Virtual realities

  • 30/12/2005

Virtual realities November 22, 2005, saw the launch of a vocal public campaign against a move by the Karnataka state government to hand over water supply in the suburbs of Bangalore to private operators. Over 40 non-governmental organisations (ngos) and trade unions, working on civic amenities for slum dwellers, called upon the government to abandon its anti-poor policy on water. They announced the creation of a new forum: Campaign Against Water Privatisation (cawp). "Water cannot be commodified under any circumstances,' said Y J Rajendra, secretary of Jana Sahayog, a Bangalore ngo, addressing the inaugural cawp meeting at Krishnarajapuram, a suburban municipality.

The protest was against the ambitious Greater Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Project (gbwasp), which envisages supply of water from the Cauvery river, and disposal of sewage in seven city municipal councils (cmcs) and one town municipal council (tmc) around Bangalore city (see map).

Things hotted up after people found out details of a May 2005 memorandum of understanding (mou) between the state government and Janaagraha, an ngo working on urban governance. Its objectives include: " introduce privatisation for operation and maintenance (o&m)...'.

cawp alleges the ngo and the government are hand in glove with the World Bank and its corporate wing, the International Finance Corporation (ifc). "Janaagraha's role is to ensure that the privatisation takes place smoothly,' says Clifton Rozario, a researcher with the ngo Alternate Law Forum. The state's political parties are holding the cards close to the chest. B S Yediyurappa, leader of opposition in the legislative assembly, says, "We do not have any details on gbwasp. The opposition and the public have been kept in the dark.'

Ramesh Ramanathan, founder of Janaagraha, rebuts: "We are trying to bring a participatory approach to what is a top-down project.' He says he has asked the government for clarifications, which would determine their association. Subhash Chandra, secretary to the state's department of urban development, tries to play it down: "The controversy is due to misinformation. What's wrong in handing over o&m to private players? Anyway, no decision has been taken yet.' India's Silicon Valley is eagerly awaiting the decision.

System format
Greater Bangalore, they say, is where the city's future is. But the present paints a sombre picture. "With more it and bpo companies setting up shop in this 285 sq km, population growth and its pressure on basic amenities is severe,' says B P Kaniram, director of municipal administration (dma). Population growth in Bangalore suburbs will be an estimated 6.02 per cent in 2021, as compared to 0.6 per cent in the city. The state government estimates a population of about three million by 2011, as against 1.3 million in 2001.

"The pressure is already showing on groundwater and surface water,' says Solomon Benjamin, independent urban policy researcher. Most suburban municipalities depend on mini water supply schemes based on groundwater extraction. "Our estimates show these councils maintain about 3,568 tubewells; and then there are individual tubewells,' says K V Raju, head of the ecological economics unit the Institute for Social and Economic Change. L Jairam, president of Krishnarajapuram cmc, shares his concerns, "As the tubewell yields are decreasing water supply is restricted to four hours on alternate days.' Zaheer Khan, a councillor in Dasarahalli, summarises: "With over 60 per cent of the 600 tubewells drying up in the last five years; groundwater-based schemes are just not economically viable.'

Groundwater quality is deteriorating by the day as sewage disposal is nobody's responsibility. Untreated sewage flows from houses into open drains, reaches lakes, and percolates into groundwater. Perfect setting for intervention and investment.

The extension project
Kaniram says the project aims to extend to the suburbs services available in the city, which is serviced by the government utility Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (bwssb). "The city is supplied Cauvery water for six-eight hours on alternate days, the average supply being 100-110 litres per capita per day (lpcd),' says S Sridhara, bwssb additional chief engineer. This means 810 million litres daily is fetched from the Cauvery, over 100 km and an elevation of half a kilometre. Work has already begun on distribution lines. Water supply will begin by the end of 2006, Sridhara assures. Sewerage is not in the plan for the time being

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