Save your City — City water supply among the most expensive; we pay peanuts.
When a small fiefdom of the Devarayas was born 500 years ago in Bangalore, a chieftain built about 80 waterbodies around what is today Bangalore. This is a city that has grown over the last 200 years since the British garrison set foot in 1810 after Tipu Sultan’s debacle in 1799.
Up until 1960 the Bangalore plateau boasted of about 560 lakes which were alive and connected in ways that there was a healthy groundwater system. The watershed basins of Arkavathi and Kumudvati fed her population that reached a million only in 1970. It touched 2 million in the next decade, when the city was woken from her centuries of slumber.
The city had poise and elegance of urban planning — a legacy first from the Maharaja of Mysore, then from the Cantonment that the British sprung on the old city’s flank. That stately city lasted up until the 1970s. As late as the 1970s, Bangalore had 24x7 continuous and healthy water supply. It was fed by the two rivers and the lakes and tanks which offered as much as 40 million liters to slake the city’s thirst very well with. From about the time the city secured long-distance water supply from Cauvery and the population surged from 2 million and 150 square kilometer to 8 million and 700 square kilometer by 2011, the impossible lack of imagination and the complete paralysis the city saw in her administration, combined to bring the city’s infrastructure to its knees. The last 20 years has offered an object lesson on how not to manage a city.
In 1976 there was a delegation from Singapore which chose Bangalore among three cities in the world as their model for Singapore 2010. By 2010, Singapore went to 5 million with 70 square kilometer and Bangalore hurtled to a population of 8 million and 500 square km.
What was once a paradise for retirees is now a nightmare even for youngsters. The irony is that given her temperate climate and its altitude of nearly a kilometer above the sea level, the city draws young professionals by the hordes. Bangalore is still the fastest growing city in Asia. It is also the city that did not have an elected mayor for a full 5 years until 2011.
Bangalore’s thirst for water today runs at one billion liters a day with under 25 percent coming from Cauvery as a water source. Less than 7 percent is met by the two traditional sources of Arkavathi and Kumudvati, the two huge reservoirs to the north and northeast of Bangalore which served for nearly 50 years from 1895 to 1975 as the only source.
Livable cities across the world like Curitiba, Barcelona, Adelaide, Seoul, and Singapore have managed to give themselves good governance in four critical areas — energy, water, waste, and transportation.
So, is the city beyond redemption? Is the alarming crisis on its groundwater table, which depletes at nearly 750 million liters a day, beyond repair? Is the current energy management so disastrous that it cannot be set right? Bangalore city needs today about 1,500 MW in the non-summer months and peaks at over 2000 MW in these two months.
Bangalore’s denizens have to realize that solutions no longer lie in the hands of the government. The government is helpless — even if they cannot be exonerated for the inefficiency and refusal to build capacity for planning. If citizens decided to comply with simple legislation that demands implementation of rainwater harvest systems in their homes, use of water efficient fixtures which reduce flow of water per minute in their taps and showers, tertiary treatment of water at the localized levels of apartment blocks, offices, hotels, and hospitals and individual homes which can reduce fresh water demand by as much as 60 per cent, if only all water-users chose to up-cycle treated water for gardens and flush tanks and car wash and swabbing of homes, if the government chose to impose a ban on the manufacture and sale of incandescent lamps, of water fixtures over 10 liters per minutes, of use of high-energy-guzzling appliances in all buildings to defined non-peak load hours, if citizens chose to comply with the recent legislation of the BBMP that will mean treatment of wet waste in your own homes and hotels and hospitals, if all apartment blocks chose to have a smaller scientific landfill of no more than 5 to 8 cubic meters for all non-degradable leached risk-wastes in a way that we don’t add to the threat of soil contamination and the challenges of central waste disposal, if every home and office is mandated to have a grid-tie in a way that a third of the power is secured from solar and other renewable energy systems, if there was a ban on the use of geysers rated to be over 1 KW and there was mandatory compliance on the use of solar systems for hot water without electrical backup… Phew! That’s a long list, but there lies a path to bringing sanity in an otherwise despairing scenario ahead of us.
Simple mechanisms such as these will ensure that the daily energy demand for the city will go down by a massive 500 MW — or 30 per cent of our current requirement. It will ensure that fresh water demand is reduced by 60 per cent to as little as 400 million liters. The simple expedient of using treating garbage locally will ensure that nearly 2500 tons of the total 3000 tons per day of city garbage is taken off the grid and avoids the risk of landfills on the city’s periphery posing threats that have become real and serious in just the last 4 years.
Bangalore has the dubious distinction of having as many as 4 million vehicles to a population of 8 million! How the city governs personal transportation in ways that public transportation plans are implemented without enormous delays and indecision is also central to shaping the city’s destiny. Vittal Malaya, the founder of the Mallya Group had offered in 1971 to do a metro for Bangalore at a total cost of Rs. 4 crores! There have been many opportunities that the city has spurned or ignored or has not known how to drive for want of competent administrators and elected leaders.
Bangalore has been on autopilot and cruising toward disaster for nearly 20 years now. Industry can do little and only ends up seeking more resources from infrastructure. Industry has not been able to lead with voluntary compliance on protecting and nurturing these resources on energy, water, and waste with plans that are federal and local, for either generation or for disposal.
Can we steer Bangalore towards a saner growth path? The city is going to be witness to a doubling of its population to 15 million by 2030. It won’t be long before Bangalore’s geographic spread crosses the 1000 square km mark. Should we grow vertical or should it be horizontal, is the question that urban planners have asked.
It is not for want of ideas, plans, and initiatives from among urban planners, architects and other city fathers who are willing to offer time and their expertise at no cost. The stasis has been more due to the lack of will, and kneejerk responses from the utilities and the urban local bodies (read BDA, BMRDA, and BIAAPA) and the water and energy utilities.
Karnataka has over the last 10 years become the Bihar of India, is no secret. This complete lack of governance in a city that hosts over 10 percent of the state’s population and consumes nearly 60 percent of its natural resources while producing about 80 percent of GDP is doomed to decay if our planning and governing bodies don’t act together.
Many among us are optimists and clearly know the solutions that need to be implemented. It will not need only such cohesive policy and coordination between the administrating bodies. It will also need voluntary or mandatory compliance, or a combination of both, from users of these four vital resources that can make Bangalore livable.
The writer presides over the ZED Group, driving zero energy solutions in the urban context.
Grid of Twelve
Here are a dozen solutions that the City can adopt — some to be driven by the Govt in different forms, and some to be initiated voluntary by citizens.