Bangalore’s Water Crisis: The Economy of Thirst

The apocalyptic prophecy has been made. After Cape Town, Bangalore is slated to be the second city in the world to run out of drinking water. This cannot come as a surprise to Bangalore’s citizen. We all know that the rapid urbanization of Bangalore has been anything but planned or pleasant. We are struggling every day with the many banes of unplanned development – from debilitating traffic to waste management issues. But, Bangalore’s water crisis is not due to population explosion and climate change alone. For years now, a cycle of exploitation and apathy has led up to this moment. Here is a deeper look at the problem. 

Gone Too Deep

Bangalore's water crisis

The vicious cycle began a couple of decades back when drought-ridden areas started depending on borewell water for sustenance. That was the beginning of the ‘tanker mafia’ of the country. In 2014, Malini Ranganathan published a paper named ‘Mafias’ in the Waterscape: Urban Informality and Everyday Public Authority in Bangalore’. The paper describes how a coalition of thugs and politicians have created an artificial water crisis to profitably run a parallel water network. This network is using the most modern machinery to dig deeper and deeper into the ground, tapping into groundwater as deep as 90 meters in. As a result, the rivers that are dependent on groundwater are all drying up. Bangalore’s lifeline, Cauvery, is all but a dry ditch in most parts now. Without a strict government action against this cartel of exploitation, all attempts at recharging the level of the groundwater would lead to nothing.

The Case of the Disappearing Lakes

In the sixteenth century, the architects of Bangalore, the Kempegowdas did the smartest thing ever – they dammed the natural valley system with bunds to create numerous lakes around the city. Most of the lakes and tanks were made for purposes of drinking water, irrigation, and fishing. They improved the microclimate of the city by leagues. 

Bangalore's water crisis

Over the years, however, the modern guardians of the city’s architecture did not show the same wisdom as the city’s founders. Last year, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board data showed that 53.8 percent of their monitored lakes fell under Grade E and the remaining were put in Grade D – the lowest grades. The Water Quality Index showed that 98 percent were ‘unsatisfactory’.

The city once had 280-285 lakes of which 7 cannot be traced, 7 are reduced to small pools of water, 18 have been unauthorisedly encroached by slums and private parties, 14 have dried up and are leased out by the Government. 28 lakes have been used by the Bangalore Development Authority to distribute sites and build extensions for residential areas. The remaining lakes are in a fairly advanced state of deterioration. Even famous stadiums like Kanteerva of Bangalore are erected on reclaimed lakes.

If ever there was a time to restore and reclaim Bangalore’s lakes, it is now. Sewage treatment before effusion to lakes, regular dredging and repopulating the city’s lakes with an ecosystem are key to ensuring that the city overcomes its water crisis. 

But, it is always raining in Bangalore!

In Bangalore, on average, every acre of land is estimated to get about 3.6 million liters of rain annually. In fact, a 2016 report by Dr. T. V. Ramachandra of the Energy and Wetlands Research Group at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) states that almost 70% of the city’s water need may be harvested from its rainfall. Then why are we in crisis?

Bangalore's water crisis

The truth is that while there are laws and rules in place for rainwater harvesting in large commercial and residential buildings in the city, the implementation of the laws is sketchy at best. Most buildings are only performing an eyewash operation in the name of rainwater harvesting. They are paying their way off and making do with ‘tanker’ water, feeding further into the problem of groundwater depletion.

The government has to take a lead in this area. Also, every citizen needs to fight this battle starting yesterday! Every drop of rainwater harvested and used meaningfully can take us to safety against this deepening evil. This is possibly the only practical solution at hand. If you are interested in learning about the rainwater harvesting models that you can put to use, just visit the Rainwater Harvesting Theme Park in Jayanagar.

What are your thoughts on this looming crisis over India’s Silicon Valley? Have you done/seen anything that could help the city’s folks to fight the battle better? Comment below or write to us at







Anumita Ghosh

Anumita believes her calling has to do with the written words. She loves to write and read, and has recently given up a(n) (almost) rocking career in the Corporate to pursue her passion. Yes, she is slightly off her rocker, but then the society has been largely accepting of her madness. She is the co-founder of Blank Slate Chronicles and a struggling domestic apprentice, not to mention a loving (yet inadequately skilled) mother to a toddler.

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