Archive for August, 2013


The religious practical disconnect on our behaviour with water in India

August 31, 2013

The spirituality and prosaicness of water

Rivers are the birthplace of civilization and civilization the graveyard for rivers is a very famous quote which rings true in present day India. As the Ganesha festival approaches those who work on keeping water bodies clean are filled with a feeling of dread for the modern day reveler will bring large statues painted usually with toxic lead paint and immerse them in wells, tanks, lakes and rivers not to mention the sea.  Why is it that we have become so dissociated from our spiritual practice and our everyday life and refuse to see the links between what we believe in and what we end up doing is an exercise in sociology and human behaviour? 

The Vrishabhavati River is the only river that originates in Bangalore. One saying in Kannada says do not go hunting for the source of a river or the antecedents of a sage. As much as the Cauvery is supposed to originate at Talacauvery, the Ganga at Gangotri, the Vrishabhavati is said to originate at the famous Bull temple in Basavanagudi. That which originates from the mouth of a bull – Vrishabh being the bull – is a name given to the river on this belief. The temple and hence the river at its source is a place of worship. The desecration of the river begins almost immediately. Sewage and garbage are the components of the desecration of what was once a pristine river and this is the gift of urban Bangalore to the river. By the time it flows out of the city to a magnificently large reservoir at Bhairamangala it is dark, black foamy water polluted beyond redemption one would imagine. Yet nature tackles the river into its embrace as do thousands of farmers forced to use this water for their crops and for their livelihoods. A slow transformation of the waters begins and in about 20 kilometers the river is partially redeemed. The waters that flow then to join the Arkavathy are cleaner than what the city left it. This is called the absorption capacity or the cleaning capacity of nature.

The Cooum originates reputedly from a well close to Chennai.  Cooum- that which originates from a well- hence the name given to the river. It too faces an urban onslaught and is greatly polluted. Unlike the Vrishbhavati where it is land that cleans the river, it is the sea which has to redeem the river, receive its polluted waters, dilutes it and hence cleans it.

The construct of reverence, desecration and redemption runs right through our urban civilization. Efforts are on to put in place waste-water treatment plants and ensure that all sewage is collected and treated but for now it is a losing battle.

What can apartments do about this issue? For one many make arrangements for the Ganesha immersion. Make sure that with due sanctity and respect the whole event is conducted with no net negative impact on the environment.

In many tanks across Bangalore separate Kalyanis have been built to receive the idols and the flowers that come with it. These are then able to be kept clean and prevent pollution of the larger water body. Make use of these. Better still make small Ganesha without paint so that they dissolve in waters without much trace.

Many apartments are now mandated to have their own sewage treatment plants. Make sure that the ones you have are in working condition and treat the water to adequate levels as prescribed. In negotiations with the State Pollution Control Board the treated waste-water can perhaps be release into neighbouring lakes through a constructed wetland. This will not only clean the water up further but keep the lakes full and away from encroachment.

Engage with garbage including segregation. Clear collection and then transportation to the designated treatment sites.

Keeping the environment clean is everybody’s business as is reviving urban water bodies including lakes and rivers. The joy of clean flowing water or a full lake is an experience that all especially children deserve and making that happen in our times is the challenge. That challenge being addressed would be water wisdom. 


Independence -water

August 16, 2013

As has been well said, it is easier to make things complex than to make them simple.  Luckily for us some of the functional things to do with water remain the simplest. While we celebrate Independence Day let us also remind ourselves that the role of citizenship confers on us rights but also puts on use responsibilities. It is in our engagement with the world outside our private boundaries that we truly become citizens.

A list of the possibility

Respect the law: In Bangalore for example rainwater harvesting is mandatory . Now the water supply utility has set August 20th as the deadline for buildings to get rainwater harvesting done. Correct compliance with the law will help conserve water, increase the groundwater levels and reduce urban flooding.

Start with responsible water use:  Switch water conserving taps, flushes , showers , washing machines et al. and become a responsible water user in your home.

Take responsibility for community areas: In your apartment engage with the system which uses water for the garden, lawns, swimming pools and look at ways of being water efficient along-with the staff responsible.

Adopt your street: If the building you live in has a street adopt it. Work on keeping the whole thing or at  least a stretch of the road clean. This will mean that garbage management is in place , segregation and collection happens in all buildings and that the nothing is left as litter on the roads. It also means that the storm water drain is kept clean and that the roadside trees are protected.

Take care of a lake: Citizen groups all across the nation are coming together to take care of urban water bodies. Identify the nearest one, organize and ensure that the lake is revived. The work will be a learning and its own reward.

Assist a nearby government school: Everybody agrees that the future of India is in its younger generation and the education they get. For proper schooling a basic necessity is good water and sanitation. Many government schools struggle to access clean water and good sanitation. Engage with a local government school and help improve their water systems. As little a thing as soap for hand washing or  a good water filter can be of great help , prevent absenteeism and reduce the incidence of water borne disease outbreaks. Try it , it is not difficult.

Go for a walk in the park: Enjoy natures bounty but also ensure that it is clean , that they adopt water harvesting and get a landscape which does not demand water. A retired professor and his school teacher wife have adopted and cleaned up a local park in front of their home even labeling plants and trees as well as creating a lot for children to play . They are closer to 70 . If they can do it most of us can too.

Try visit a river:  India is the land of seven rivers. Most of them are struggling now with pollution or with water use drying them up . See if you can do something to redress the situation. Groups across India are planting trees in catchment , creating percolation tanks and cleaning up old wells called Kalyanis. Perhaps you can help them out with your skills whatever they be.


Nationhood is about thinking beyond the self. Progress and a clean environment is not a spectator sport and requires strong engagement with communities of like minded citizens banding together to overcome a problem. This Independence day let us all become water warriors in our small way . That would be water wisdom.


Photo essay workshop and exhibition on water

August 14, 2013

Namma Oooru- Namma Neeru

Our land-Our waters




Voices from the Waters


The Goethe-Institute will be one of the three venues for the Voices from the Water film festival scheduled to begin on the 30th of August 2013. As part of the event city based water researcher and writer  S.Vishwanath and documentary photographer Vivek Muthuramalingam will be curating a photography exhibition at the Goethe gallery. The theme this year is ‘Namma Ooru- Namma Neeru’ and the show in particular shall focus on the symbiotic relationship between lakes and open wells in and around Bangalore.


For this, we would like to create new visual content by collaborating with ten motivated photographers by offering each one of them a short photo-essay to work on. They shall be constantly mentored by Vivek during the entire period, at the end of which they are expected to produce 5-7 exhibition worthy images which will go up on the show. We also invite a writer to join our team to pen the narratives and also help in editing content for the exhibition.


The stories and their brief is as follows:

1  Citizens have come together with the government and have cleaned up and improved the Kaikondarahalli lake on Sarjapur Road. What motivated them to do it ad what will keep the spirit of the lake alive ?

2  Muniyappa is a well digger from the traditional well digging community . He and  his small team have dug more than 2000 recharge wells. Why do they do this and what does a day in their life look like?

3  Wastewater flows almost everywhere in Bangalore. In  rather rare exception treated waste-water from a sewage treatment plant charges Jakkur lake through a wetland . The wells around the lake are now full of water. Wetlands attract birds and the full lake has coracles and fishing going on. Can the wells and the lake be preserved ?

4. The Arkavathi river used to be the lifeline of Bangalore. Now it hardly ever flows. Citizen groups are gathering around to revive the river. This includes volunteers cleaning up old step-wells called Kalyanis. Can a dead river be revived?

5. The layout called Rainbow Drive on Sarjapur Road is dependent on groundwater. Residents have come together to dig more than 250 recharge wells at the last count to ensure that their water lifeline does not go dry.

6.  The Vrishabhavati is the only river which starts and flows through Bangalore. It is traditionally believed to originate from the mouth of the Nandi – Vrishbha- at the Bull Temple , Basavangudi.  Can one capture the spirit of a place where a river originates?

7. The lake at Lalbagh is a beautiful one. It is flled with water treated at a small sewage treatment plant upstream. The lake now fills old wells in Lalbagh which are very old . Can the wells be cleaned up and brought into use again ? Can a water heritage be preserved?

8. Mr .Balasubramanian is a senior citizen in the layout called Vidyaranyapura . He had a well dug in his house by a gentleman called Arumugam who is no more. He kept the well even though it had gone dry. Through rainwater harvesting he has revived it and now uses the open well for almost all his water requirements. What is his story around the well ?

9. Mr V.Balasubramaniam is ex Additional Chief Secretary , Govt. Of Karnataka. He headed a Committee which looked at how govt. Land is being grabbed alla cross the stste. He also talks about how lakes have been encroached and land grabbed. He predicts that half of Bangalore will need to be evacuated in the future because of water shortage. What has he seen that causes him to worry so much ?

10.  Sirutuhuli an organisation based in Coimbatore , worked in partnership with the government and cleaned up the big lake called Ukkadam. The rains were plenty in the river Noyyar and the lake has filled up. How does such a lake benefit the city ? Why is Siruthuli doing what it does ?


Rules/ Regulations:

  1. This opportunity is open for both professionals and amateurs or all ages, with or without prior experience in story telling photography.
  2. Photographers are required to have suitable equipment (DSLR preferred) to work on the story and willing to bear all travel costs that may be incurred.
  3. A cumulative period of not more than two days for each story is expected of the photographers and no fulltime participation needed.
  4. Photographers are expected to participate in the editing session with Vivek once all the assignments are completed.
  5. To apply please send a brief statement of purpose (not more than 300 words), a link to your work (no attachments please) and notify the story that you would prefer to work on, to
  6. To volunteer as a writer please send in two pieces of any recent writing assignment and a brief bio to the same email id.
  7. In case of further clarifications please call Vivek on +91 98455 60465.



14 Aug: Late date for receiving applications

16 Aug: Announcement of the chosen photographers with their stories

23 Aug: A rough-cut of 20 images from each of the stories is to be sent

24, 25 Aug: Editing session with Vivek to finalize the images

26, 27: Printing of images

28: Mock layout at the exhibition venue



On 24/7 water supply for urban India

August 3, 2013

In the water sector the name with a number is 24/7 and as in idea it is deceptively simple yet we wrestle with it in India. It means that water should be available on tap all through the day and at adequate pressure and quality. This would mean that there would be no need for storage at individual building levels whether below the ground or on the roof and the use of pumps to stock up on water when it comes and to reticulate it during the time of the day when water is not available in municipal pipes. This is the minimum standard of supply in most developed countries and this is what China is aiming for for all its cities.

In India one of the first experiments to get 24/7 water supply has happened in the cities of Hubli-Dharwad, Gulbarga and Belgaum. Certain wards were selected for their ‘hydraulic integrity’ i.e. ability of the piped network to be isolated and improved so that full pressured water could be delivered 24/7. In these wards so selected, for example 4 wards in Hubli and 4 wards in Dharwad, a judicious mix of poor and rich people including slums were also criteria for selection.

24/7 has since been implemented and vital lessons learnt yet the discourse has not captured the mainstream in India. A recent study by scholars from the University of California at Berkeley and presented in Dharwad revealed some very interesting data and information. For example the quality of water was much better in 24/7 water supply zones than in the Intermittent water supply zones. That the first flush i.e. when water was supplied after a break of many hours or days , had a lot of contaminants especially bacteriological ones in the form of e.coli and total coliform. The study also revealed that the poor were the most benefitted because 24/7 saved them many hours of water collection time and in general delivered better quality of water. A large majority of people actually preferred 24/7 to intermittent water supply. In these zones the quality of pipes used was substantially better and that leakage of water was considerably reduced.

However there were other warnings with 24/7 water supply. The poorest people had an additional burden of cost which could be as high as 6 % of their reported monthly income to pay as water tariff. That poor people continued to store water for drinking and cooking especially if they had to collect water from a common connection and that secondary contamination of water was occurring.

Since these were the first pilot projects ever it is important that these and other concerns with 24/7 water supply be addressed and improved in the subsequent roll out of new projects. For example how are the needs of travelers and migrants to be met if all public stand-posts are to be removed in the 24/7 water supply zones? How are the needs of birds, animals, cattle and nature to be met if the design does not provide for them?

In time to come much more transparency in the system will improve these inefficiencies and 24/7 water supply, safe and affordable to the poorest of the poor in India will become the norm rather than an exception as a pilot.

It is time to learn lessons, incorporate them and roll out 24/7 water supply to urban India. This would be water wisdom.