If all borewells in the city are metered and charged volumetrically for drawing water, the purpose of the groundwater bill will be served and citizens can rest easy, says S. Vishwanath

The Karnataka Ground Water (Regulation and Control of Development and Management) Act, 2011, was passed recently by the Assembly apparently without much or any debate. The Rules are now being notified for implementation.

This is the crucial management aspect of the Act and needs to be carefully thought through and debated before it is gazetted and enforced.

The objective of the groundwater bill in so far as the city is concerned would be the equitous and sustainable distribution of groundwater with access to all since groundwater is a common property resource and is to be held as a public trust by the government. In the absence of the government providing water for building construction, groundwater is frequently used for the same.

It should also be remembered that the poor and the economically disadvantaged have the maximum dependency on groundwater since they are not connected to the piped network.

Sanitary charges only here

There are some advantages that Bangalore starts with as regards groundwater which can easily be leveraged. This is the only city which charges Rs. 50 a month as sanitary charges for groundwater through the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board.

The BWSSB, therefore, has a record of the borewells in Bangalore wherever it supplies water. This is a wonderful database which can easily be leveraged.

Secondly the BWSSB bill collectors visit the premises every month to give a water bill. They can easily verify and monitor the borewells as the connections are extended over the city.

The BWSSB, responsible for the provision of domestic, commercial and industrial water for the city, should be made a responsible institution for managing groundwater and officially recognised as such.

A hydro-geological cell should be created within the BWSSB and all collection of money from borewells and groundwater should go to strengthen the knowledge base and the management and regulation of groundwater alone.

The BWSSB currently collects nearly Rs. 10 crore annually from borewells. This money should ultimately be invested in mapping aquifers at the micro-level and in the de-silting of lakes and tanks to ensure recharge of the groundwater.

Every borewell dug in Bangalore must have a recharge structure too, something which is the extension of the rainwater harvesting bye-law being implemented by the BWSSB.

Water tankers

It is not also right to treat private tanker operators as villains and levy blatantly high tariff mechanism on them alone. They also serve a purpose and most of their water supply is for construction purposes. More than 950 registered water tankers operate in Bangalore. Merely charging them Rs. 40 per kilo-litre would simply transfer the costs to the consumers.

It is better for the city to think holistically, meter all borewells, levy a volumetric charge in an increasing block tariff exactly as is being charged for piped water supply by the BWSSB and take steps to ensure recharge of groundwater. At a conservative figure of 250 million litres per day being pumped out and at Rs. 10 a kilo-litre, Rs. 25 lakh can be collected daily to be invested in tank rehabilitation and recharge.

Bangalore can show the way to the nation in the management of its waters and groundwater and the opportunity is now.

Ultimately the BWSSB should morph into a Bangalore Urban Water Management Utility responsible for all waters in the city including piped water, groundwater, recycled water, lake water and rainwater.

This is where we should head with the groundwater bill and the rules and regulations.