Bengaluru’s water woes in focus as India’s IT capital shuts down amid crisis

With a dry spell cast over the city, residents spend their time chasing after water tankers and businesses struggle to remain open.

Published : Mar 11, 2024 19:07 IST - 7 MINS READ

A private water supplying tanker selling water for nominal amount at Hesargatta main Road in Bengaluru on 05 March, 2024.

A private water supplying tanker selling water for nominal amount at Hesargatta main Road in Bengaluru on 05 March, 2024. | Photo Credit: SUDHAKARA JAIN

A coaching centre in Vijayanagar in Bengaluru asked its students to attend classes online due to an “emergency” for a week. Similarly, a school on Bannerghatta Road in the city shut down, asking the students to attend classes virtually. The “emergency” is the acute water crisis. Karnataka, especially its capital, is facing one of the worst water crises in recent years due to poor rainfall in 2023. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has attributed the scanty rains to El Nino effect.

Water tankers running frequently on the Bengaluru roads have become a common sight now. On normal days, the water suppliers used to charge Rs.700 to Rs.800 per tanker but due to excess demand, they are charging somewhere between Rs.1,500 and Rs.1,800 per tanker, according to Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar.

Also Read | When Karnataka Cabinet goes to Delhi

The office-bearers of the Residents’ Welfare Associations (RWA) in the city are facing the brunt of its members for doing nothing to save them from the water crisis. “We are a family of six members. A tanker of water lasts for five days even if we use it judiciously. It means we need six tankers of water a month, which will cost us about Rs.9,000 a month. How long can we spend money like this?” Sharaschandra, a resident of Uttarahalli in Bengaluru, said.

Shivakumar, who is in charge of Bengaluru Development, announced taking over private tankers and private borewells to meet the water demand in Bengaluru. Even milk tankers will be used to supply water. The government is also mulling over fixing the rate for water per tanker. Karnataka’s Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said that out of 236 taluks, about 223 of them have been drought hit, including 219 severely affected. The Karnataka government has also decided to set up taluk-level control rooms and helplines to address water woes. Taluk-level task forces led by the area MLA have been set up to ensure water supply and an adequate supply of fodder for cattle.

According to IMD scientist A. Prasad, there was an El Nino effect last year, which is moderate this year too but is likely to decline. Its effect was evident as summer set in the third and fourth week of February, which otherwise happens only in March in Bengaluru, he explained. Bengaluru recorded 36°C on March 6, the officer said. “It [36°C] was not the highest. There were occasions when temperatures went up to 37.3°C in March 1986, but that happened towards the end of the month. We still have 24 days to go this March,” Prasad pointed out.

Country’s IT capital high and dry

Bengaluru’s acute water shortage is slowing production at its garment factories, doubling restaurant water bills and forcing managers at some global firms in “India’s Silicon Valley” to accommodate unusual employee demands. The city is home to about 14 million people, thousands of start-ups, and international firms from Walmart to Alphabet’s Google. “My team is skipping meetings to chase water tankers,” a senior employee at Dell said on condition of anonymity, lamenting the hit to productivity.

The shortage, caused by weak southwest monsoon rains that failed to replenish depleted groundwater and the Cauvery River basin reservoirs, has already forced residents to ration water use and pay almost double the usual price to meet their daily needs. “This is just the beginning of summer, we don’t know how it is going to turn out,” said Chethan Hegde, head of the Bengaluru arm of the National Restaurants Association of India. Some restaurants are considering using disposable plates to save on washing up, while others are putting up advisories in restrooms and training staff on how to operate with less water.

Larger companies are changing tack too. Microsoft is using tap aerators to control water flow and recycling water in the washrooms at its office in Bagmane Constellation Business Park, an employee said, citing a memo sent to workers. Walmart, which implemented similar water conservation measures well before the crisis, said it was also encouraging landlords to use recycled water for landscaping and gardening. Some employees who live in water-scarce areas prefer to work in the office, a senior Accenture employee said. Microsoft, Dell, and Accenture did not respond to requests seeking comment.

The crisis has reached Bengaluru’s factories too. “Manufacturers cannot afford to stall production, they are trying their best to go on, but work has slowed down,” South India Garment Association President Anurag Singhla said.

Tensions rise

The situation worsened this week when some providers of water tanks—which the city relies on when river and groundwater levels are too low—went on strike after the State government moved to regulate them.

Dealers hiked prices for a 12,000-litre tanker of water to as much as Rs.2,000 in February, from Rs.1,200 in January. The city has capped the price of such tankers commissioned by the government at Rs.1,200 per unit, according to a March 6 order. The government has also allocated Rs.556 crore to deal with the water shortage but some industry captains are not very hopeful. “(The water board) had promised us treated water, but we don’t expect to get that until next year,” Peenya Industries Association President H.M. Arif said. “Already, micro industries are on oxygen and higher costs will lead to losses and they will have to be closed if the situation continues.”

Potable water management

The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) as well as the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike are under pressure to provide water to people. A BWSSB official said the situation is grim because the Krishnaraja Sagar Dam in Mandya district from where Cauvery water is supplied to Bengaluru does not have adequate water due to summer.

In the public interest, under Sections 33 and 34 of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Act 1964, the BWSSB issued an order on March 7 prohibiting the usage of potable water in the city of Bengaluru for cleaning vehicles, construction of buildings and roads, for entertainment purposes or decorations like fountains. Noting that the supply of drinking water to all is essential, the BWSSB said at present, temperature is rising in the city every day and the groundwater level has decreased due to lack of rains in recent days. So, it is necessary to prevent the wastage of water in the city of Bengaluru. It has been made necessary for the public to use drinking water sparingly, it said.

Malls and cinema halls are permitted to use water only for drinking. “In case of violation of prohibitory order, a fine of Rs.5,000 will be applicable for the first time offence and recurrence of this violation will result in a fine of Rs.5,000 with an additional penalty of Rs.500 per day,” it stated. The public has been urged to use water judiciously and immediately inform the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board’s call centre 1916 if anyone is found violating the prohibitory order.

Government measures

One can gauge the grim situation from the fact that water tankers were seen inside Siddaramaiah’s office residence on Kumarakrupa Road in Bengaluru. D.K. Shivakumar said the borewell in his house in Sadashivanagar has gone dry for the first time. This happened even though Sadashivanagar is located next to Sankey Lake.

“We had called the principal secretaries and deputy commissioners and directed them that there should not be any drinking water crisis. We will give as much money as possible to provide drinking water. The deputy commissioners of the districts have a fund of Rs.854 crore of which Rs.130 crore is with the tahsildars,” Siddaramaiah said.

Also Read | Where are Bengaluru’s lakes?

The task forces at taluk level will ensure drinking water, fodder for cattle, and jobs for people there. Till now, these task forces have convened 646 meetings at Taluk level, Siddaramaiah said, adding that 20 drought management authorities in the State had 307 meetings till now. The Chief Minister said there is a drinking water crisis in about 412 Panchayats in 98 taluks and water is being supplied through 204 water tankers in 175 villages. In 500 gram panchayats, water is being supplied through 596 private borewells. In Bengaluru city, 120 municipal tankers and 232 water board tankers are supplying water.

Siddaramaiah said local administration will take control over private borewells and agreements will be made with them and money will be paid accordingly. He also said Rs.70 crore has been released to drill new borewells with the permission of Deputy Commissioners and zilla panchayat chief executive officers. An instant relief amount of Rs.2,000 has been paid to each of the 33.25 lakh farmers, which has cost the State government Rs.631 crore, he said.

(With inputs from PTI and Reuters)

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


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