S. Vishwanath says water and sanitation principles have to be important inclusions in building bye-laws

Building bye-laws help regulate and maintain a certain discipline regarding the management of water and waste-water in urban areas apart from their role as a major urban planning tool.

Some of the good things they do are, for example, the insistence on identifying a toilet of a minimum dimension in any house construction before approval. In the Bangalore context, rainwater harvesting is made mandatory and the building approval plan to be submitted has to show the recharge structure that is to be implemented.

It is surprising therefore that they missed out on some basics and do not refine the old. Take the rainwater harvesting detail that the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike insists on. This is how the design looks like (see photo), a recharge pit filled with crushed stone and sand with a splash pad on top.

In the days when sand dredging or mining has caused devastation to rivers and soil why insist on an archaic design that uses sand and gravel inside it? The design by the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) is much better, a recharge well with no sand inside it. It works perfectly well and in fact, if the hydro-geology favours, a recharge well can easily become a withdrawal well. This building bye-law for a recharge well instead of a sand-filled pit can easily be made mandatory for all towns in Karnataka.

Sanitation

While building plans sent for approval have to show toilets, unfortunately there is no insistence on clearly indicating how the waste is to be disposed of. While larger buildings and apartments have mandatory sewage treatment plants, the smaller ones do not have to show any system of appropriate waste disposal. Since septic tanks are costly, precast concrete ring pits are used commonly as they are cheap and easy to install. Unfortunately most buildings make only a single large pit located outside the compound on the pavement or even sometimes the road.

This makes it very difficult for future road works or for water supply and sewage lines to be placed when infrastructure finally arrives in that area.

To remedy this situation the building bye-laws should insist that each building have two pits for sanitary waste disposal. One of the pits should be for the toilets and one for the grey water.

The pits can have a small PVC pipe fit to the covering lid to enable emptying using the vacuum trucks called Honeysuckers. The pits should be accessible and located appropriately to the front or to the side of the building.

This one insistence in the bye-law can eliminate the scourge of manual scavenging, clean up the stormwater drains and improve the hygiene of our small towns dramatically, reducing the disease burden.

It is time for building bye-laws to recognise reality and become waterwise.