I am currently in Bangalore, India to learn about the city’s water politics. It is currently the dry season; the city is water stressed and people are waiting for rain. But in the monsoon season, heavy rainfall brings flooding. The city is therefore characterized by a contradiction, suffering from both too little and too much water at various points in the year. In this way, it faces a similar situation as Jakarta, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, as well as many other Indian cities.
Yesterday afternoon, I attended a protest at Puttennachetty town hall, with researcher and Indian institute of Human Settlements fellow Sachin Rathod. Thirty or so activists and environmentalists gathered on the town hall steps to demonstrate against the Karnakata government’s plan to divert water from the Sharavati river stored in Linganamakki reservoir in Sharavati Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, in order to provide an additional and much needed water supply for Bangalore and its residents. Environmentalists and residents have argued that the water level of the reservoir is already low; indeed, data from the Karnakartha Disaster Monitoring Center show it to be at 19% of its full capacity as of July 10 of this year. Additionally, the district of Shivamogga itse;f, located about 10 km east of the Linganamakki reservoir, is thought to be in water crisis, after several consecutive years of drought conditions led to crop failures and drinking water shortages. Residents living on the outskirts of Shivamogga city have at times only received water every other day.
Sitting beneath a banner that read “Save the Sharavati”, people wrote postcards to be sent to the Karnakata government with various phrases contesting the project and its potential to cause environmental damage. These protestors are Bangalore residents themselves, having migrated to the city for greater economic opportunities, but are originally from towns and cities north of the city in the Sharavati Valley and river basin, including Shivamogga and Thirthahalli. They held signs with phrases such as “stop Sharavati diversion / it will cause eco destruction”, “planet before profit”, “no more projects like Yettinahole which killed Netravahti / we won’t allow it to happen”, “we can’t bear further atrocities”. One protestor arrived a little later with a brick taped to his head, holding a bag filled with water and impaled with nails. He caused a stir as he squeezed the bag so that the water came sloshing out onto the steps of the town hall.
The protest was centered around two ideas: first, that Bangalore cannot consume all available resources in its hinterlands (protestors describe the city as a “monstroCITY”, and their press release contests the treatment of coastal and highland areas as the city’s ‘colonies’); second, these activist groups argue that alternatives to water provision, such was rainwater harvesting, should be pursued rather than large-scale projects. The press release references a study by senior scientist TV Ramachandra, at the Indian Institute of Science.
I spoke with one activist from Thirthahalli, a community located south-east of the Sharavati Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. He described the diversion project as “unscientific” because it requires bringing water from the lower-elevation river valley to the city which sits at 2800 feet above sea level. He also said that they were concerned not only for human consumption and use of water, but also for the right to life of animals, such as the endangered lion tail Macaque who find refuge in one of their last remaining natural habitats: the Sharavati Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. Established in 1972 as a protected sanctuary, its 431 square kilometres of evergreen and semi-evergreen forests which harbor rich biodiversity.
My first impression, having only arrived in Bengaluru two days ago, is that environmental activism is more visible here than in Jakarta, a city I am far more familiar with. In Indonesia, Suharto stifled any form of grassroots organizing or protest and, while civil society has been able to flourish since the collapse of the New Order in 1998, it has not enjoyed much time to develop. India, meanwhile, has a rich history of environmentalism and a well-developed civil society.
Over the next few weeks, I will be exploring the politics of water in the city, meeting with activists, experts and residents. Following a period of fieldwork in Jakarta last month, I have several questions that I want to explore: Why are land and property prices unaffected by water crises? How do developers secure water resources for new properties and projects? What are the social and ecological costs as wetlands, and green space are converted to real estate developments? I’m excited to see the ways in which these questions may (or may not!) be relevant here, and what further questions my brief encounter with this city raises.