Manu Vaddar, a traditional community of well-diggers can recharge Bengaluru’s groundwater level. However, the lack of awareness about their techniques is slowing down the process.
Every drop counts for Farzana Sheikh, a resident of Bengaluru’s Kempapura Slum and her neighbours. The slum with around 100 families of migrant workers get water through water tankers after a wait of 7-15 days. Farzana said, “We give the contractor Rs.300/- per month but we get only three drums of water for our family of four members.” She recalled days in which they didn’t have water to take bath, cook or feed their children. “People start quarrelling and fighting here due to lack of water,” she added. The slum is situated near a well. However, it is in vain as it is covered with garbage and the water level is very low.
Bengaluru is Asia’s one of the fast-growing cities but it has no major water resources. It is now amidst a water crisis. In 2018, Niti Ayog warned that the city will run out of its groundwater by 2020. Even though that didn’t happen the rapid urbanisation and swelling of the population are leaving less space for the water to sustain. A media report said that despite 990 millimetres of average rainfall in 2021, the groundwater level of Bengaluru dropped by 4 metres.
According to the Borgen Project, “Bangalore’s residents receive water from bore wells, which extend over 200 feet into the ground. However, bore wells refill with water very slowly, so overuse of a well renders it useless for years.” In 2015, Biome Environmental Solution introduced “Improving water availability and sustainability by reviving traditional water systems in Bengaluru program” and launched the “Million wells for Bengaluru campaign”. The campaign primarily assembled Manu Vaddars, a community of traditional well diggers to dig million recharge wells to improve the groundwater level of Bengaluru. Around 750 Manu Vaddar families are living in and around Bengaluru. Together, they can dig up to 1,000 wells per day.
The campaign calculates the capacity of the million recharge wells to provide the city with around 3000 million litres of water on a daily basis with respective to 990 millimetres of annual average rainfall in the city. However, there is a lack of awareness about these techniques. Thus, the community struggles to get work. Muniyappa, a well-digger from the community said, “Some days we have money. Some days we don’t.” He also added that the community is going through a huge loss. The young members are least interested to learn about the traditional well-digging technique. They found it time-consuming and less profitable.
To bridge the gap between the community and the public Biome Environmental Trust has created a website called bengaluru.urbanwaters.in. They have put the contact information of around 70 well-diggers from the Manu Vaddar community. The digitalisation of the community accessibility helped people to recharge groundwater levels of places like Cubbon Park, Indian Institute of Management, Rail Wheel Factory, Peenya Industrial Area as well as other residential areas. Vishwanath Srikanteiah, the Rainman of Bengaluru and member of Biome Environmental Solution said, “The mannu vaddars have dug 200 thousand recharge wells out of the million recharge wells. It will take another 5-6 years to reach our goal.”
In a similar instance, Rajasthan’s Dudhiya village was also a part of a massive water crisis. However, 38 women from the villages opted for their traditional Beri well-digging technique. Now, they have 13 acres of the catchment area that fills their 1 km long water canal. Earlier, the village use to run out of water after 1.5 or 2 months from the rainy season. Now they can store water for up to six months for their basic needs. The deserted village is now a sustainable water warrior.
Groundwater is the most preferred source of water in India with almost 80 percent of its rural population dependent on it. Expert believes that sustainable use of the water can help the democratic source of water (groundwater) live long. These traditional methods and technical use of natural resources like rain can be the alternative for reducing the water crisis in the country. “Appo Rakshati Rakshita, those who take care of water, water will take care of them,” added Vishwanath.
This documentary is based on the modern, comfortable paradoxical life that we live. Amidst the water accessibility crisis and urban flooding, we are turning our faces away from sustainable solution. Economically stable people buy water and it doesn’t affect much on their pockets but the others have a different story. For example most of the slums are situated near a well, or lakes and even stormwater drains. However, the garbage-covered water bodies and low, unreachable groundwater levels cannot be used by people living in the slum. Thus, they have to pay a major amount of their earnings to get water. When I explained to them about the Manu Vaddar community, they seemed surprised. An elderly man said, “Kuan saaf kar le toh pani bhi milega, paisa bhi bachega.” i.e., “If water will be cleaned, we will get water and will save money.” His words made me wonder about the gap between tradition, technology, and time. I hope my report makes a small but significant effort bridge this void. Because we all need access to natural resources to call ourselves efficient and modern.