A government report stating that Bengaluru is among 21 major cities in India which will run out of groundwater by 2020 has raised alarm bells in the city once again.
The Niti Aayog report comes three months after a BBC report declared that Bengaluru will be among 11 cities in the world to reach Day Zero.
The list by Niti Aayog is part of the ‘Composite Water Management Index: A Tool for Water Management 2017,’ which is being used as a tool for ‘water measurement, management and improvement.’
But is Bengaluru really running out of ground water?
Officials at the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), the agency which manages the city's sewage system and drinking water needs, dismissed the claims that the city was on the verge of running out of ground water. “The BWSSB has been around for 54 years. In my experience, there is no reason to believe that there will be such a severe shortage in 2020,” Kemparamiah, Chief Engineer at the BWSSB said.
He further stated that the BWSSB had dealt with drought-like conditions almost every decade since its inception.
Since the BWSSB's formation in 1964, the civic water body had implemented new projects in 1974, 1983, 1992, 2002 and 2012. In 2012, the Cauvery Stage 4 Phase 2 project was executed which provided water to parched areas of the city
Kemparamaiah however admitted that the problems related to depleting ground water levels were at the outskirts of the city. “In the core areas of Bengaluru, exploitation of groundwater is less. But in the extended area of 110 villages, there are no alternative sources. What is happening is that people are digging deeper to extract water," he said.
Until 2007, Bengaluru's water usage was close to 900 million litres per day (mld). 7 City Municipal Corporations, 1 Town Municipal Corporation and 110 Villages were brought under the purview of the BBMP in 2007. The water board was then allocated an additional 100 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) of water to cater to the extra demand. Today, Bengaluru draws 1400 mld of water from Cauvery to meet its daily needs.
Meanwhile, Kemparamaiah's claims are backed up by the Bengaluru Urban Metabolism Project, a joint initiative of the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Centre for Public Policy at the Indian Institute of Management, Bengaluru, which records Bengaluru's groundwater levels at 150 borewells in the city every month.
Figures from 2017, obtained from the Bangalore Urban Metabolism Project, show that the water table can be as low as 67.5 metres (221 feet) in the summer months in the Chikkalasandra area in the city's outskirts. In areas such as Harohalli and Whitefield Road, the water table is 45 metres (147 feet) or more below the ground.
"There are inconsistencies when people quote the groundwater level in reports. NGOs and government bodies have made statements not making it clear where they obtained their data. With the data we have, the situation is not as bad as it is laid out (in the Niti Aayog report)", an academician who was part of the Bangalore Urban Metabolism Project said.
However, in central areas such as K.R. Market and Malleshwaram, the groundwater levels are comparably better. The average for both areas during the summer months was 37.05 metres (121.5 feet) and 17.2 (56 feet) metres underground respectively.
"In the case of the NITI Aayog report, it is not very clear whether they have made the right assessment. They have based their findings on another source, whose data-set is unclear. Anyone making a judgment should have realistic data. It is important that the source of data should be open to authenticity." the academician added.
With inputs from Akshay Kulkarni