Archive for April, 2011


Foam River – The death of the Vrishabhavati

April 23, 2011


If you want to see unusual and breathtaking sights  and are saturated with the conventional spots in the city of Bangalore you are invited to travel to Byramangala Tank. Motor down Mysore road swing lift at the Bidadi Industrial area where the Toyota Plant is located and go about 8 kilo-metres. You will arrive at the tank bund of Byramangala. Walk on the bund about a kilometre and you will come to a sluice gate discharging waters for irrigation. You will see a sight to behold. A river of foam may seem pretty unusual for a river but it is nothing special for the Vrishabhavati, perhaps the only perennial tributary of the Cauvery. Locals prefer to call it the Vishabhavati – poison river.

The sorry tale of the Vrishabhavati begins reputedly near the Kadu Mallesha temple, where a spring is believed to be its origin. In 1940 a huge reservoir was built some 30 kilometres from Bangalore and was called the Byramanagala Tank. This irrigated hundreds of Acres of land with the fresh water of the Vrishbhavati. Slowly things changed. The city grew and uncollected and untreated sewage started entering the stream.  Now anywhere between 400 million litres to 500 million litres per day of sewage flows in the river. Detergent use in the city has increased and industrial effluents have been illegally disposed into the stream. Alkalinity causes the river water to froth and that can be seen in abundance at Byramangala.

The city is a killer of its water bodies. All tanks are polluted, the groundwater is polluted and the rivers surrounding it have been sucked dry or have become perennial with sewage. The Ponnaiyar like the Vrishbhavati also receives sewage and occasionally causes Cholera downstream when unwitting villagers consume its waters.

For now the foam river provides water for irrigation. Coconut, chikoo and vegetables are grown here. The water rich in nutrients provides for a lush crop. Farmers have realised the ‘power’ of the waters and use it judiciously. The groundwater however is contaminated and drinking water is in short supply.

The dark ecological shadow cast by our cities need to be addressed and sustainable ways of managing sewage flows found. Treatment plants at decentralised levels should ensure that both water and nutrients are recovered. Citizens will need to pay the true cost of water i.e. the price at which water is released to nature at the same quality at which it was appropriated.

The question is, is our civilization up-to its responsibility or are we to leave a legacy of destruction? On Earth Day it is time to ponder and also time to act.


Building with mud- a learning course

April 8, 2011
The Mudlist
Greetings all,
It’s time for prancing in the mud, making balls, throwing sploogies
and wishing that your aim was better! It’s time for some wattle & daub
and cob glorious cob! We shall be at theYusuf Meherally Centre at Tara,
on the outskirts of Mumbai from the 20th-24th of April 2011, participating
in the realisation of the upcoming Bapu Kuti Complex. And much like
Gandhiji espoused, we shall be building using traditional techniques,
local materials and our own hands. This is a five day intensive
workshop open for all.


The course will flow through the following modules:
  • Natural Building
  • Anatomy of a building
  • Introduction to Earth construction
  • Properties of Earth as a building material
  • Spectrum of Earth construction techniques
  • Wattle & Daub
  • Cob
  • Soil identification, behavior and soil testing
  • Soil stabilization and natural stabilizers
  • Designing in Earth: guidelines and thumb-rules
  • Natural finishes
  • Etc.!

Participants will study the theory as well as the practical

aspects of different materials and technologies. The course

will comprise of classroom sessions, but shall focus predominantly

on experiential learning. The workshop is open for all and no previous

knowledge of construction is necessary. Participants should be

physically fit and should be able to endure long (and fun!) hours

of manual labour. The course fees are 2000Rs. per person which

include dormitory style accommodation, food and the proceedings

of course. Travel to and from the venue shall be borne by the participants.

Those who wish to apply, please send a small note about yourself

to by the 14th of April 2011. We are limiting

the number of  participants to 10 individuals in order to ensure a

thorough experience.


soar.hub @


On mentoring at Biome

April 6, 2011
Building hope, brick by brick
Aruna Chandaraju meets Chitra Vishwanath, who has made it her mission to create healthy spaces and use natural resources wisely
MENTOR TOO Chitra has very successfully encouraged young architects to think of space solutions that are eco-friendly. Pic by the authorShe is deep in discussion with a young couple about the design of their dream house when I enter her office. There are building plans and various other papers on the table and Chitra Vishwanath, architect and founder, Biome Environmental Solutions, is trying to explain to them the rationale of her ideas  even as she attempts to understand the couple’s vision of their home.

The rest of the office is bustling with activity as several young architects and engineers are bent over their tables, working on various other projects that Chitra’s organisation is currently handling.

As she winds up her discussion and approaches me, she sums up the work that her organisation is doing with a simple statement. “We are just trying to create positive buildings and healthy spaces.”

Chitra and her husband have acquired a formidable reputation for sustainable architecture. They look at a space as an ecological one, not merely a physical one. They believe in conserving and using natural resources wisely. Eco-friendliness and harmony with nature are the operative words of their work, which has won much recognition and respect.

The soft-spoken Chitra says modestly, “Maybe it was also about serendipity. About having been there at the right time with the right ideas. It was also a great deal about persistence with our chosen philosophy despite the odds. But it succeeded. And here we are.”

Every architect has a choice — he/she can either start out on their own or work under someone. Chitra and her husband chose the first option. And right from the beginning they had a deep conviction about ‘green building’ philosophy, long before these words became fashionable. “Soon people realised that what we were saying and doing was not for creating an impression of novelty or just being different but about a genuine concern for the environment,” she says.

And today, she and her husband are trying to encourage a number of architects who believe in and work with the same philosophy by mentoring them.

“When I talk of mentoring the young, it means giving them the right opportunities and raising their levels of confidence to the point where they feel they are capable of doing a job on their own.”

Chitra does not spoonfeed them but rather gives them the space to grow.
It is a way of giving back to society, she says. And it is a responsibility that all well-established professionals have, she adds.

“Once we reach a stage in life, where we have established our career and built a reputation, we should take time out to mentor the younger generation. No doubt, in the course of our careers we are always working with and teaching those younger than us. But what I mean is consciously taking out time and effort to groom them and help them rise.”

Is it also a way of ensuring that their legacy is carried forward? She replies: “Legacy is a big word. I would rather say that certain principles matter to us and we want those trained under us to practise them wherever they go careerwise. We want our overall philosophy to guide them in their work.  Our thought process should stay with them which is good for the environment even as I want them to think for themselves”
In fact, she says she is pleased when the youngsters ask questions and insist on being told the rationale of things.

However, she does not do much of teaching today as would be expected as part of this training of the younger generation. Why? She replies candidly. “I have become disillusioned by the attitude of managements of architecture institutes. They stress numbers over quality. Also, we feel we are ahead of the times in many ways. So it is sometimes difficult to go to a school and still talk at a level which seems, to me, to be behind the times.”

Chitra is upbeat about the future of the world. In these days when we are assailed from all sides with depressing news about environmental degradation and disregard for nature, it is cheering to hear a credible professional like her speak optimistically.

“Sustainable architecture and eco-friendly ways of living are finding greater acceptance. There is definitely greater worldwide awareness about them today. And  when we talk to clients about the pressing need to make their space — whether home, office, resort, educational institute or even an entire housing colony — more eco-friendly, they understand and accept this. Hearteningly, the younger generation is very receptive to ideas about living in harmony with nature.” So, there is hope still for our planet!



Killing our groundwater- with apathy

April 3, 2011

Why this apathy?





The pollution of groundwater in Bangalore is death by institutional and legal apathy, says our water expert S. Vishwanath





Hard facts: Groundwater once polluted is impossible to clean up easily. So, great care should be taken to protect it.


The recent report released by the Department of Mines and Geology, Government of Karnataka, on the state of groundwater quality and pollution in Bangalore city does not come as any surprise to those in the sector.

What is surprising is the complete inability to see a response apart from pointing out the technical issues such as industrial dumping into groundwater, lack of sewage management resulting in nitrate contamination and bad management of borewells resulting in iron contamination. The pollution of the lifeline groundwater in Bangalore is death by institutional and legal apathy.

Institutional framework

There is no institutional ‘owner’ or ‘manager’ of Bangalore’s or for that matter any city’s groundwater. There are only peripherally involved institutions such as the Mines and Geology Department which monitors and reports on the quantity and quality occasionally.

There is the Central Ground Water Board which also has monitoring wells and piezo-meters and tracks mostly the fluctuations in the water table and the draft.

There is the Pollution Control Board in theory responsible for the discharge of industrial effluents and hence the prevention of contamination of both surface and groundwater sources of water.

There is the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board which tracks the number of borewells in the city. And at last count it had well over 125,000 numbers from which it extracts Rs. 50 every month as sanitary cess.

There is the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike which sinks borewells of its own to provide water to the public. There are many players but no one with responsibility and accountability.

The legal framework

Under the archaic Easements Act, groundwater remains a private property or asset to be used by the owner of a property and not a community resource. The recently passed Groundwater Bill in the State gives an opportunity for better management of groundwater but only if the right institutions are notified as the empowered authority.

In the case of a city like Bangalore, groundwater is primarily a drinking water resource; and an authority which is in charge of drinking water supply as well as waste-water management should be capacitated to manage groundwater. The BWSSB is the ideal authority to be responsible for it in Bangalore. The time to act is now especially while remembering that there could be as many as 400,000 borewells in Bangalore, one of the largest for any city in, drawing perhaps as much as 400 million litres of water per day.

The individual level

The responsibility at the level of an individual or an apartment or even an institution is manifold. For one, groundwater quality should be constantly monitored. A schedule of once a month check for all parameters of water quality should be a must.

New borewells must have a log-sheet of drilling which should be preserved carefully. This is true for even old ones. Borewells should be metered and monthly readings taken to see the nature of exploitation of that particular place. PVC pipes should be used as casing instead of iron pipes to eliminate rusting and iron contamination of groundwater.

Rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge from rooftops through recharge wells must be mandatory for every borewell. In the principle of ‘enlightened self-interest’ every borewell owner must become a stakeholder in the sustainable management of its water quantity and quality. After all he has invested the money and has the largest interest in its not drying up or becoming spoilt with contamination. Such good behaviour as limited withdrawal of water and recharging must be rewarded through economic incentives. The biggest benefit would flow when piped water is priced at marginal cost instead of being hugely subsidised.

Whistleblowers, especially for industrial pollution, must be encouraged and stringent action taken on the polluter on a fast track to act as a deterrent. The BWSSB must take up the collection and disposal of sewage in a time-bound manner and should set up a squad to help open well owners or borewell owners who report sewage contamination in their wells. At every ward office of the BWSSB, information centres should be available to help borewell owners troubleshoot their problems and find solutions. A groundwater cell for the BWSSB is an urgent necessity.

The report of the pollution must act as a wake-up call for fast action especially at a time when the city faces a huge water scarcity. In any shortage scenario it is the poor who pay the first and the heaviest price since they have no alternatives.

Groundwater once polluted is impossible to clean up easily and great care should be taken quickly to protect the uncontaminated sources as a community resource. In that lies water wisdom.

(The author is a practitioner and disseminator of sustainable water practices based in Bangalore)

Ph: 80-23641690


* * *


* The time to act is now since as many as 400,000 bore-wells in Bangalore, one of the largest for any city in India, draw around 400 million litres of water per day.

* Rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge from rooftops through recharge wells must be mandatory for every borewell.

* The biggest benefit would flow when piped water is priced at marginal cost instead of being hugely subsidised.