Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 11 March 2024

Water famine in Bengaluru?

Relevance: GS Paper III

Why in News?

Bengaluru is experiencing a water crisis, evident in drying borewells and shortages in the supply of Bangalore water supply and sewerage board (BWSSB) water. Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka has said that the borewell in his house, in an elitist locality, has also dried up.

Issue of water scarcity:

  • According to a 2018 Niti Aayog report, 40% of the population would have no access to drinking water by 2030.
    • It has warned that 21 cities, including Begaluru, Chennai, Delhi, and Hyderabad, will run out of groundwater. 
  • A few years ago, a study forecast that certain cities, including Bengaluru and Cape Town in South Africa, would run out of water.
    • Indeed, Cape Town was on the verge of such a crisis but overcame the danger through certain drastic measures. 
  • The issues related to water supply in Bengaluru and the remedial measures have been discussed multiple times.

Causes of water scarcity:

  • Water wastage:
    • A lot of water is wasted in daily use, especially in washing and bathing. Even drinking water is wasted, more so water supplied in bottles in star hotels and events, where people consume a little and the rest goes down the drain.
    • Although water harvesting is mandatory, implementation is poor.
    • The agricultural sector, where farmers with pump sets enjoy free water, also contributes to significant water wastage.
  • Overexploitation of groundwater:
    • It is a major reason for water shortages. The government encourages the digging of more borewells during the summer, as it is happening now.
      • Though there is a law regulating the use of groundwater, it is hardly enforced.
    • Furthermore the ‘tanker mafias’ also adds to the already deteriorating condition and charge exorbitant prices
  • Lack of treatment and recycling:
    • About 60% of the water is wasted, with only half being recycled.
    • Bengaluru has a number of sewage or waste water treatment plants, and treated water is supplied for non-potable purposes such as washing, gardening (as in Cubbon Park and Lalbagh), etc.
      • BWSSB, however, is not able to market it adequately due to low demand from industries.
  • Agricultural sector's water usage:
    • While people in Bengaluru are primarily concerned about drinking water and other subsidiary uses, in the state as a whole, 80% of fresh water is used for agriculture.
    • The problem is aggravated by the fact that excessive water is used for the cultivation of water intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane in irrigated areas, which has an adverse impact on the availability and supply of water for other purposes.
  • Water cost-price-value gap:
    • BWSSB, which procures water from the Cauvery River about 90 km away from the city, supplies water far below its production cost.
      • There is a disconnect between cost, price, and the intrinsic value of water, leading to a tendency to waste.
    • Water being a political issue, revision of rates is rare. Water boards across the country run at huge losses.
  • Political compulsions and reform challenges:
    • Unlike in the power sector, where electricity regulatory commissions have been set up in all states in addition to the one at the Centre, there is no regulatory mechanism for the use of water.
    • Owing to political compulsions, state governments are not able to effect drastic reforms in the water sector.
  • Haphazard construction:
    • Unending construction in Bengaluru adds to water consumption.
    • There is a not any particular policy to restrict construction, particularly illegal construction, the damage to the city by this haphazard construction is irreparable, affecting the quality of life of citizens.

Way forward - Seven sutras that call for urgent action:

  • Water conservation:
    • According to experts, the rainwater received in Bengaluru (an annual average of 800 mm) should suffice to serve the water needs of the city if properly conserved through rainwater harvesting and recharging.
    • There is a need for the properly implementing the water harvesting policies.
  • Regulating groundwater extraction:
    • There are examples of water rejuvenation in and around Devanahalli that can be adopted in other areas of Bengaluru in particular and state in general.
  • Reuse of waste water:
    • It may be time to consider the use of recycled water for drinking purposes, as is done in Singapore, where recycled and bottled water is sold as Newater.
      • This would require tertiary treatment up to a level when it becomes fit for drinking and adopting the right technology.
      • However, with its own traditional concepts of purity, India may not be psychologically attuned to accept the idea, but awareness regarding this can be raised.
  • Water for agriculture:
    • The solution lies in switching over from water-intensive crops to light-irrigated crops like pulses, millets, and horticultural crops.
      • Efforts should be made to persuade farmers to change their cropping patterns.
    • Crop diversification should be practised to efficiently use water and achieve agricultural prosperity.
  • Revision of rates:
    • It is important to ensure that the cost, price, and intrinsic value of water are aligned in order to discourage wastage.
      • Therefore, it is essential to revise rates so that water boards across the country can generate positive revenue.
  • Set up a Water Regulatory Authority:
    • It is imperative that a water regulatory authority be set up in the state to ensure certain standards for optimum use of water and the fixing of water rates.
  • Urban Planning:
    • Finally, water must be viewed from a holistic perspective and treated as part of urban planning.
    • A policy should be created to limit haphazard construction, particularly illegal construction. It will go a long way in alleviating the city's water crisis.


Karnataka is a water-stressed state and needs to conserve the available water resources. Though the government has warned ‘tanker mafias’ not to exploit the situation and prescribed rates for the supply of water, it is not a long term measure. Despite the presence of a State Policy for Water, there is a lack of a comprehensive long-term policy for the city that analyses the problems and devises strategies to guarantee sufficient water supply throughout the year.


Mains PYQ:

Q. “The ideal solution of depleting ground water resources in India is water harvesting system.” How can it be made effective in urban areas? (UPSC 2018)

Q. India is well endowed with fresh water resources. Critically examine why it still suffers from water scarcity. (UPSC 2015)

Q. Suggest measures to improve water storage and irrigation system to make its judicious use under depleting scenario. (UPSC 2020)