Archive for August, 2014


On sanitation in India

August 31, 2014

The sanitation question

With the Prime Minister emphasizing the need for India to gear up on sanitation and announcing a clean India campaign from October 2nd 2014  sanitation is now firmly on the front burner of every city and village. The challenge is of course enormous and though global each solution will be hyper-local. For a city with reasonably good infrastructure and with a reasonably good economic prosperity it should be easier than say for a poorer city with a high slum population. Yet answers will have to be found and quickly for the toll bad sanitation takes on the health of people and the economy is very high.

The imagination for toilets and waste-water will for example have to be comprehensive and will need to take account from source to sink. While private toilets will come up on individual sites, care will need to be taken that underground sewage lines are laid and connection to them is easy and affordable. Else this will lead to toilet waste being led into storm drains and polluting entire water systems including lakes , which can then become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and flies, dangerous vectors for diseases. Well functioning public and community toilets will be a challenge, for it is not in the construction but the continuous maintenance and cleanliness which will be the challenge here. As Bangalore saw with the beautifully designed Infosys Foundation supported toilets, it takes a specialized institution and focus to keep the toilets running in good condition.

  Sewage will have to be picked up in underground lines and treated fully preferably enabling recovery of water and nutrients. It can no longer be allowed to flow in storm-water drains, rivers and lakes.

At the individual and community level some uncomfortable questions will need answers. During the construction of the building did we insist on the contractor to make toilet provision for the workers? Does our apartment and layout have enough clean public toilets for the service staff and visitors to use? Do our offices, schools and colleges have clean, functional toilets with running water? This  is as much a responsibility as any for the management.

Storm water drains and garbage seem to go hand in hand. We as a citizenry seem to believe drains are meant to dump garbage. This cannot be allowed to continue. Segregated garbage will need to be handed over by a responsible citizenry and then collected, composted or recycled by a responsible local government. A specialized institution like the Karnataka Compost Development Corporation achieved wonders for years. It is time such institutions are strengthened and asked to go on with the job.  It is a crying shame that we have allowed landfills to proliferate and devastate the lives of villagers surrounding our cities. Storm-water drains will then have to be regularly maintained from weeds so as to stop vector breeding. Dengue, Chikungunya and Malaria are all prevalent and this is a fall out of an unclean and unhygienic city.

A lot will depend on individual and community action and building the right competent institutions for solid waste, for community toilets and sewage management and for storm-water drains. Cleaning up the neighbourhood and the ward with the help of the local Corporator will be key for this is primarily the responsibility of the local government. Now that there is backing from the very topmost political leadership this is the time to become water and waste wise.


Memory and forgetfulness – of the well and water.

August 7, 2014

The Indian Institute of World Culture is located in the locality known as Basavanagudi, one of the oldest layouts formed in the city in the 1890’s. The road on which the building is situated is called the B.P.Wadia Road and is named after the founder of the IIWC, which was established in 1945. There is an excellent library for adults and for children in the rather large campus with the typical old style Bangalore building. Many old timers come to listen to lectures organized in the evenings on various topics. I was there to speak on the culture and tradition of the open well in India.
Since I was early I wandered about the premise speaking to the person looking after the garden and the premises in general. Casually I asked him if there was a well in the area. To my surprise not only did he take me and show me a functioning well but also assured me that the water was crystal clear and sweet. The well , safely enclosed in a pumping room , dates at least to the 1940’s and has been supplying water unfailingly ever since. Devaiah also told me about a large stone lined and stepped open well next to the building which was also there for long. It has now been filled up and a multi-storied apartment has come in its place. The apartment has drilled a bore-well to supplement its water needs.
The Institute has done a nice thing for the well. It has taken all the rooftop rainwater from the two large building blocks on its premise and put it into two recharge wells 10 feet deep. This ensures that the entire rainwater goes into the aquifer thus enhancing groundwater levels.
In front of the Institute is the famous M.N.Krishna Rao Park. Here also is a water reservoir of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board or the BWSSB. This reservoir is filled daily from waters of the river Cauvery, a 100 kilo-metres away and 300 metres below the city. Ironically it also probably sits on a shallow aquifer with a high groundwater table that it ignores.
The area now known as Gandhi Bazaar where you get perhaps the best dosa in town at Vidyarthi Bhavan was upon a tank called Karanji Tank. This is just close by to the Institute. On the other end not far away is the Lalbagh Lake. Hyder Ali began the famous Lalbagh gardens with three wells for irrigation so says the traveler and chronicler Buchanan. It looks like Basavanagudi is lucky to have a good water table with a lot of open wells capable of providing water to its resident’s right through the year.
It only remains that we remember the well as a source of good and cheap water, that we protect and preserve the catchment so as not to pollute the resource and that we enhance it through rainwater harvesting measures. Areas such as these should be designated as groundwater sanctuaries and the groundwater legislation used to sustainably maintain that most precious of all resources for this city-water. As a famous writer once said this is a fight between memory and forgetfulness. The memory of the well must be retained and must be integrated with modern water needs but in ecological fashion. That would be water wisdom.