Smart cities is the mantra of our times with a 100 slated to roll out in India. Ideological debates rage over how to define ‘smart’ and whether technology is what makes for ‘smart.’ Be that as it may and the dust is unlikely to settle in the short run, here is what a water-smart city should look like.
Access: Universal access to services for both water and sanitation is at the heart of a water-smart city. No individual should be deprived of a connection on account of financial or legal conditions imposed on the consumer. Access to water and sanitation facilities will be a right of every citizen.
However, certain other rights too will need to play themselves out for this access to happen. The right to a clean environment, for example, without pollution and one which is to be enjoyed for the soul as much as the body. Here the role of individuals and the community becomes crucial. In their various avatars as voters, as citizens, as children, as social beings, as workers and as people who participate in activities for the reason of participation alone, their presence will become important.
Community: The city of Bengaluru hosted a ‘Kere Habba’ (lake festival) recently. Organised by a group calling itself MAPSAS (Mahadevpura Parisara Samrakshane Mattu Abhivrudhi Samiti) , the event was held at Kaikondrahalli lake on Sarjapur Road. It was a sight to see children arrive in droves escorted by parents and take pleasure in walking around the lake, learning about bio-diversity, creating a play-space, decorating it with flowers, climbing trees and simply enjoying themselves in a wide open space with water and birds. Groups which had adopted other lakes and one which was trying to federate all activities around all lakes of Bengaluru were telling people about themselves and soliciting membership.
Institutions such as the Corporation and the Lok Adalat were also present. There was much positive energy to engage with and restore at least some of the lakes of Bengaluru.
In another part of the city sewage in large quantity started entering Jakkur Lake from a broken line and through a storm water drain. A group called Jala Poshana, which had adopted the lake, swung into action and reached out to the media. Days later they had forced the authorities to act and the raw sewage flow was minimised to a large extent, thus saving the lake from biological death.
In the satellite suburb of Yelahanka lies Alallasandra Lake. A group called YUVA (Yelahanka United Environment Association) has been championing its restoration. On a Saturday it organised the bio-remediation of some raw sewage entering the lake by pouring Effective Microorganism (EM) into the lake. More than 200 litres of EM was added one Saturday to reduce odour and clean up the lake waters. The lake is a gorgeous sight to see especially in the wintry nights of January.
Certain features stand out in these activities. These groups are community groups and not the traditional NGOs. They champion a local lake as a resource as they are closely affiliated to it in the sense of geography and take great pride in it as a community property. They work closely with authorities and institutions such as BDA, BBMP, and BWSSB and regulators such as KSPCB and Lok Adalat and courts. They push these institutions to spend monies and make sure that there is a watch on the output and outcomes.
They have a good working relationship with the corporators and the MLAs concerned and draw the attention of the political leadership to the problems at hand and the solutions necessary. They are all faced with the issue of sewage entry into lakes, the dumping of debris and garbage and the inability of managing the catchment.
The groups use social media very well and stay in touch on Whatsapp. They have Facebook pages and use it to share information and draw membership.
All these groups also are not experts in their sector but are interested citizens with persistence and a vision to do the right thing. They eschew leadership politics and try to work as a group. Access to the lake is for all citizens and there is no restriction.
These lakes do a wonderful job of being recreational spaces for children and adults alike. Biodiversity is enhanced and indirectly they will ensure treatment of all waste-water in the city as well as recharge of groundwater. By ensuring that more and more people participate as solution seekers rather than merely problem identifiers, the city will create an army of people who will ensure the protection of the commons and the water bodies.
Such a water-literate community is what a smart water city should be all about.