20 January 2003 Bangalore Diary

Pipe Dreams

We all have our paranoias about old age, but mine has always seemed decidedly peculiar. I see myself in an unruly queue at a handpump, waiting for the day’s water supply. In Bangalore, this obsession does not seem so bizarre. This year, the headlines have once again been dominated by the Cauvery water dispute with Tamil Nadu. There have been bandhs and demonstrations as politicians vie with each other to protest against the Supreme Court decision that requires a more equitable sharing of water with Karnataka’s neighbour. S.M. Krishna is already warning of a water crisis this summer and says the "only solution" is the linking of our rivers.

Amid all the name-calling directed at Tamil Nadu and yet another mega project "solution", little is ever said about water conservation. In Bangalore and elsewhere in India, we receive water at a price that’s a fraction of what it costs the municipality to get it to our doors. Most of us have no idea what we pay for water because it amounts to little more than a rounding-off error in the household expenses. About four-fifths of the water used in the city is not recycled.

Bangalore is a microcosm of the crisis we face across the country. In Gujarat, the credit rating agency CRISIL has suggested the government raise water tariffs by 300 to 800 per cent and has repeatedly downgraded the bonds for the Sardar Sarovar Project. At any rate, I’m in good company in worrying about water. The late Dhirubhai Ambani repeatedly wrote to successive prime ministers about the need for desalination plants and more proactive water management. Predictably, this was one subject on which even the well-connected Ambani received little attention.

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