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Bengaluru’s Water Crisis and Lessons for India

GS3/GS1 Paper 

 Syllabus: Environment Pollution and Conservation/ Water Resources


Source: TOI

 Context: Bengaluru faces a looming water crisis, prompting concerns of a potential Day Zero scenario akin to Cape Town.



  1. As per the Report, 223 of the 236 talukas in Karnataka are affected by drought, including Mandya and Mysuru districts, the sources of Bengaluru’s water.
  2. A BBC report highlighted Bengaluru as one of the cities likely to run out of drinking water, second only to Sao Paulo, Brazil, by 2031


What is Day Zero?

Day Zero is a term used to describe the day when a city’s municipal water supply is expected to be depleted entirely, forcing authorities to shut down water connections for homes and businesses.


Reasons Behind Bengaluru’s Severe Water Scarcity:

Reduced Rainfall and Empty Water ReservoirsInsufficient rainfall affects the Cauvery River. Water levels in reservoirs like Harangi, Hemavathi, and Kabini at 39% capacity
Depletion of Groundwater SourcesUrban growth leads to reduced groundwater recharge. Excessive extraction causes rapid depletion, and many borewells dry up
Inadequate InfrastructureInfrastructure lagging behind urban growth. Completion of Phase-5 of the Cauvery project is expected only by May 2024 for improved water supply
Climate ChangeErratic rainfall and prolonged droughts due to climate change. El Niño phenomenon cited as a cause by the Indian Meteorological Department
Pollution of Water BodiesAbout 85% of Bengaluru’s water bodies polluted, per an EMPRI study
Mismanagement and Inequitable DistributionInefficient water management practices exacerbating the crisis
Legal and Political ChallengesDisputes over water sharing with neighbouring states, complicate resource management. Tussles between central and state governments affecting relief efforts


India’s Status:

India is endowed with rich water resources:

  • India has 4% of the world’s water resources
  • India has 1123 billion cubic metres of surface and groundwater resources.
  • Rainfall: According to the Central Water Commission, India receives 4,000 billion cubic metres in rainfall, which is higher than its requirement.
  • However, in 2023, around 91 million Indians will not have access to safe water. This data indicates the massive water shortage in India.


Despite being endowed with water resources, India faces a water crisis due to the following reasons:

  • Uneven Rainfall: Uneven distribution of rainfall with around 70% of India’s rainfall being confined to 3-4 months. And there is regional variability with some regions having very high rainfall while others suffer from scarcity.
  • River basins: Uneven flow of water in different river basins. For instance, the surplus in the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin but the deficit in seasonal rivers in Indian peninsular regions.
  • Inadequate rainfall: According to data released by the India Meteorological Department, the South-West monsoon during June- August 2023 has been below normal in 42 per cent of the districts.
  • Groundwater overuse: According to the Stockholm International Water Institute, with farmers providing electricity subsidies to help power the groundwater pumping, the water table has seen a drop of up to 4 meters in some parts of the country.
  • Water pollution: The Central Pollution Control Board reported that of the 603 rivers assessed, there are 311 Polluted stretches in 279 rivers in 30 States & Union Territories.
  • Climate change: Changing rainfall patterns, increase in the frequency of droughts have affected water availability in various regions. Eg: El Nino episodes are becoming more frequent
  • Agriculture policies and practices: Fertilizer subsidies, free electricity, price support for water-intensive crops and practices like flood irrigation.


The role of caste exacerbates water access challenges in India:

  1. Violence and discrimination: Dalit students face violence for accessing water, such as the case of Indra Meghwal beaten to death in Rajasthan.
  2. Purity and pollution: Dalits often face untouchability in accessing safe drinking water, with over 20% lacking access, according to the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.
  3. Intersectional water justice: Water access is intertwined with caste, class, and gender, perpetuating structural inequalities, as seen in the disparity between water allocation in Delhi’s army cantonments and its unauthorised colonies.
  4. Modulates human-water interactions: The caste structure influences human impact on the hydrological cycle, as illustrated by the correlation between caste hierarchy and topographic maps in Indian towns.
  5. Limited representation in decision-making: Upper-caste dominance in Indian environmental studies results in little understanding of how lower castes experience water and the environment.


Key Government Schemes To Tackle The Groundwater Crisis in India:

  1. MGNREGA: Supports water conservation through rural employment.
  2. Jal Kranti Abhiyan: Raises awareness on water conservation.
  3. National Water Mission: Promotes sustainable water management.
  4. Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABHY): Improves groundwater management.
  5. Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM): Aims to provide tap water to rural households.
  6. National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG): Addresses Ganga basin groundwater issues.


Steps to Address the Water Crisis in India:

  1. Inclusive Water Governance: Inclusive representation in local water management committees and decision-making bodies to ensure that the voices of all castes are heard.
  2. Interlinking of Rivers: Connect surplus rivers to deficient regions.
  3. Promote Water Conservation: Encourage rainwater harvesting and efficient irrigation.
  4. Invest in Infrastructure: Allocate funds for water projects and explore financing options.
  5. Promote Sustainable Agriculture: Support water-efficient farming practices.
  6. Address Pollution: Enforce regulations to combat industrial and agricultural pollution.
  7. Adopt One Water Approach: Manage water sources sustainably and inclusively.
  8. Legal measures: Strengthen and enforce laws that prohibit discrimination based on caste in accessing water resources. g.: SC/ST PoA,1989.
  9. Community-based water management: Empower local communities to collectively address water access challenges by actively involving members from all castes.
  10. Awareness generation: Conduct educational programs to raise awareness about the importance of equitable water access. Challenge stereotypes and prejudices that contribute to discriminatory practices.


To learn about Traditional Methods of water conservation in India: Click Here



India, despite its water surplus, grapples with a water crisis, highlighting the need for improved water resource management. The key lies in credible data collection to understand water demand across various sectors like agriculture, domestic, and industrial use. Prioritizing water distribution among these sectors is crucial. Embracing the principles of reduce-recycle-reuse and promoting water conservation methods are vital steps. Furthermore, there’s a need for the convergence of laws, schemes, and agencies to ensure optimal utilization of water resources.


Insta Links:


Mains Links: 

How and to what extent would micro-irrigation help in solving India’s water crisis? (UPSC 2021)

What is water stress? How and why does it differ regionally in India? (UPSC 2019)


Prelims Links:

What are the benefits of implementing the ‘Integrated Watershed Development Programme’? (UPSC 2014)

  1. Prevention of soil runoff
  2. Linking the country’s perennial rivers with seasonal rivers
  3. Rainwater harvesting and recharge of groundwater table
  4. Regeneration of natural vegetation


Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 2, 3 and 4 only
(c) 1, 3 and 4 only
(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4


Ans: C