Friday, April 30, 2010


Water is so abundantly available in nature, it is rarely that any one thinks of a major calamity due to water starvation. While irrigation is critical to raise adequate food crops, potable water is critical for sustenance of the very life in this planet. No wonder that the recent discovery of water in the Moon during the Chandrayan I voyage launched by India created such a sensation amongst the scientists that colonizing it is already a subject matter of serious discussion. Though a major part of planet earth is covered by water, the quality of all water sources is not suitable for use for most of the human activities. The saline water from the seas and the oceans can be used only if pure water is recovered from them through technological means costing heavily and therefore unaffordable under present day situation.

Karnataka state was one of the relatively better placed areas in the country five decades ago but to day it is reeling under water shortage of unbelievable dimension. The situation is so desperate that many urban centers are supplied water once in a week and there is not even a single township receiving continuous supply of water daily. There are at least 30 urban centers which are in the grip of a water famine of unprecedented proportion. According to the official version more than 15% of the 22000 bore wells dug during the past to provide drinking water to urban areas have become dry while many others require drilling deeper to depths beyond 600 feet to get sufficient discharge. According to experts in many areas in the state viable volume of water cannot be obtained at less than 1000 feet below ground level. Logistically pumping out water from depths more than 1000 ft requires more powerful pumps with 3-phase connection, not easily obtained from the power starved utility companies in the state. Power management in Karnataka is based on very simple philosophy "do not care for the citizens, switch on power when available and switch off when not available" with even the God ignorant of the extent, duration and schedules of shut down!

It is known that deeper the bore well, less reliable can be the quality and safety of water extracted, especially the unacceptable levels of fluoride in such waters. Bore well water is also invariably high in soluble solids, the hardness being more than 500 ppm, unsuitable for use for laundering, bathing and cleaning. The roaring business by the water softening industry ensures that practically every house hold has a softener based on physical filters, resins or semi permeable membrane costing between Rs 2000 and 15000 per unit. The minimum need of water for a family of 5 is estimated by the state government babus at 250 liters a day, though this is less than one third of the international standard. In practice average water that can be drawn at present is no more than 75 liters a day for a typical urban family and 55 liters in rural areas. These estimates are from the state administration itself and one can imagine what could be the ground reality. The weak excuse that water is supplied through tankers in some areas is not believable because as against the permitted rate of Rs 200 per tanker, private suppliers charge Rs 500 to 700 per tanker and no wonder that private water supply under government tutelage is a lucrative business in the state!

Major reasons for such a sorry state of affairs include indiscriminate drilling for water with out any regulation, gross neglect of rain water harvesting practices, insensitivity to water wastage, disappearance of thousands of water tanks, lakes, wells, etc in many urban regions, dilapidated distribution pipe lines in many cities and towns with practically no maintenance and low cost at which water is supplied to the citizens in the name social equity. The land grab mafia that operates in some of the urban areas has developed the "technology" to reclaim lake areas for real estate development in nexus with political class depriving almost the entire catchment area for rain water. It is beyond comprehension as to how water shortage can be experienced in coastal areas in southern Karnataka which is blessed with abundant rains almost year round! It speaks volume about the lack of fore sight and far sight on the part of successive governments in harnessing and protecting the bounty offered by nature in the form of "heavenly down pour"!

If the position of Karnataka is so desperate, the conditions in other states may not be much different. If this situation continues for too long, India may be facing the stark reality of a civil war in the name of water. It is time some hard decisions are taken, snail-paced water supply projects are put on a fast track, water wastage made a criminal act, rain water harvesting made mandatory, all lakes and wells that existed 50 years ago restored, water recycling programs given priority and accountability demanded from all the water supply boards.

No comments: