Crisis of time: On parched Karnataka and its water woes

Rapid growth, such as Bengaluru’s this century, and short-termism cannot coexist.

March 11, 2024 12:10 am | Updated March 12, 2024 02:27 pm IST

The Karnataka water crisis has affected more than 7,000 villages, 1,100 wards, and 220 talukas thus far. The problem encompasses Mandya and Mysuru districts, where a major Cauvery river watershed and the Krishnaraja Sagar dam are located, and both important sources of water to Bengaluru. While the capital has hogged the headlines, the effects of the crisis are wider. Reports have suggested that the distal cause is the ‘insufficient’ rainfall last year, following the surplus in 2022, and the resulting under-‘replenishment’ of the Cauvery. Erratic rainfall is not new to Karnataka. A Coffee Agro-forestry Network (CAFNET) project, a decade ago, assessed 60 years of data and found the rainy season over Kodagu had shrunk by two weeks in three decades while annual rainfall seemed to undulate in a 12-14-year cycle. Yet, the crisis now has come as a surprise thanks to Bengaluru’s lack of preparation, a travesty for being one of India’s wealthiest urban municipalities and home to many research institutions. Bengaluru consumes roughly 1,400 million litres a day each from the Cauvery and groundwater reserves. The groundwater recharge rate is much lower while the Cauvery’s was compromised by last year’s ‘deficient’ rain. These are deficits only relative to Bengaluru’s demand. The situation is worse further away from the city’s centre. This is ironic because these areas do not receive piped water from the Cauvery and depend on groundwater and water tankers, whereas the city was engineered for centuries until the 19th to move away from water from distant sources and towards its surfeit of lakes. Seasonal lakes have since dwindled, while perennial lakes have been strangled by concretisation and sewage.

Climate change is a crisis of time. It precipitates non-linear changes that lead to disproportionate, and sometimes irreversible, outcomes, forcing underprepared governments to mount rapid responses to forces that have been festering for decades. Even if the erratic rainfall is unrelated to climate change, the phenomenon only promises more unpredictability. In this regard, Bengaluru, and most Indian cities, will achieve little when they mount stopgap measures in the event of a crisis and drop the long-term view once the crisis has ended. Rapid growth, such as Bengaluru has had this century, and short-termism cannot coexist. There is a need for bipartisan solutions that transcend the change in government every five years; a circular water economy that maximises the utility of every litre, reducing the city’s dependence on external sources; and, not to forget, a clean and healthy Cauvery.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.