, if we take Cauvery connection, it will take us around 6.5 years to break even — and that too, only if we are not depending on tankers anymore. There are a lot of ifs and buts about Cauvery water availability. So we may apply only if similar-sized apartments get sufficient water.”
N Ajay, member of BAF (Bangalore Apartments’ Federation) in north Bengaluru, says the situation is similar there as well. (BAF is a federation of 993 apartment associations across the city.) “Currently areas like Jakkur and Amruthahalli get Cauvery water twice a week, but this isn’t enough for the needs of large apartments. Apartment associations are concerned about the huge connection cost, and the many hurdles for applying.”
Ajay adds that older apartments with less than 40 units are forced to apply for the connection, even if they have borewell water, since they usually lack their own Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs). Water and sewage pipeline connections come as a single package from BWSSB, and there is no option to apply for only either.
But why are the charges so high? The main component is the pro-rata charge of Rs 400 per sq m of total built-up area that all apartments seeking new connections have to pay. The total built-up area here includes the area taken up by common facilities like clubhouse and swimming pool.
Additionally, every apartment unit (individual flat) has to pay a Beneficiary Capital Contribution (BCC), which varies depending on their respective sq ft area. For example, each flat with area between 1200 and 2400 sq ft has to pay Rs 20,000 while those with area above 2400 sq ft have to pay Rs 30,000 as BCC. Other than pro-rata charges and BCC, apartments also have to pay BWSSB officers’ inspection charges, cost of the water meter, meter service charges, and so on.
BWSSB is bearing 8% of the cost of the Cauvery Stage V project by itself, which comes to Rs 444.5 crore. Another 8% is borne by the state government, and the remaining Rs 4661 cr (84% of project cost) is borne by JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency). The total cost of the project is Rs 5550 cr.
Apartments pay more – for connections and consumption!
Bangalore Apartments’ Federation (BAF), has long demanded that the pro-rata charges be reduced since it is discriminatory towards apartments.
In the case of individual houses, a pro-rata charge of Rs 400 per sqm applies only if there are more than three kitchens (implying three separate households) within a sital area of 108 sqm (1162 sq ft) or more. “If there are G+2 storeys with three separate families, pro-rata charges will apply only to the second floor. But if there are more than three kitchens, pro-rata charges will apply to the entire building,” says Elisabeth, Senior Engineer (Bommanahalli zone), BWSSB.
So, BWSSB has been arguing that certain categories of individual houses pay the same pro-rata charge (Rs 400 per sq m) as apartments. But Hareesh Sivaraman, Treasurer of BAF, points out that the houses to which these charges apply are not the usual single-family individual houses: “Multiple households in a small plot are either very small apartments, or they are built to be given on rent. Houses with more than three storeys are very rare and need an Occupancy Certificate (as in the case of apartments).”
That is, the majority of individual houses are currently excluded from pro-rata charges.
The BCC charges are also slightly higher for apartment units compared to individual houses. For example, if the area of an apartment unit (flat) is above 2400 sq ft, its BCC charge would come to Rs 30,000, whereas an individual house of the same floor area has to pay only Rs 25,050. Similarly, if the floor area is between 1200 and 2400 sq ft, BCC is Rs 20,000 for a flat, but Rs 16,700 for an individual house.
Mirza Anwar, Assistant Executive Engineer (Mahadevapura), BWSSB, says this difference is because apartments consume more water per sq ft of area. “Suppose a 30X40 sq ft plot has an independent house – it’s just one household there. But if an apartment comes up in the same plot, there will be multiple households and the water consumption will be much higher. This is the rationale.”
The difference exists in water tariffs too. Apartments are treated as bulk consumers and have to pay a tariff of Rs 22 per kilolitre. Whereas the charge for individual houses is usually in the range of Rs 7-11 per KL. Hareesh says they had raised the issue of high tariff and pro-rata charges with senior BWSSB officials several times but there has been no response.
Need for OC is a concern
Earlier, BWSSB did not give connections to apartments that didn’t have an Occupancy Certificate (OC). With BAF’s intervention in 2019, BWSSB started giving connections to such apartments too, but these apartments have to pay 50% above their monthly water bill.
Many believe that the higher water tariff for lack of OC is unfair. Apartment owners usually don’t know about OC or plan deviations at the time of buying the property, and hence shouldn’t have to pay the penalty, they say.
Kristal Agate apartment in Kasavanahalli has no plan deviations, but has no OC either, says Durga Prasad from the community. The residential community here comprises both apartments and villas – the villas don’t need OC and hence have Cauvery connections already, but not the apartment.
Durga Prakash says, “The apartment was built 15-16 years ago, when this was panchayat land. There was no concept of OC then. We have no plan deviations, but we still will have to pay the higher tariff since we don’t have OC.” The apartment association plans to apply for OC first, and only then apply for Cauvery water connections.
Apartments find it worth it to adopt sustainable solutions
Given the water shortage, many apartments in the peripheries have had to opt for solutions like rainwater harvesting (RWH) and water treatment, along with sourcing water from their own borewells. Some find this approach better than going in for Cauvery water connection.
Ashok Mruthyunjaya of Adithi Elite apartment, Bhoganahalli, says, “With RWH and treated water from our STP (Sewage Treatment Plant), we have enough water. We have not bought tanker water in the last 4-5 years. Our only expense is for STP maintenance, which comes to around Rs 30,000 a month.”
Though Ashok had tried applying for Cauvery connection two years ago, he didn’t proceed with it after a middleman approached him demanding huge sums. The application process involves selecting a BWSSB-empanelled plumber who will connect the neighbourhood distribution line to the apartment. The apartment association has to come to an agreement with the plumber about the charges. Some apartment residents I spoke to, said they had heard of cases where the plumber demanded exorbitant charges or acted as a middleman, and that it was another factor that discouraged them from applying for the connection.