Rainbow Drive Layout has gone years without water being supplied from the municipality, thanks to citizen-driven environmental activism.

This Bluru community doesnt get Cauvery water but they dont have water woes eitherPragya Singh
news Environment Friday, May 25, 2018 - 18:06

Hacked trees, dry bore wells, polluted water bodies. The issue of Bengaluru’s environmental woes has repeatedly been considered a tipping point of urban administrative failures, with citizens constantly urging those in power to pay heed, as was seen in the recent Karnataka elections as well.

Year after year, repeated reports of environmental devastation hits the news, leaving many skeptical about salvation efforts. With all the negativity that surrounds these issues, certain communities both within the city and on the outskirts, have taken it upon themselves to set an example.

Enter Rainbow Drive Layout, a serene locality situated in Sarjapur town. Set up in 1998, the colony has gone years without water being supplied from the municipality, and recent measures introduced there have been considered an epitome of citizen-driven environmental activism.

The Harvesting Model

A sense of responsibility in the community emanates from the back story of those measures, largely due to the cohesive directives passed by the Rainbow Drive Plot Owners’ Association, set up in 2004. Kamlendra Pratap Singh, former President of the Association and one of the environmentalists at the forefront of Rainbow Drive’s manoeuvres, weighs in on the association’s early days.  

“There were some of us who were environmentally aware and could sense that we would never get water from the Cauvery river due its capacity and due to the potential damage it could cause. We realised that we had to be water sufficient on our own.” This realization culminated in a partnership with the Rainwater Club (now Biome Environmental Solutions) who identified issues at the colony and proposed a comprehensive rainwater harvesting system for the residents to implement. Members of the association, however, sought to practice before preaching anything, opting to set the structures up at their own houses first.

Seeing that the system was a success, Singh and his associates decided to request other residents to do the same, following which some of the residents took it up. Come 2011, however, unexpected water woes coupled with rapid expansion at the colony were too much to handle.  

“Every year, we would have 10-15 new houses being added to the colony, but the water that was going underground was less. Our bore wells were also failing during that period. 2011 was when we decided that making rainwater harvesting merely an option wasn’t helping. Not enough people were taking it up. We had to make sure that we are putting more water inside the earth than we take out in the whole year,” said Singh.

The association then made a decision on the lines of what the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board (BWSSB) took up the same year: They modified their guidelines to make rainwater harvesting a compulsion. Rainbow Drive had an added clause, however, that every house in the colony was to construct a 3x30 feet recharge well at their compounds, into which all the water collected on roofs would get into.

“We calculated the amount of rainfall in the colony and the waste water and found that the water is 3 times what is required for our consumption. It only needed some effort to properly make use of it properly,” said Singh, adding that the cost relating to water bills, which the association decides, is far below general trends.  

De-electrifying sewage treatment

Following the successful implementation of the rainwater harvesting scheme, attention now shifted to the electromagnetic sewage treatment plant (STP) initially set up at the colony, which Singh said was more of a burden than a boon. “We needed 24-hour electricity to keep the plant running, for which we needed a generator. The set-up also demanded three-shift manpower, so someone had to sit at a dingy place to operate it every night as well. We were looking to solve all these problems.”

Natural STP system

The answer to these problems arrived with technology in the form of ‘Phytorid’. Introduced by the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), it involved creating constructed wetlands using plants that are normally found in natural wetlands. Singh and the others moved quickly to incorporate this technology at Rainbow Drive. “In 2012 we took the issue of implementation up at the Association’s General Body Meeting. The technology we were looking at was costly at the time and needed investment worth Rs 25,000-30,000 from each household,” he said.

The cost put off a lot of residents, which further delayed the execution of plans, but it wasn’t long until the Association had everyone on board. Singh elaborates, “Only 40 out of 300 households at that time contributed, so we had to delay plans. We resumed again at the end of 2013, and in 2014 we set up the natural STP.”

Having been put into effect, the second major system at the colony solved a huge chunk of the previously mentioned burdens. “Pumping is done from 7am to 7pm, which negates the requirement of 24-hour electricity. No one is needed at night for operation as well,” said Singh. 

The unique practice of composting

While water has been a major focus of the community’s environmental offensive, their third success was the implementation of their version of community composting.

Close to the STP set-up lies clusters of steel meshes, cement bags and slabs, which may not be seen as a strong infrastructural arrangement for composting but does the work nonetheless. While the water practices may have come later, initiatives towards segregating waste began in 2006.

Low-cost methods to compost wet and garden waste began in 2011, which is when investments were made in the composting infrastructure. According to Singh, the returns on this investment were rich.

Composting system: Image courtesy - Savita Hiremath

“Almost three tonnes of compost are being consumed every month in this colony for growing fruits and vegetables, which the residents avail free of cost,” he said. Singh points out that the quality of compost prompts several temporary residents of the colony to take bags of compost back to their hometowns. A quick look at some of the houses in the area validates Singh’s claims. Gardens rich with flora, all grown on the same compost produced, line up alongside rows of houses.

While discussions about the environment often invite pessimism, Singh still maintains hope that the Rainbow Drive model can inspire change, especially since communities surrounding the colony have replicated the model.

All of this boils down to awareness, something Singh says prompted the Association to think differently. “Anyone who is getting water from outside should be cognizant of the fact that you are stealing someone’s water because you have more money. When we started this, some used to say they would go to court because we were forcing them to implement practices. Today when people see it has been almost 10 years since implementation, they believe that it is the right thing to do.”

With the Meteorological Department predicting the arrival of monsoon during the final week of May, it remains to be seen if Bengaluru’s preparations are anywhere near recommendations. For now, it seems like the onus remains on citizens to come up with solutions, person by person, and community by community.

 

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