by Sameer Majali
We buried the wisdom of the ancient and are quite literally paying for it. Come summer and the hectic race for providing for “the liquid of life” begins. Belgaum has always been a place where they say “the water tastes good” but now-a-days one needs to supplement the saying by “provided it is available”. About three decades ago, the water table in most areas was at a reasonable depth. In once deemed extension areas like Bhagyanagar, the situation was such that when one dug a hole to plant a coconut or a mango tree, water, which was plentiful, would fill up the holes. It was a case of dwellings built in areas that were once agricultural and hence the luxury of free and abundant water was but a part of life.
Things changed, more people moved in and the demand for water quite literally shot sky high. The task of digging wells became a competitive affair and people quite literally used to steal water from the neighbor’s well by digging a few feet deeper. This did no good to the water table but there seemed to be no immediate crisis emerging and hence it was convenient to turn a blind eye towards the issue.
Even the city area was characterized by the presence of public wells that were quite well maintained and frequented by people around. People with private-ownership wells were also kind enough to open up their water resource for those living in and around their streets. After all, tradition claims that sharing water is the duty of any decent citizen. The common belief was that the one, who shares water, never faces a scarcity of anything, ever, in life.
Over the years, an intricate network of pipelines was laid to provide for the needs of the residents of the city. Public water supply was adequately organized and did justice to its investment.
Thanks to the wells and the rich tasting water in the city owing to the presence of red soil in loam and rock form, it took water sellers a long time to establish themselves in the Belgaum market. The city for quite some time looked upon bottled water as an item of luxurious indulgence. Bottled water had to be labeled mineral water and it was just for the palate of the affluent and over-health-conscious.
Progress of the modern kind, brought more people in; affluence and commercial concern assumed greater priority and “Real estate” soon began to rule the roost of decision making. The larger wells were quite literally shut down and buried to make way for large residential buildings and commercial establishments. Soon, pipelines were the only source of water and one was left to the whims and effectiveness of the water supply department to provide for the fluid needs.
With the passing of three decades, a great deal has changed. The personal-wells have given way to bore wells with the water table having receded to greater depths. Most do not share water and neighbor requests for the same are considered a nuisance. The soaring temperatures do not help the cause and companies selling bottled water, no longer need the label of mineral water to sell their wares.
Certain areas of the city are already under the “24-Hour Water Supply” but the tariff seeking to match the extensiveness of the service often implies that many families still find the service pretty steep in terms of what they have to shell out at the end of the month.
Water to the city is provided by two sources; the Rakaskoppa reservoir and the channel that draws water from the Hidkal Dam. While the water supply from the dam spends its time balancing between the demands of the rural and urban consumers, the Rakaskoppa reservoir has reduced in storage depth owing to the accumulation of silt over the ages. The Municipal Corporation has never been able to get the de-silting operation underway owing to dispute over the financial of the matter. There are huge differences even over who takes possession of the silt that would be harvested in the de-silting operation. It’s been a tale of political and operational apathy and has not helped provide any relief to the rising water-needs of the population.
Off late, there has been some talk and even some progress in context of operations to revive and almost exhume the larger public wells in the city. The issue of stupidity is the question of “Why did they permit the burial of water in the first place?” With talks and acts of setting right the wrong doings of the past, things will take turn for the better and maybe we will see a few new meeting spots emerge in the form of these glorious “Wells of the past”.
The need of the hour is to add sense to both the provisional methodology and the consumption habits. We need to focus on both, providing for and preserving the rich and sweet tasting water resource that we continue to possess despite the climatic changes.
It sure is time for sense and wisdom to take a more solid form and cease to be as watery as it seems today.