Archive for December, 2012


Small towns and the water sector – time for a focus to reform

December 29, 2012

Small towns and reforms

While big cities struggle to match their water and sanitation demand the situation has been worse in small and medium towns all across India, starved as they are for human resource skills and financial requirements. A slow transformation seems however to be occurring almost under the radar at least in some towns and it would be good to learn from these examples.

The town of Udupi in coastal Karnataka is one such example. the city has a population of 120,000 with about 50,000 properties ( ) With an old and leaking water supply infrastructure sourcing water from a myriad open wells and bore-wells the system was difficult to manage. Revenue collection against expenditure was skewed with the town struggling to balance its budget particularly because the water sector was a drain on the revenue. It recently took up a systematic overhaul of its water supply and completed it. Sourcing water from a single source a river consolidated its supply. 2 Ground Level Surface Reservoirs were placed on the hills of Manipal adjoining the town. Water is pumped from the Swarna river 17 km. from the town to these reservoirs. From here they feed 12 Overhead tanks in the city by gravity. Water supply connections have now been dramatically increased and over 60% of the town households are now connected to the daily water supply which has a residual head of 6 metres thus filling up overhead tanks on single storied homes directly.

Leakage has been brought down from over 50 % to close to 25 %. Tariffs have been revised and collection has gone up. The town is recovering its Operation and Maintenance cost for water supply and thus in a better position to invest for other much needed infrastructure. Daily water supply of 135 lpcd is now a reality.

An underground sewerage system is now being placed which will collect sewage and treat it before releasing it into the environment. The challenge for the town will be to recover the O and M costs for sewerage collection and treatment and ensure that the treatment plants run effectively.

With improved water supply and sanitation property prices tend to go up thus ensuring buoyancy in property tax collection which it has in Udupi. Better services mean a higher quality of life and better revenue means that the poorer sections of the populace can be assisted with the monies now available. A recent initiative to provide health insurance to the SC/ST population through the City Municipal Council has been a pioneering one for the state and has become possible because of a balanced budget.

Ullal is another neighbouring town which too has replicated the effort of improved water supply and sewerage services. The town of Bantwal developed a hand held Simputer based water billing and collection system and thus upped its revenues. It now bills its households on site and collects monies at the house itself. This seems to be the first of its kind innovation by a small town in using a Simputer for this job.

The town of Maddur targeted 5 slums within the town and gave every household a water connection, toilets and sewerage connections. A dramatic improvement in quality of life is the result.

Towns too are learning to roll out a pro-poor water and sanitation policy. With the 22.75 % funds , by law meant to be expended on SC/ST category, towns are giving universal individual water and sanitation connections, funding toilets and even generating health insurance for the populace. This is social targeting of the vulnerable and helping them overcome infrastructure access hurdles at its best.

The interventions in small towns with a population of less than 100,000 seem to indicate that much less energy and capital is necessary for reform. Even a single committed politician or bureaucrat or engineer seems capable of bringing radical change and improvement. Of course institutional support from state level agencies like the KUIDFC and KUWS&DB is essential. The focus should be on unleashing innovations and supporting new ideas emerging from these towns.

By focusing on the 214 small and medium towns in Karnataka the budget to be presented next year can bring about dramatic transformation in the quality of life of people and draw investments away from the primary cities in the state thus ensuring a relatively more spatially spread urban development.

Water and sanitation services are key followed by roads, energy and solid waste management systems. Given a buoyant economy investments in these sectors can only spur employment and further economic growth. It is time we focused exclusively on small and medium towns and brought about a radical change in infrastructure. That would be water wisdom.


A groundwater civilization – the history of the well

December 28, 2012

A constant point from me is that India has been and continues to be a groundwater civilization. As early as the Harappan civilization (Indus-Saraswati) wells were the primary means of drawing water . Wells also apparently were used as a form of purifying water with the earth as a filter.Image

Well at Lothal – possibly 2650 B.C.

It is quite amazing to see wells in the Harappan excavations , at Sarnath and at Konarak. Each with its own character based on soil and groundwater conditions.

The well at Lothal was one time close to a river and had to cope with floods. Now the river and the sea have receded and there is high salinity in the area. It therefore has to skim the surface rainwater from a maximum depth of 20 feet.


Wedge shaped bricks have been developed to give the well stability and it has been lined by pottery rings in Bengal and Orissa. The well gives us 24/7 water and also water without electricity.

The well talks to us telling us summer is coming and that one has to be careful with the water that one uses. It is both a functional device providing water as well as a communicator of the scarcity of ecological resource that is water.

The well has perhaps been humankinds first effort at accessing water through ingenuity and effort. Previous access being through natural sources. A hole in the ground yielding water must have liberated us from the tyranny of rivers and lakes.

This would have been also where agriculture which was rain-fed could now be supplemented and thus was born the first technology the pulley. The pulley later on became the wheel .

The well is a fascinating construct and more as and when one explores this beautiful thing.Image

At Lothal..another well next to a drain.

The ornamentation and the architecture followed when there was enough accumulated capital with kings to invest like the Rani-ni-Vaav at PatanPatan 106

Here for example is a well not on an individuals land but on community land . The waters are shared and farmers have come to an understanding as to who can use it and how. This is a shared community resource but with greater knowledge perhaps even more sustainable use is possible.

Community owned wells and sharing of groundwater, Rajasthan.

 Here is another example from when a well used to be dug in Bangalore. With rainwater harvesting the gentleman has revived it and is getting 24/7 water at Rs 2.50 a kilo-litre. Ecological, sustainable,economical and with full stakeholder participation and ownership of water

Recharging and reviving an open well in Bangalore through rainwater harvesting

This open well at the Alliance Francaise de Bangalore was abandoned and its memory lost. When revived and cleaned it now produces more than 90 % of the water required by the establishment.

Cleaning and reviving an old open well in Bangalore

and this bit of news sent on twitter by a friend on the oldest well in the world

The oldest well in the world -9000 years old from Syria  and one from Israel with this quote

“Israeli archaeologists have uncovered a well dating back to the Neolithic period some 8,500 years ago, Israel’s Antiquities Authority said on Thursday, adding that two skeletal remains were found inside.

The well, discovered in the Jezreel Valley in the northern Galilee region, contained a variety of artefacts, as well as the remains of a woman approximately 19 years old, and an older man, the IAA said. ”

This homage to the freedom fighters of 1857 is also emblematic of the well


Termites and trees

December 25, 2012

On how a complex ecosystem works at managing termite attacks on trees.


Honey-suckers in Dubai

December 24, 2012

Apparently the whole of Dubai runs on Honey-suckers as this video from a blog shows



Green ribbons – Mysore

December 23, 2012

The city of Mysore has always been known to be amongst the greener and better planned cities of India. In the recent past a concerted effort led by the responsible institutions and civil society has resulted in an improvement of many of the water bodies of the city. One has to visit Karanji Lake adjacent to the world famous Mysore Zoo to see what dedicated efforts at reviving a water body can result in.

Read the rest of this entry ?