Episode Number 247 / February 27, 2024

Bangalore Water Crisis Explained I Karnataka Govt Failure? I The Neon Show

1 Hour 37 minutes

Episode Number 247 / February 27, 2024

Bangalore Water Crisis Explained I Karnataka Govt Failure? I The Neon Show

1 Hour 37 minutes
Listen on

About the Episode

This week’s episode is a case study that explains the Bangalore water crisis and why water may be the cause for WW3 taking place as we welcome water activist Vishwanath Srikantaiah to the Neon Show!

Will WW3 Happen Because Of Water Scarcity?

Has The Karnataka Government FAILED Bangalore?

Why Metropolitan Cities In India Are Unliveable!

“The TRAGIC Reality About India Is…”

All these EXPLOSIVE topics and more in this BRUTALLY HONEST conversation about India’s long standing relationship with water. A deep dive into how water may lead to the waging of the next big war in the world as well as a special focus on Karnataka & Bangalore’s struggles with water… Tune in NOW!

Watch all other episodes on The Neon Podcast – Neon

Or view it on our YouTube Channel at The Neon Show – YouTube

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:00

It’s said that, ‘Whenever the next large war happens, it will happen over water’.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 00:06

Throughout the world pipe water supply is 24/7, when you open the tap, it should be giving you water directly and it should be potable water right. This is the basic minimum service that an institution should give you. Otherwise, what do we do? We build some tanks, we put pumps there, we build an ordered tank and in our homes we have an RO system or a UV system or a water filter. All these costs are borne by us as individuals because the state fails to deliver good clean water in our taps.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:33

Why is Brahmaputra such an important resource to China?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 00:37

At the current rate, we go as you see with air pollution with solid waste management with our traffic and transportation and now with pollution with our water scarcity and water body, we are quickly reaching on livability—


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:49

Next 20 years?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 00:50

Even in five years, it will become unlivable. We Indians also don’t demand from our institutions. If you ask an Indian How many days do you want water in a week? Two days is good enough. How many hours in those two days? Four hours is good enough. We’ve got into, ‘It happens’ attitude. We are happy and satisfied with the bare minimum because we’re in such a lousy situation. Metro stations never had toilets, so we went to the Metro Pacific Light Rail Corporation group and said, there should be a toilet, then the MD said that I’m not a Sulabh Shauchalaya person, I’m a metro person. So it took three years of persuasion before toilets came up in metro stations. Every building, every apartment, every institution should be doing rain water harvesting so we can avoid floods no matter how rich you are. If somebody upstream was leaving the water out, you would drown.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 01:33

Can India LeapFrog to where China’s GDP is or where the US’s GDP is in the next 10 to 20 years.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 01:40

Short answer is no.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 01:46

Hi, this is Siddhartha Ahluwalia, welcome to The Neon Show. Today I have a super special guest with me. He has worked for the last 38 years of his life solving the water crisis in India. I will be Vishwanath Srikantaiah sir on the Neon Show. So glad to have you sir on the podcast.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 02:03

Thank you. And you can just call me Vishwanath. It’ll be a pleasure. And you remind me of my age with 38 years of experience.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 02:08

(Chuckles) I’m super excited, because we get very few opportunities to host people like you who have dedicated their life to such an important issue.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 02:19

But I want to start with a background of, it’s said that whenever the next large war happens, right, it will happen over water because it is such a crucial resource. Few of the last wars globally have happened over oil. And I think the India China war somewhere water had played a key role in that war. Because China wanted the entirety of Arunachal Pradesh, not because they wanted more land, they had all the land in the world, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, they wanted the entire Brahmaputra River. So, I want to start with that.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 02:53

So, let me also start with this very interesting idea that you put forward, put the resource of water in the current situation. We are 3.3 million square kilometres as a landmass. We are also a destiny of geology. 80 to 90 million years back, the Himalayas arose and they created the monsoon winds and we get these rains, which deliver 4000 billion cubic metres annually, right? But these 4000 billion cubic metres fall in four months essentially June, July, August, September right now the challenge for India is that we have to hold these four months of water for the rest of the eight years. That’s the biggest challenge for India. However, in India itself, though, the Himalayas rose up what we now call the Indo-Gangetic Plain, Banaras all the way to Hooghly Kolkata from Delhi sank, and silt from the Himalayas thanks for the monsoon rains was deposited here over 300 million years ago. This is the most fertile place on earth, the indo gangetic plain. This supports a population of 600 million people, the world’s densest population, all this was possible because of the waters that we had and the soil that was there with us, which was very productive soil. That’s the reason why India is the largest populated country in the world. Because our land is very fertile and productive. We have enough water resources. And we have learned over the years to manage this water well. We’ve also learned to give good quality water like people dying, but India has invested the largest sum of money in what’s called the Swachh Bharat Mission in getting clean sanitation. And now the Jal Jeevan Mission to get clean water. Because of clean water and sanitation, our average life in Independence, which was 35 years is now 72 years. We are a very healthy population with a growing population. We are a young population. So we’ve achieved a lot with water. What we are now facing is the ecological limits that have been reached. How do we now manage water with old wisdom but with new technology? That’s the challenge and I think We have solutions. The only thing is how do we go about it?

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 05:04

And let’s talk about one of the largest wars that happened in India, the India China war, right? Why is Brahmaputra such an important resource to China? Right? Are there not any Chinese rivers that flow through China, that they’re focused on one part of land of India that is Arunachal Pradesh—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 05:21

So, we’ve got to also understand, like I spoke to you, China is 9.9 million square kilometres, the USA is roughly the same, India is 3.3 1/3 the size, but when you come to arable land, that’s the land that can be cultivated India is actually in the same position as the US and China. So we are blessed with a lot of fertile land, unlike China, where only the eastern part of China is productive, the western part is essentially desert and the southern part is cold desert, right. And so for them the resources to be completed for and a growing economy like India, or China has demands a lot of water. If the economic growth is seven and a half percent GDP, water consumption also increases at seven and a half percent. That then causes the conflict. But there are other territorial ambitions that China has crashed. It’s cause for discussion in an external affairs argument. However, rest assured that if we are able to manage the Brahmaputra with faults within India, we will not lose much water to the Chinese dreams of building dams because roughly 80% of the water that flows in the Brahmaputra actually is rainfall, which falls on the tributaries of the Brahmaputra.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 06:37

And one of the reasons that has been highlighted historically is of the entire Brahmaputra right It originates in China, but 70% of it flows through India and 30% is only in China.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 06:48

Correct. So it’s starts in the in Tibet and it starts in the Manasarovar area where the Ganges also starts, Ganga starts Yamuna starts, Brahmaputra, Mekong River all of these rivers start there in Tibet, what is Tibet, and it flows and then it comes to India. But if we are able to internally manage our waters, well, we should not face a threat. We have to protect our land integrity to protect our borders, no doubt about that. But we need not obsessively worry about the control that China will exert on us if we do our job right. We are good.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 07:22

In the 1950s and 60s, India signed a treaty with Pakistan. Where India got between the Indian waters, the rivers that flow between the Indo Pakistan region, only the three rivers were given to India, the rest of the water flowed to Pakistan. And any insight around right what happened during that time?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 07:41

So water is to be shared. The industry is given as an example globally as to how two countries can go to war three times yet be in a position to share the waters. Yes, we were given three of the five Punjab, the five rivers which flows for Punjab, three was with India, the two was with Pakistan. But we’ve done a reasonably good job with the waters that we’ve collected and we have managed and the upstream downstream angle of conflict will always be there. It’s between India and Pakistan, but it’s also within India, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is a classic case with Cauvery where we disagree with water. However, our statesmanship and our ability to be concerned about humanity as a whole comes from looking at the entire river basin and sharing the waters rather than trying to see that we capture it. So the Indus Water Treaty incubated by the World Bank is a model globally and we should be proud of the model that we are able to stand up to those values that India always shows to the rest of the world what we stand for.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 08:47

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam(Sanskrit Word)—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 08:49

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, but also concerned for humanity, absolutely. Right.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 08:53

Yeah. So now you mentioned Cauvery Waters, one of my favourite topics because I migrated to Bangalore with my family five years ago, I was living in the Whitefield part of it. And every day I saw five tankers coming, it piqued my curiosity. And someday when there was zero water in the society, it was said that this was happening because of the Cauvery water crisis. I read about it, but could never fully understand it. If you can go back to history, right? Why is this conflict of Cauvery water? How did this happen? And what are we doing to solve it?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 09:27

So, as in any river basin, in the Cauvery river basin, it’s the Delta area of the river, which is the most fertile. We learn about it in our fifth and sixth geography classes right. So obviously, the Delta portion of the Cauvery is Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, which is the rice bowl of India. If Punjab is the wheat bowl of India, then the Thanjavur belt is the rice bowl of India. For a long time the people of Tamil Nadu cultivated two crops of rice. With the introduction of the Green Revolution they started to cultivate the third crop at a price that was to bring food directly to the country as a whole. So that was the outlook and the more crops you grow, the more stomachs you’re able to fill. And that’s the reason it is. But at the same time, Bangalore as a city started to develop in the 70s, 80s. And actually in the 90s. Now, water had to be transferred from agriculture to urban areas and two industrial areas. But the river water was already fully utilised. In eight to nine out of 10 years, the water does not even reach the seeds at what is called a closed space. And so the dispute started off with the first right to water which is called the right of prior appropriation, or the new right to water, when the new right is coming up. Right. So there are two principles globally. One is called the hormones doctrine, which is the Secretary of State in the United States who put this principle saying that all rain that falls on my land belongs to me. And then there’s a law of prior appropriation saying that I have been using the water historically. So therefore, I have established a right to it. Between these two lies what’s called the Helsinki principle or the Helsinki doctrine, which means that there is some respect for prior appropriation, but there’s also a respect for the new use that has to come up and that sharing has to happen. Unfortunately, because the river basin is broken into administrative boundaries, which are based on linguistics, we tend to not go to war but disagree with each other vehemently and vigorously. And that’s because of the new emerging water demand, which is coming from cities like Bangalore and places in Karnataka which need irrigation water and Tamil Nadu fears that it’s going to lose out on water.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 11:34

And one of our very interesting conversations was that it was either not Karnataka, Tamil Nadu right now, it was when British partition India it was Madras residency, and then the Indian government had to linguistically separate the states. But I think the thought was not that how will the resources get shared among the state?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 11:54

Yes, so the grievance that Karnataka had during a time when the British were dominating the Madras Presidency, they did not allow the construction of dams in the then old Mysore state. The KRS(KrishnaRajaSagara) dam, which is the pride for Karnataka took years before it was allowed to be built and it was allowed to be built at the same time as Mettur Dam which has doubled the size of KRS right. And so Tamil Nadu has been seen to be appropriating more of the waters because of the powers they have. But if you go to Tamil Nadu, and I’m a Kannadiga, then I also see the world view from the Tamil lens. And it’s not good to be divided on linguistic or state basis, because we are Indians first, and then we are Kannadigas or Tamilians. If we keep that worldview, one can understand the fear that comes from losing out on something which is a tradition and culture if I’ve been using water to grow rice. And if somebody upstream now starts to take away the water, I fear whether I will be able to grow rice. So we have to be sympathetic to both the States and especially the farmers of both the states and see what we can do to share the water judiciously. I’ll give you just one more example on this particular lens which we have not seen so far. For example, Bangalore, demand on water is about 1450 million litres per day from the Cauvery. Right. And this is seen as the city is taking away the water from farmers. However, Bangalore only takes 6.66% of Karnataka location of Cauvery waters and supports roughly 50% of Karnataka population in the Cauvery basin. It also generates 70% of the GDP of the state. This 1450 million litres which comes from the Cauvery generate 70% of the GDP of the state GDP of Bangalore is estimated as three $350 billion. Imagine that’s the kind of money which goes as GST tax and which supports all sorts of social infrastructure services, schools, hospitals, colleges, roads, everything is supported by this. Actually 1450 million litres came in the river water right. Then Bangalore does something remarkable. It takes this treated water which we have consumed in our houses into sewage treatment plants, treats it and sends it to Kolar and Chikkaballapur, surrounding districts which are drought prone and climate change affected and fills 200 Lakes, which means that the groundwater table comes up and farmers have assured water, groundwater tables inKolar and Chikkaballapur plummeted 1800 feet now there are 20 feet 30 feet in some places open wells have water, farmers have livelihood security. In turn, the city has food security because if the farmer grows food, it comes back to the city and the city has food security. So what the Cauvery water has done is make a pit stop in Bangalore for 12 hours and then go on to the farmer’s field. So Bangalore is not consuming any water at all. And when all the projects are done with all the treated wastewater will go to these surrounding districts it will be the world’s second largest project of its kind, next only to that of Mexico City. So therefore we have to see multiple uses of water. We have to see urban and agricultural uses combined together. And that ecology and environment is regenerated when the lakes are full birds come flocking back, biodiversity increases, livelihoods are created. All this is possible And we are showing the way. Now if more and more cities and towns along the Cauvery do this as an example, I don’t think that we should be fighting unnecessarily over the water solutions there. We need some pragmatic politics to be able to push that solution.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 15:14

Can you go back to the history of Bangalore right? There’s a very interesting anecdote that you told that how was Banglore found through volcanic eruptions—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 15:21

So there’s also a geology to Bangalore’s history as much as there is to India with the Himalayas growing up. Here the volcanic action resulted in the Plateau coming up to 920 metres above sea level, where you can go to Lalbagh Botanical Garden and see the rocks which are 3600 million years old, one of the oldest rocks in India is in Bangalore. This upheaval, which took us to 920 metres, gave us the beautiful climate that we have in the rainfall pattern that we have. So we have eight months of rain, 63 days of rain, 970 millimetres of rain, all that because we are at this altitude which geology gave us but when geology pushes you up, it also pushes you away from the river. So therefore every drop of water that we need, has now to come up 100 kilometres and 300 metres up right making one of Asia’s costliest water. The old Bangalore did not need a river. It depended on the local tanks, as we call them, the lakes that were there and the wells, the tanks filled the earth and the wells water was used, which was filtered and people used that water. But in 1874′, 75′, and 76′, we had three continuous years of drought. In those years of drought, the lakes dried up, the wells dried up, about a lakh people died in Bangalore. In the old Mysore presidency, people came here in search of water and food, and people died. The government then decided never again. Never again will people die for scarcity of water and scarcity of food. So therefore, the first project was taken up to bring water from the Arkavathi River, which is a tributary of the Cauvery from Hesaraghatta Lake, and bring it to the city using steam engines, wood fired steam engines, as early as 1896. Since then, our dependency on local water bodies has stopped. We depend on rivers, because of the memory of the drought and famine, and we’ve paid scant attention to the tanks and lakes. Now we are revisiting them because we now understand that both local waters and outside waters have to combine together. And we have to depend on the local waters too, as much as the outside waters.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 17:16

And what has been the history of the lake that you mentioned earlier that there were 1000 lakes and Bangalore correct.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 17:21

So the lakes themselves have 1200 year old history which is there in inscription stones and most of the lakes are garden granite, which dates the lakes. So Hebbal for example, is dated to 8028. Halasuru is dated to somewhere around that time 9080. So 1000, 1200 years back out ancient forefathers through earthen dams across valleys and held back the water flows. And this water was then there for the rest of the six months to grow crops essentially, but also to fill aquifers and wells and to protect the water. These were cascading sets of water bodies because the water flows into the Valley in one direction. And we created this tank ecosystem which is a wonderful cultural heritage we have which is a water heritage we have but their primary purpose was irrigation. The moment a city comes in, what happens is a city generates wastewater. Now the same wastewater or sewage goes into these tanks, and then the tanks become smelly mosquito breeding and people themselves say no, we don’t want this to take it away. Anyway, our drinking water is coming from pipes from far away. So the tanks are lost. Malaria was one reason why we lost a lot of tanks. Now we are realising that we can revive these tanks and wetlands so they can be made disease free and with fresh water. And they can be a source of not only recreation, but also biodiversity and functionality for the city. So we are revisiting those times—


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 18:47

And how many lakes have we lost?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 18:50

We’ve lost a lot of lakes what we now have are about 210 tanks in Bangalore, we must have lost about 800 tanks and lakes—


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 18:57

And what are the reasons for losing?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 18:58

So the reason as I prescribed to you the primary purpose why the tank was built was agriculture, was to grow rice. Once the rice was no longer needed and real estate prices shot up. If a square feet of land is 4000 rupees a square foot or 10,000 rupees a square foot, would you leave it as water or would you want to sell it by building an apartment. So greed, urbanisation, the destruction of water quality, the coming of diseases such as plague and malaria and cholera. All this combination resulted in the tanks being filled up and urbanisation coming up. So there’s no villain in this, there is only an incremental sadness to the approach that we have taken in destroying what is heritage, but it’s good that we realised it now and we are trying to recover it.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 19:45

And so one of our very famous bus stops in Bangalore right, I think it’s Malleshwara or Shanti Nagar bus stops. It is said that it was a water body.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 19:55

That’s the Majestic bus stop the largest bus stop in front of the station was Dharmambudhi the largest water body that was there. But again, that water body would dry up during the drought seasons or during bad years of rain and it had become a swamp and a messy place. And so they filled it up and built a bus stand. Now, we would not have done it. But with the knowledge that we had in the 60s and 70s. We did that. And not only that the stadium that we have was Kempambudhi Kere, which was one of the most beautiful lakes that the indoor stadium that we working on next to Mallya Hospital. So like that many of the stadium, many of the tanks or become bus stands hockey stadiums or athletic stadiums and so on, so forth.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 20:39

And in the last 20 years, because of political reasons, or governance reasons, many of these lakes got acquired by builders for cheap, they filled it up with what I’ve heard in folklore, they filled it up with sand, drained the water, and now they build buildings. That has been really true?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 21:01

Not only did the private builders do this, but also the BDA itself Government organisation filled up lakes and built layouts and apartments on it. It came from a sense of finding no purpose for the attack and seeing it as only a bad water body and therefore to convert it to land. Now we realise that it’s very important for flood control to recharge groundwater. India is now trying to retrieve it.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 21:24

Ulsoor Lake is one of the most famous lakes in Bangalore. This one’s a story that Café Coffee Day wanted to build in the centre of Ulsoor lake a CCD centre so that they could transport people(Inaudible) it’s the military that intervene that because part of the lake is controlled by—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 21:39

So here’s the thing, if you want to protect the lake, you need an institution which has money to be able to do that production, it cannot happen on its own. So we created something called the lake Development Authority, thanks to a high court ruling which took a lot of activists to court, but we did not give them any financial budgets. Now, the only way they can raise budgets is through what is called a PPP model of public private participation. And that private participation will only come in if there’s some profit in it and some money flows the right financial flow. So what was imagined in Hebbal Lake was that the Tatas would put up a hotel and then Ulsoor lake it was Café Coffee Day, they would put up a restaurant, the only reason being that that’s the only way you can earn money to protect the lake. Now we realise that it’s a government asset. And taxpayer money has to go in to protect the lakes, it should not be private money and lakes are common pool resources where everybody should have access without having to pay a fee, that people should be able to go there like we go to parks or forests and be able to enjoy the lake. So that’s the new thinking that’s coming and we’re working on it. Now.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 22:40

You mentioned a governance failure that happened that led to a current (Inaudible) that is the what’s the history and what has been like what happened really, in governance failure.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 22:51

So, what happens is whenever society faces a problem, it has to create institutions, which can then solve the problem right. So when Bangalore faced water scarcity in the 1960s, it created the Bangalore water supply and sewerage board a utility which had the capability to pump water from a faraway source and bring it to the city and then also be able to set up sewerage networks and sewage treatment plants. Now because the utility was created. It was then followed by the Delhi Jal Board, theChennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board and so on. So other cities built institutions, which knew how to design for water and to design for sewerage networks. So these were all 20th century institutions in the 21st century, which is what we occupy. Water is no longer one of the supply sides. In the 20th century there was water everywhere. You built a dam, you used pumps and you brought it to the city so that’s the skill you need and now demand management, ecological restoration, social justice, these are the angles that which we need to have our institutions with. Just to give you an example, the Bangalore water supply and sewerage board does not have a single hydrogeologist. The city has 500,000 board wells and at least it pumps out 600 million litres per day. But the institution does not have a single hydrogeologist who is able to understand groundwater. So groundwater does not exist for the institution which is supposed to be supplying water to the citizens of Bangalore. So unless institutions are capacitated, they have the right Human Resources skills. And in the case of the river basin, for example, if we have a river basin institution, which understands the river managers, the whole forest managers, the sand manages the catchment so that the river flows continuously and clearly, the river will not be managed and will fight about the waters. We don’t have River Basin institutions. So we need to create the right institutions. And we need to capacitate these institutions with human resources and financial resources to be able to deliver solutions. Otherwise, we’ll be putting a bandaid on chickenpox. What chickenpox needs is a vaccination. You can’t create every post you’ll then be able to find a solution. Right? So governance is at the heart of our water problems. It’s not water, it’s governance. And good management and Good governance means creating the right institutions and equipping the right hands, people in the right institutions who are accountable, but are also capable of delivering solutions.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 25:10

What are the solutions that you and other activists have been proposing to the government to solve these issues?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 25:15

One of the things which urban areas have to do is to take an approach called an integrated urban water management approach. Water is no longer something to be brought in pipes. But you have to look at rainwater and see how Rain water harvesting can make best use of the rain that falls on our head, we have to look at our tanks and lakes, which is our surface water, see how we can create wetlands, increase biodiversity and protect these tanks and lakes surface water bodies, India is a groundwater civilization, we are the world’s largest user of groundwater. As I told you, the city itself has 500,000 borewells and 600 million litres per day. So we’ll have to look at aquifers and groundwater. See how we can recharge the aquifer, see how we can manage the aquifer from pollution, make sure that it’s clean, and then be able to use water or wastewater and convert it to a resource. So the IUWM approach has this principle that all these forms of water have to be governed as one unit, and then you have a solution. But you’re going to govern it separately, like pipe water with the BWSSB lakes, with the BBMP with the groundwater authority, then there’s very little coordination for solutions. Let’s get the IUWM approach. Let’s get the institution to look at it. And let’s involve citizens as part of the solution. Every citizen should be harvesting rain, should be conserving water, and not wasting water, if possible, apartments should have wastewater treatment, plants should recycle water, and everybody should recharge groundwater wherever it’s possible. If that happens, then we don’t have a problem at all.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 26:43

And you mentioned there, the urban architects, they don’t know the historical significance of how water bodies are built. And that is causing a lot of havoc for your earlier videos, you have said that the way the parking has been made in urban areas, right, everything is below the ground.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 27:01

That’s right. So that’s a very important thing that we are now learning like the water below our feet is very important and very precious. That is what fills the wells. But unfortunately, we are doing double triple basement parking, we are destroying the shallow aquifer, we are pumping out water which is absolutely clean and scarce. Throwing it into the drains for six to eight months, there was a five star hotel built close to Mount Carmel College, and a one year maker circle, they pumped out groundwater for four to six months completely emptying all the wells in the surrounding areas. And emptying the aquifer totally, then you build these basement parking lots and you put the car. The car is not only a villain when it’s creating traffic jams, but even when it is parked, it’s a villain there because it’s damaging the aquifer and our water resources. So we have to think of a master plan and building bylaws by which these aquifers are protected. For example, if there has to be a parking area created in a groundwater sensitive zone, we should have spilled parkings and FSI should permit the department to go up rather than to go down. But in areas where there is no aquifer that is to be damaged, their basement parking can be allowed. This will come from a clear understanding of geology, hydrogeology, and groundwater for which we need to do a detailed groundwater map of the city and then plan. So all these things have to talk to each other.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 28:17

And then why when government is aware of the issues, why is government—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 28:21

It’s not aware of the issue, the thing is these are new emerging issues. And as I told you, if the institution does not have a hydrogeologist, who do you take this case to, right, you can only write about it in the papers or do a podcast and talk about it. So one there is a broadcaster, but very important there is a receiver, the receiver should be able to understand what the broadcaster is giving and then be able to act on it. We are not creating the institutions which have the capability to listen and then to act on it. So therefore we have to work on modifying our institutions, which then will be capable of acting.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 28:50

I think part of the reason is our institutions have been rather than responsive, they wait for a large crisis to happen.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 29:00

Truly. So in economic terms, you have something called the Kuznets curve, which says that economies which are growing take time before they can mature and create institutions. Europe cleaned up its water bodies only in the 60s 70s the Thames in London was cleaned up only 20 years back, right? So it’s not a reback that was cleaned up. So when you get a certain GDP and you get a certain per capita income, then you have the money to be able to invest in protecting the environment and cleaning up the pollution sources. In India, it will take another 20 years to do it. We have to be patient in the 20 years not to do permanent damage. Whatever damage we do should be rectifiable should be correctable right? Only then will we be able to put our act together to clean it up. This is the inevitable cause of development in the capitalist economy in the consumer economy. And we got to be prepared for that patience is the name of the game.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 29:56

And I think there’s enough awareness on water bodies right now at least in Bangalore that every day there is something in the newspaper regarding fixing of the water bodies.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 30:08

That is there. But still we have not created an institution which is completely responsible for water body, it still requires the revenue department to do the boundary setting, then it requires the BDA or the BBMP to put the fence and then yet we are not able to protect it from pollution from sewage, because the BWS says we cannot act, and so on so forth. With all these public pressure with all the high court and NGT working on it. Yet we lack the right institution to govern so you can imagine how long it will take for us to be able to repair. Right now it’s in the the responsibility of the KTCDA the Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Authority, right. But that’s a minor irrigation department institution, it doesn’t understand urban waters as much as it does rural waters, right. So we still need to fix the institution.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 30:55

Has it ever happened that the further institution understood, there has been a permanent damage of a natural resource that never cooked?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 31:04

Yeah. So there are many permanent damages that we have created the first time that you were mentioning, which is majestic. I cannot now reclaim that lake in the foreseeable future. However, when our economy really grows, perhaps at one point of time, we can relocate the bus stand and then get back to a water body, but there is permanent damage in aquifers in lakes and in terms of pollution of rivers, both the Dakshina Pinakini and Vrishabawathi lake are in really a bad state of affairs, which may be retrievable.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 31:34

So, one concern whenever I travel outside India to a developing country, be it Australia or the US, is that the tap water is a drinking water.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 31:44

That is the bare minimum see in throughout the world type water supply is 24/7. Yeah, when you open the tap, it should be giving you water directly. And it should be potable water, right. This is the basic minimum service that an institution should give you otherwise, what do we do? We build some tanks, we put pumps there, we build an overhead tank and in our homes, we have an RO system or a UV system or water filter. All these costs are borne by us as individuals because the state fails to deliver good clean water in our taps. When will the state deliver those good clean water when we pay the true cost of water if we pay the true cost of water to the state then we can demand from the state that the taps should give us drinking water, the savings in the economy will be enormous. All the coping costs that we put in will can easily go to the institution and the institution can do a fantastic job. But we Indians also don’t demand from our institution, If you ask anybody, how many days do you want water in a week? Two days is good enough. How many hours in those two days? Four hours is good enough. We’ve got into a it happens altitude which not only it and we’re happy and satisfied with the bare minimum because we’re in such a lousy situation. Whereas what we should demand is that our institutions deliver 24/7 water that every drop of sewage be collected and treated and only then released to the environment with that demand, is that right? The responsibility is that we should also be willing to pay for the true cost of water. If you pay the true cost of water, there is no water scarcity, there is no pollution, we don’t pay the true cost of water, we can keep on screaming and crying but then situation will not change on the ground.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 31:44

And what is the true cost of water?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 31:57

The true cost of water is when we release it back to nature at the same quantity and quality at which we took it from nature. If I take 100 litres from the river Cauvery which is pure water, I use it in my home, I have a bath, put it in my washing machine, I should be able to collect it, treat it and we have the technology to the same quality at which we took it and release it in the river at the same point from where we took it right and really so that there’s no net loss to the river and then it’s back into nature without damage or without any pollution and without any loss to the quantity. If citizens in Bangalore pay 95 rupees a kilo litre at current price 1000 litres we will be able to get the true cost of water and the ecological cost of water no damage to the environment. We are willing to pay five rupees for 20 litres of RO water. We are willing to pay 110 rupees to the tanker while out sometimes 150 rupees a kilo litre to the tanker Wallah. Why don’t we get into a compact with the BWS as we pay them 95 rupees a kilo litre and make sure that our environment is cleaned up.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 34:25

And when the willingness is there in citizens, right? Why is It not happening?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 34:29

So there is a willingness to pay but there’s no willingness to charge and this is the negative dividend of democracy because political parties are loath to charge people higher sums because they think they lose words. And the opposition will lay claims to those words saying that you’re raising the prices but in this short run cycle of five years, we are losing out on the big picture and it’s causing great damage to the environment in India somewhere and very quickly we’ll have to rectify that otherwise we are in big Trouble.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 35:01

And do you think the current city is right? Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai. This almost said that soon, they’re achieving a liveability index.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 35:13

At the current rate we go, as you see with air pollution with solid waste management with our traffic and transportation. And now with pollution without water scarcity and water body, we are quickly reaching and livability—


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 35:25

Next 20 years?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 35:27

20 years is too late. you read in the papers the day before that we’ve hit 1.5 degree rise in climate, for the whole of the last year. If we hit two degrees Celsius, with the urban heat island and fast evaporation of water. Even in five years, it will become unlivable.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 35:48

Five years that’s a very short period—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 35:50

Five years is already too long. We need to prepare climate action plans where we are ready to learn to live with these higher temperatures and protect those workers who are most sensitive to it. I mean, imagine a traffic policeman standing in the hot sun or without pollution. Imagine solid waste workers out there in the heat. These are frontline workers, imagine the sewage treatment plant workers, they are all facing the heat and the climate change and they are essential workers. Without them, the city will collapse. So we’ll have to take care of the mitigation and adaptation, make sure that those plants are rolling out and that we do these things otherwise it will be complete chaos.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 36:29

So for example, I think everybody would agree to it. Today. Starting from March to June, we require air conditioners in Bangalore, around five years ago, we required only fans. I’ve never heard of an air conditioner. In Bangalore. I think about 15 years ago, there were not even fans required for a year in Bangalore. That’s the state of—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 36:51

So let me tell you, I don’t mean to boast. But I live in a house and it’s a single unit house. I don’t have a fan in my house. Forget AC, I don’t have a fan in my house. It’s a question of design and the city chose what design can do so I have a basement, the earth that I’ve taken from the basement, we’ve built our house with it. So it’s Earth block home. On the terrace, I have a white terrace one for one portion where I collect all the rainwater, use it for drinking and cooking and the other I grow Paddy, it’s a Green Terrace so that it moderates the climate. And for the terrace, I use grey water that’s from the water from the bathroom to irrigate. I don’t put a demand on freshwater, I just use bath water and washing machine water to grow it. Design can help us to live without a fan even now. But then design has to be backed by a neighbourhood which is conducive to the densities which are conducive to do that greenery, parks and trees which are conducive, which announces that we have the design skills, we don’t seem to somehow bring it all together to actually implement it on the ground. And as you said, If you stick an AC to an apartment, what are you doing with the heat that you’re throwing out, you’re simply increasing the ambient inside of the house is cool, but outside is getting warmer. And if everybody gets into a competitive AC mode, what happens to the city’s weather temperature? It will only go sky high right? So we have to move away from a negative cycle which is the AC cycle to a positive cycle, which is to choose the consumption of energy and emission of carbon dioxide and find a solution for us. This city has the single largest number of modern Earth homes, more than 10,000 earth homes, homes built with Earth, no other city in the world has it. We need to encourage those kinds of designs, those kinds of architecture, which will completely eliminate the need for external energy and air conditioners.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 36:52

I think solar got a lot of visibility because of the benefits, even the government subsidies that solar conveys right.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 38:10

But solar is patchwork right. So the real crisis is in lessening consumption. Solar only pushes away the pollution to some other place, the manufacturing place and then what do you do with the solar that rejects the photovoltaic cells which remain with us all those challenges are there in the short term? Yes, it’s a better answer than thermal power or coal power, coal based engines. But demand management is at the heart of things and better design is at the heart of things.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 39:16

Consumption have to reduce there is no other—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 39:19

APR at 1.5. Most experts suggest that 2 degrees rise in temperature is a given. And that 4 is not unthinkable, 2 is catastrophic for biodiversity. 4 will be complete destruction of what we know as the web of life. And the time is now if carbon is at the heart of climate change, then water is at the heart of the impact of climate change. It’s completely altering the hydrological cycle. A hotter atmosphere and a hotter ocean means more evaporation and a hotter atmosphere means more humidity in the atmosphere, which means that when it rains it will be heavily intense. Floods will be the norm. But then once the rain stops, it will be dry. So it’s an alternate drought and flood at the same time in the same month almost but climate change, this is frightening, especially for the younger generation which is coming up. We should take responsibility for our kids and grandkids and do something that is a part of our inheritance that we grift over. Absolutely. And it’s unforgivable that our generation so destroys the world that it is unlivable for the younger generation.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 39:26

Example, in Delhi. 1/3 of the kids have breathing issues, either asthma or—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 40:35

Chronic bronchitis, right. And that’s the air pollution that we’ve left to them as an agency. Is that how it is? I mean, those kids should sue us and demand reparations and demand corrections.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 40:48

And you’ll see similar things happening even in other parts of the Indian cities for different reasons, because we are not taking action against climate change.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 40:56

This form of capitalism and economics is relentless in its urbanisation. Now if you take any figure between 28% urbanised to 40% urbanised depending on how we define urban areas, most economies in the world have ended up with 80 to 85%. Urbanisation imagines 1.6 billion people 80% urbanised living in 4400 cities, mostly the mega cities that they’re living in. You ain’t seen nothing yet this level of urbanisation that will come from distressed migration in rural areas and the attraction of the city itself will cause tremendous pressure on urban infrastructure unless we plan and invest in it. So it’s a catastrophe waiting to happen unless we take quick action.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 41:41

Bangalore infrastructure everybody’s aware of, for example, one of the issues is when the rain starts in April and May, every year, there is flooding in the outer parts of Bangalore. DivyaSree 77 is one of the most popular societies in Bangalore known for its millionaires. But the joke is, every year it gets submerged. Why does it happen like it is not planned, the infrastructure is not planned?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 42:08

Two things are happening in the city: one, because of climate change and urban heat island, the intensity of rainfall is increasing, we were previously designing for a 60 millimetre per hour intensity rainfall. Now, rainfall intensities for short bursts of time are recorded at 240 millimetres and our 180 millimetre per hour is the norm. So you’re getting a large volume of water in a very short duration, which is why Stormwater drains or rainwater pipes are not prepared for one. Two, when there used to be enough absorption capacity in the city, where water would percolate into the soil into the ground now we are paid so much. So the runoff has increased from what we used to be 15% to 95%. You have a fourfold increase in intensity of rainfall, a six fold increase in the runoff, the combination of both means that it overwhelms our capacity to drain the city. So therefore floods will be the norm as things go along. Unless every house every residence becomes responsible for what we have now designed as a policy for Bangalore for 60 millimetres of rainfall, saying that for every square metre of roof area, 60 million metre of rain, you either hold on in your rainwater tanks, or you recharge through a recharge well, then you have both climate change and flooding mitigation, but also the groundwater table coming up. This has to be sold to every citizen in Bangalore, every building, every apartment, every institution should be doing rainwater harvesting, then we can avoid floods. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how rich you are. If somebody upstream is leaving the water out, you will be drowned.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 43:40

You can’t fight against nature and the destruction that you’re causing to it.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 43:43

This is a community effort, right? Individually, you can’t live on an island or a bubble for long.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 43:50

But it’s at loggerheads with capitalism, where everybody’s thinking individually for themselves and building the largest houses possible. Which are getting somewhere during those times.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 44:02

Yes, so you have some ‘Samaaj, Sarkaar, Bazaar’ as Rohini Nilekani puts it so beautifully. So the bazaar is the marketplace, the Bazaar cannot be the sole determinant of how we live. Samaaj has to say these are the norms and we have to follow and Sarkaar is to make sure the regulations are in place so that they are followed the Master Plan and the bylaws and what can be built and what cannot be built. All three need to work together synchronously. If one of them dominates, then there is an imbalance and that causes a problem.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 44:29

Do you see somewhere in the future? Or is it already in the plan that the government is enforcing the solution that you said that has these kinds of tanks?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 44:39

This is best expressed in Hindi because we seem to listen to the Danda more than pursuing what with the rainwater harvesting Bylaw is an example what J. Jayalalithaa Madam was the to construct Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu did was she said that in six months you do rainwater harvesting or I’ll cut off your electricity supply. So people complied very well. In Bangalore We have said that if you do this it would benefit you(Speaks in Hindi), it’s good for you please do it. Otherwise, we’ll give you a 25% increase in the water bill. Now that water bill is so ridiculously low that 25% Doesn’t make a difference. Six months later, we’ll increase it by 50%. People are willing to pay that 50 percent increase fine, but not rain water harvesting? How do we create a democratic society where people act as citizens, we clamour for our rights, but we have also to do our fundamental duties and carry out our responsibilities. If the citizenry does not join in the solution seeking space. If we just simply get greedy about ourselves, then there is no solution that comes to us. We have to mature as a society, our sense of responsibility to others, like for example, in Japan or in Singapore, everybody is taking care of the other, right? That’s the sense that we have to develop as the generation progresses. If we don’t do that, then we are in trouble.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 45:59

But as a society, let’s consider the whole of India. Though GDP is fifth largest in the world, the per capita GDP is among the lowest right? Does that kind of society allow every citizen to try it as compared to Singapore, Japan?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 46:16

Again, let’s take the example of Japan right after the Second World War when Japan was destroyed, its GDP was even lower than what India’s was right. It was the sense of community which got Japan to where it is now right. So, how do we develop this culture of citizenry? In a world which is class and caste ridden is a challenge for us and we have to appeal to the better sense amongst ourselves and aspire to be good citizens and so with education with children, we need to develop that sense of togetherness of community as we grow up. It looks impossible but it is not an undoable thing(Speaks in Hindi).


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 47:01

It’s hard to imagine 1.4 billion people getting united for this cause, But for the Ram Temple its easy.(Speaks in Hindi)


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 47:15

I don’t wanna go there, but this is the trickiest situation(Speaking in Hindi). Unless you have dreams, you don’t have narratives unless you haven’t narratives you don’t see what you’re working for. So if you look at the media, we’re full of sad stories, problems and problems. There’s nothing that’s telling us what we should aspire for and what we should do to get there, right. So those kinds of leaders have to emerge from the local from the Gram panchayat level to the city level, to the state level, to the national level. Who will then attract a momentum towards betterness. And that will only come through such conversations that we are having. And it’s a larger narrative that has to be built up as a societal good as to what we aspire to do. But just like I said it is not an undoable thing, it used to affect our society at a time. Capitalism has made us individuals. Capitalism has broken us from the community structure. What is benevolent capitalism that will bring together communities is something that we need to find examples from Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, the Scandinavian countries are examples for us, we need to perhaps follow those kinds of models.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 48:27

Would like love to dive into the history of migration in Bangalore for the last 100 years.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 48:34

So, this has been at the borders of three states, what we call it so this is a land which had Tamil speakers which had Kannada speakers and Telugu speakers at all points of time in history, some of the inscription stones show all these three languages. Then came the British who shipped it from Sree Ram Patna to here in 1810, and established a military cantonment they brought with them, certain people who spoke Tamil into this. So they came, even before that Shaji and Birjapur kingdom had brought Maratas here so that’s a Marathi speaking population, which speaks of pure Marathi, which is not even spoken in Maharashtra. Now. It’s an old version of Marathi. And this has been a place where the Urdu speaking community has been 10 to 15%. So it’s a melting pot historically speaking and even now, and one would argue that perhaps local Kannada speakers are in a minority, but a growing city is also a global city, right? So it’s not just citizens from India, but also citizens from the world are making it their home. And that’s the way we should imagine ourselves as a global city.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 49:35

And what are the reasons for migration to Bangalore?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 49:37

Primary reason was the salubrious climate which then brought the educational institutions to set up the Indian Institute of Science in 1890s. And so therefore, came a crowd of people who were now talented and educated so therefore the industry’s game to tap into this talent. The public sector units like BL, BHEL. ITI was set up here in the 60s, they worked on a pool of educational support which was coming from the students that the public sector brought with it. Diversity from all across India who realised that this was a great place, it was a pensioners paradise or retired persons dream. And so it kept attracting and then the software industry took off here. And then you know, the rest is—


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 50:16

I think before the software industry light called the Silicon Valley of India. A lot of hardware companies—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 50:23

Hewlett-Packard Development Company, LP was one of the first to set itself up here and Texas Instruments is one of the first.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 50:28

In 1970′


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 50:29

Correct, correct and some of my classmates joined Texas Instrument then in the 80s. They joined it and they loved it. And so that was there.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 50:38

So in our larger parts of South India, states like Rajasthan face a lot of water scarcity today, right, and people are forced to migrate to another state. And historically has always been like, it’s leaving old cities deserted.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 50:59

So, there are different crises in different parts of India, Rajasthan and Gujarat are dry land where climate change again hits itself, but also the fact that rainfall patterns are becoming erratic and water is scarce and the urban aspiration and demand is very high now, right? So previously, we could do with very little water, most houses in Rajasthan had tankers and only the tank of rainwater was good enough for them for the whole year. But now the pipe water supply and 135 litres per capita per day are kind of aspiration. That is the washing machine in the house, that puts too much pressure which the ecosystem cannot handle. And so a lot of people migrate, then there is the consequence of the Green Revolution in Punjab, for example, groundwater tables are falling dramatically because of the Green Revolution and the wheat monoculture that we cultivated there. And then, of course, the fertilisers and pesticides which were sprayed on the land which contaminated the water and therefore you have cancer and the cancer express runs from Punjab to Rajasthan clear consequences of the Green Revolution and water misuse, right? The whole Gangetic basin that I talked about, which is so fertile and rich, now sees falling groundwater tables, which are captured by satellites because it affects the gravity of the Earth itself. Imagine the kind of impact we know that two satellites would go and pick up a gravitational anomaly and then say that the groundwater table in this part of the world is falling. So food security created water insecurity, because the food came at the cost of water, right? So in India, the Green Revolution had a tremendous impact on water. Our energy demand, we know when we got independence, we were generating something like 1007 50 megawatts of energy. Now it’s the installed capacity, some 350 gigawatts of energy, but all the energy thermal power plants, nuclear power plants, except wind needs water, even solar needs water to wash the panels, right. So energy, agriculture, these are the critical ones. And they have local impacts everywhere. So therefore, when we write a water policy, we have to write it coterminous with our agricultural policy and energy policy and our forest policy because the forests are the source of water, but we write them independently. The energy policy is written without the water policy, and so on and so forth. Agricultural Policy looks for food sufficiency, but where the water comes, what will happen to water, they don’t focus on that because they are different departments(Speaks in Hindi). I am criticising it but now we are realising it(Speaks in Hindi), this is the understanding we are getting now, So now we have a plan how we could do it together. There was a planning commission which could have done it, we dissolved that and we built the NITI Aayog, the NITI Aayog will quickly have to take on the responsibility of the Planning Commission and look at it in a holistic fashion. Otherwise, we’ll struggle. So there are some good governance measures, some institutional measures, some historical measures, which we need to understand and work on(Speaks in Hindi).


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 53:48

I want to talk about the impact of the green revolution on ecology. Can you go into that?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 53:54

For 3 years we again got drought 65′, 66′, 67′ or 66′, 67′, 68′, three years of drought, where we also fought a war with Pakistan, a stupid meaningless war from their side meaningless from outside, we had to defend ourselves. So we did that. So the war took a toll. The drought meant that we did not have enough food as was prescribed and some people argue that we had enough food but it was wheat and rice, which was a shortage and therefore, because the urbanites were eating wheat and rice, they felt the shortage more . But people who used to have millets like Pearl millet, Ragi didn’t feel much shortage. But people who used to eat wheat and rice felt shortage for it(Speaks in Hindi). Well, anyway, see, Subramanian Swamy was a finance minister, Ms. Swaminathan they go to the United States and meet up with Norman Borlaug, Norman Borlaug in Mexico is growing the high yield variety dwarf wheat 70,000 tonnes of that is brought to India and the Green Revolution is unleashed. Because we wanted to be food secure, and within three years we were food secure. These farmers did a remarkable job. But the green revolution succeeded only in the places where there was a bank loan for borewell drilling to 10 hectares and more if you had then the farmer got a loan from the development cooperation bank to drill a borewell, and those farmers accessed that loan drill borewell and got groundwater gruters wheat and increased. What happened was that the small and marginal farmers and the landless felt, They got the money, what about us(Speaks in Hindi)? They started voting for the Communist Party of India, in these 12 districts, it’s a very interesting study on it. So there were political ramifications, then the government understood it through a study and then made sure that the loans were given to all small and medium farmers and made sure that they also had access to water and therefore the Green Revolution then became even bigger. But what we did was we shifted to monoculture high yield where it demanded more fertiliser, more pesticides, more weedy sites and more water. So the demand on water went up, we started to grow three crops in areas where we would only grow one crop of rice in the Punjab belt that created the Cauvery conflict. So the groundwater depletion in Haryana and Punjab, so it unleashed a force we were not ready to understand or we were not capable of understanding. And it’s leaving a legacy of cancer of dependence on fertilisers pesticides, we decide which is enormous and the demand on water which is completely insatiable, we cannot meet it with the resources that we have.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 54:45

It has historically said that the US enterprise, particularly US fertiliser enterprise, took advantage of India’s Green Revolution.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 56:12

So we love them. What is it called the conspiracy theories? Some people believe in it. The fact remains that if we became food sufficient without the Green Revolution, we would not have food sufficiency, but it also means that our godowns were full of grains which were rotting, there was an excess amount of food we didn’t know what to do with it(Speaks in Hindi). So that also was it. Now whether the war industry, the military industrial complex, or the fertiliser fellows actually had some greater dreams? I am a bit sceptical, but there are a lot of people who believe it.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 57:06

A lot of opinions on that because the carbide was one of the reasons that came out of the Union Carbide incident in Bhopal. Right—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 57:17

Isocyanate. See, I think, many times we don’t do things out of villainy or evil. It’s just ordinary words in English. There’s a beautiful phrase, ‘it’s the tyranny of small decisions’. We make decisions for a few months or a year(Speaks in Hindi). And we don’t think of the long term ramification and all those add up and cause a big problem. We’ll fill up the lake. We want some land for a site. We don’t think what the implication of it is to problems sorted out. But that’s the tyranny of small decisions.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 57:51

You think that India could have done better without so much rampant use of fertiliser and pesticides back in the day because we are paying the price now, whatever the decision was taken six years ago.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 58:05

So then it falls into the democracy trap. Without the fertiliser subsidy, we would not have had the food security right. But the fertiliser subsidy and the groundwater explosion resulted in groundwater getting free electricity. That free electricity came from a political decision of giving farmers subsidised fertiliser and subsidised electricity for groundwater. That decision could not be taken back by any political party. So again, I would believe it’s the negative dividend of democracy and our five year competitive Democratic politics that results in this kind of misadventure. If you have it, then it locks us into inefficiencies and problems. And we don’t know how to solve it.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 58:47

Then do you consider people at fault but people are just struggling for survival in India for the last many, many decades? Right? Because whenever there have been visionaries in the government list, maybe like Chandra Babu Naidu or S. M. Krishna Iyer, right, who focused on development rather than giving subsidies and trying to develop the cities they were voted out.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 59:11

So that’s the development for whom is the question they ask and what do you mean what do we mean by development? There are two essential models of development, let’s say the Kerala model for want of a better word and the Gujarat model. Yeah, so the Kerala model focuses on equity and schools, polyclinics hospitals, local democracy that’s developing in Gujarat. It’s the industrial manufacturing models we have to choose between the two and we have to choose that in a democratic cycle.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 59:45

You can’t compare it because it’s comparing apples with oranges, like is Kerala’s or Gujarat’s better?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 59:52

Who decides not to have the Supreme Court case being fought on by the Kerala government saying that we’ve been discriminated against and the union government saying you’re mismanaging your economy, the Supreme Court will sort it out.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:00:02

I think again, then there is West Bengal, you will know the better history, we’ll have to learn from you what happened there in the name of communism and what it has resulted in.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:00:15

So like I said, when the Green Revolution came, it benefited a few, the rest felt left out, the only way that you could bring social justice was through land reforms, the only party which was capable of land reforms was the Communist Party, the Congress was incapable of land reforms, because these were the two parties there right. So in West Bengal and Kerala, you went for large scale landforms more so in Kerala, where a lot of the rich landowners lost their land and a lot of people got their land that people who got the land with the base for the Communist Party being elected again, but because you caught yourself into an imagination of industrialization is bad capitalism is bad. So, you locked yourself into a particular form of socialism versus buying all the land reforms did not happen as much as in Kerala, some amount of it happened, but the rejection of capitalism was very strong. So the food industry stayed calm and therefore development didn’t come. So they are where they are right. But if you go to Kerala, the average lifespan of an average Keralite is the highest in India, female literacy is the highest, access to health is the best, but economic growth is not there. Now take Gujarat, economic growth may be high but or Maharashtra with economic growth way higher, but there are large scale deprivation, starvation and adivasis especially faced malnutrition, and all those consequences are there. So some of the rich have developed very well. And the middle class has done well. But the poorer classes have been left out. Which model of development do you choose? I don’t know what you choose.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:01:42

But in West Bengal, nobody has done well.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:01:45

If you ask a person from West Bengal, they will not say(Speaks in Hindi) we haven’t done well, they’ll vote for the party they want and they will continuously do that. That’s the democratic cycle. Now, it’s up to us to argue or industry today.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:01:59

Nobody wants to touch West Bengal. That’s that.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:02:02

And so therefore, a lot of argument is that you leapfrog collusion, industries left a huge pollution trail everywhere. Bhopal was a classic case, as you’re talking about Gujarat in the pollution. So now maybe you have a chance to get across the manufacturing stage into the service industries or to benign industries, which are not polluting and then make your way out of it. That’s one argument. But these are all discussion points.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:02:27

But yeah, I’m just trying to go towards the solution, which can, as we said earlier today, can unite these things.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:02:34

So democracy is the solution. And democracy will throw whoever leaders people want and they will deliver what the solution is. But the problem with democracy is that it’s a five year cycle. And that’s something that we don’t know how to crack. And there’s nowhere in the world that has been able to crack it. So it’s not—


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:02:50

Even in the USA, five years of capitalism, four years of capitalism with Trump and then four years of communism, so called within.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:02:59

The right wing calls it socialism. There’s no socialism there. That’s also capitalism, in any case, but what better example is Sweden or Finland, where you have the Social Democrats and the conservatives and it switches from right to left to along those lines? But these are all political issues. It’s a slow, frustrating pace, but we have to go through it.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:03:22

But the goal here is, Can India it’s not about following, but can India leapfrog to where China’s GDP is or where US GDP is in the next 10 to 20 years?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:03:36

The short answer is no.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:03:37

And why?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:03:39

China leapfrog because it started on the manufacturing base, and it created havoc on the environment. The reverse of the forms, everything was a mess. There was large scale exploitation of the labour, which only the Communist Party could control through a very strict regime. You can’t do that in the Indian context, the courts are there and they will take care of it. So the short answer is no.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:04:05

Why not the development model of the US?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:04:09

completely a consumption model based on fiscal deficits of unbelievable proportions. It’s only because the dollar is the only form of trading that they are able to do that. But if India were to get into that kind of a fiscal deficit trap, we will never be able to come out of it. Right. So it’s a difficult process. If you’re able to manage him in a 7% growth of GDP, it will be a miracle. And we should do that with low inflation. Otherwise, you can inflate yourself to a $5 trillion goal with the 8% inflation or 10%. Inflation, 5 trillion or $10 trillion economy. But in real terms, what does it actually mean is a question that we have to answer in this global scenario.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:04:46

And then you have to be content with where we are. And the GDP per capita remains low.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:04:57

Yes, unfortunately yes. So we have to ensure that there is social justice and equity with that right, even now, of the GDP growth 20 families benefit 70% or 80%. Is that acceptable? We have to ask ourselves that and see how we can.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:05:19

But I don’t see a solution to higher the GDP per capita in India unless in the next 10-20 years also, how will that happen? And how will it at least reach among the top 20-30 countries globally? If we have to provide a better quality life to our Indian then? I think the solution to the problems that we discussed, could be higher GDP per capita, where citizens become aware that now, I demand from the government rather than be at their mercy.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:05:49

Right. So I’m no fiscal policy expert or financial expert, but from what I know of it, I think the path is difficult. And we’ll have to imagine ourselves not as a manufacturing economy,


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:06:00

Not create a manufacturing havoc.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:06:02

Correct, better service economy. And I don’t know how that service economy will itself deliver that kind of growth. perennially.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:06:08

The IT services economy tried to do it, but it could only limit to very vague and became very limited, correct. I just did 200 billion, we need an economy, which is a panel of trillions of dollars too.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:06:19

I know, but without it being an export oriented one, how do we manage it is a question that I think the finance experts will have to answer.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:06:30

So 60% of India’s population still works in agriculture, right? Contributing to 80% of India’s GDP. The water issues that are happening right now and going to happen, how is it impacting their livelihood? Because


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:06:48

so it’s becoming more and more uncertain, even that little productivity they show is becoming uncertain farming is now a very, very seriously risky proposition, right? And you never know when the rains will fail or when the tunnel will come. So it’s got to be a huge challenge for us to manage the food economy for ourselves and farming economics. So therefore, be prepared for large scale migration from the rural areas.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:07:19

And that will not solve our issues right, that will just multiply our issues because India hasn’t been made in a model that the US was made of large scale agriculture, right, where a single farmer would have hundreds of hectares of land. Yes, yes. India is made up of very, very small farmers.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:07:35

Yes. But that’s not now we’ve reached one hectare is the average landholding size to two acres, two and a half acres. Now, is that productive enough in the capitalist mode of production? No, because it’s suboptimal in terms of investment in capital machinery and other missionaries. How do we do land consolidation at the same time protect the rights of these small and marginal farmers, so they don’t have to sell it in distress?


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:08:00

Very, very difficult for the 60% of India’s population, the migration that is happening right now. That is resulting in these people becoming urban labourers.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:08:15

Yes. And it’s a construction industry, which absorbs most of them, because construction can take unskilled labour and give them some form of employment. But how long can a construction last on itself in itself, right. There are other crises, for example, the springs in the Himalayas are drying up. Water is the only source of spring so a lot of mountain villages are just up and migrating completely village after village is deserted people move out, or in places where the villages are it’s only women and old men who are their young men have migrated out. So migration is a reality. So there are two ways of looking at it. One is to accept this reality and then design our cities to be better prepared to receive migrants, right. I just give you an example. In Lima in Peru, what they tried out was that in the stations because they didn’t have much migration coming from any other place, but railway stations, there would be booths set up where people’s skills would be matched. Let’s say you’re a good carpenter, or you have some carpentry skill or construction skill, they would point out to the areas of the city where there’s construction work happening. So you seek your employment there. Or if you’re coming for education, or upskilling yourself, this is the place you have to go and upskill yourself and they will tell you give yourself one year in the city if you’re able to fit into the labour market stay otherwise make a choice of going back, right. So this dark kind of a welcoming space for migrants is not something that we have created. Yeah, migrants find their own route through friends and relatives, explore the job market are exploited many a time and then somehow managed to fit in. I think we should be more prepared structurally to receive this and make sure that our economy bounces with the kind of input they bring in. That’s a worldview that’s a way of looking at it.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:09:51

So another issue with migration I want to discuss. Now the US is getting criticised internally and externally. They have opened their gates to migration like anything from the south, right from South America. And it’s a reason that the current government, what is speculative, the current government, what their wants their World Bank. Is this also true that you are seeing a similar pattern?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:10:22

So this has been the conundrum with the free market capitalism economy, what does the free market argue that both labour and capital should flow where it is most efficiently used? You allowed capital to flow but you didn’t allow labour to flow because you created national boundaries, right? Fortress Europe or the USA? How can then the free market work when one part of the capitalist economy is constrained? Migration is inevitable in this model, and what do you then do with the migrants? You can’t pack them all off to Rwanda as the UK is hoping to do or you can’t create fences and boundaries which will keep them out because it’s part of the game right? You can shout as much as you want—


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:11:02

You can set Artificial boundaries—


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:11:04

You said the Reformers needed to better give a better quality of life to migrants and give them a better structure to migrants. No one is working over that(Chuckles).


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:11:04

You can see it but people will hop from place to place. People are going from Gujarat to the US through the Canada route. Gujarat, which is a modern state there are so many people who die trying to cross the boundaries and get there and it’s a culture there for people to go to Punjab people will obviously go to Canada, trying to cool it up. So you can try stopping it as much as you want.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:11:36

Nobody is working over that. We need a ministry for migration, where there is a ministry which looks at what these critical issues are in different geographies, because people sometimes do temporary migration when they get back when the rains are coming to agriculture. Sometimes it’s permanent migration. The migrant is absolutely clueless about what the city is all about. Right? So only if he has a relative or a friend, that is and then women, if they’re single women wanting to migrate to a city or if it’s a women dominated family, what is the chance that you will not be exploited? Right? So what are you doing about it? Nothing. That is not the way to work.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:12:16

And our previous househelp came from Calcutta, West Bengal, and she said she was the only member of her three, our two sons and husband stayed back in West Bengal. The reason she migrated here for a 15 to 20,000 rupees monthly job was, the costs of labour because of Bangladeshi migration went down so much that Bangladesh were ready to work for 2000 rupees a month. Our jobs, right?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:12:42

Yeah, it’s a global issue. It’s no longer now. So there’s no point in trying to look at Bangladeshi migrants as being and you can’t hold them back. How can you hold them out? You can’t. Now Bangladesh economy at least in the recent past was doing better and in terms of per capita GDP Bangladesh is so then maybe at a point of time the Bangladeshi will say that migrants are coming from West Bengal and they are stopping them, they are doing the same thing. Everybody plays this game of my nation or anything but the people what are they looking for? They’re looking for a livelihood.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:13:18

They’re looking for a Survival.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:13:19

Right. Survival for livelihood. Globally, we should be more welcoming. Globally, we’ve created such stupid barriers. Why should people die in the Mediterranean? Why should people die in Mexico in the Sonoran desert walking? Humanity is forgotten by us.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:13:43

One thing I want discuss is that population wise globally we have exploded never prepared,that in world there would be 8 billion would be there and India were also unprepared that we will be the most populous country.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:13:57

No this was expected right? But look at the bright side, the total fertility rate in Tamil Nadu and Kerala is now below replacement population. In Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra. It’s only four states which have a total fertility rate more than 2.1. And everybody knows that development is the best contraceptive, that’s the way that you control your population. The total attention of all other states should be in the states to help facilitate such that the population growth is automatically stopped because of development because of economic growth, right. It’s not rocket science. This has been known to us since 1971, and there were no models for us to tell us.But we left the family planning when we had an emergency of negative input, after that we left it. But I think sometimes we don’t do the obvious which is always surprising in figuring it out.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:14:58

Some of these issues have been because the woman participation in the workforce in India has been one of the poorest globally. And there have not been enough attempts to stop the solver structurally.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:15:10

Correct. You’re absolutely right. But see, female literacy is clearly associated with less population and less and Kerala has been able to achieve that Because women’s literacy is there. And then women’s participation in the workforce is even more of a motivator. Just 50 kilometres from Bangalore go to rural Kolar, the women are capable of delivering every service that is possible, incapable of lacking two things. One is the English language, which then opens up the World Wide Web in other contexts and the networks that you do. Second is mobility transportation. In the villages, if you want to get from one village to the town, you take the public transport, it’ll take you two hours, three hours to get there and then three hours to get back and then you have a family to take care of. If you just increase the roads and mobility you are unlocking women’s participation to a large extent right and that’s what we should look for.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:16:02

That is so much common sense.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:16:04

In Peenya the manufacturing industry there were troops of women who came from Tumkur and other places. Why are we not capable of making life easier for them through better transport services, the Metro we want to run to the airport by dial into Metro run from Tim Cook to premier so that all the women can get there on time and then go back there markets that are created there, they’re a very gender specific landscape that’s emerged as an urban planning area, what have we done specifically to address the requirements of that space? Automatically the market does it, so after work you should get groceries and clothes right outside, whatever your family needs, you buy and you go. Now, why should it be informal? Why should it not be a formal system that delivers it? Why should our bus service not be stronger there? This is just a gender sensitivity that we have shown.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:16:58

We lacked in design you can say yeah?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:17:01

Yeah, so urban design is a critical issue and sensitivity to gender planning for children planning for the aged and the handicapped. Were its accessible


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:17:10

like how many Bangalore Metro Granada Minnesota’s metro area ramifications county Dilip Andhra


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:17:15

Let me tell you a story about the Metro station. Metro stations never had toilets, so we went to the Metro Pacific Light Rail Corporation group and said, there should be a toilet, then the MD said that I’m not a Sulabh Shauchalaya person, I’m a metro person. So it took three years of persuasion before toilets came up in metro stations. And if this is the remarkable insensitivity that you show, when running such a transportation system, forget what impact it has on the city design itself, but even within the Metro itself that we have to build more sensitivity let me not get angry about it.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:17:52

And what is required to build more sensitivity?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:17:57

A lot of it comes from empathy, a lot of it comes from direct contact with the kind of depravations people feel only then do you understand what it means right. So, if you are to take public transport, then you understand what needs to be remedied in public transport. If you go in a red light bulb car and you are in an AC car and you come back, you don’t have the sense of what the city needs. So, we need more such.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:18:22

I think a perfect example is Delhi Metro because I forgot the name of the architect of Delhi Metro—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:18:27

E. Sreedharan.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:18:28

Yes. Completed in record time with all these facilities from ground zero and now Delhi Metro is going to Meerut is going to all the hubs right. So it’s a world class example of what a will an intention can do.

Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:18:42

Exactly. And the tragic thing about India or the specific thing about India is that it’s all individual driven it’s not the system it’s an individual in the system who makes the difference if it was not for Sridhar in Delhi Metro would not have been what it was right so our dependency on individuals even in water sub sector now we take Rajendra Singh did this,Tarun Bharat Sangh did this, Anna Hazare did this we never take a systemic structural that they did this(Speaks in Hindi).


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:19:09

There is no rinse and repeat that Bangalore could have just copied Delhi Metro Brick by Brick nothing else. And you say that for 3 years that they didn’t build the toilet, it’s really surprising.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:19:23

And we had to go and tell them that, you have to make toilets. Lakhs of passengers are travelling so basic facilities should be there. He was like I don’t make toilets, I make metros.(Speaks in Hindi)


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:19:42

You have dedicated your last 38 years to what your day to day looks like?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:19:48

So I love to talk to farmers, well diggers, fishers, people who are on the ground and I make it a habit to listen to these people. So for me the solution for the water crisis in Bangalore will come from the wild diggers who will dig a million wells, which will recharge all the groundwater. In the process the buildings will get a livelihood, the wastewater and the lakes will be maintained by fishers, who will make a living out of fish in the lakes. They will be responsible for removing water, plastics and taking care of the lake as a water body right? Not the middle class will go around in circles clockwise or anti clockwise from them. You will only get complaints, but those who’s stake is in the game, they will do it. One of my favourite stories is a town called Vijayapura which has 40,000 population of 40,000 just close to Devanahalli Airport. Sewage, raw sewage flows in a drain there, there’s no sewage treatment plant because nobody had the money to set up a sewage treatment plant. Nobody wanted an STP next to that land. So it wasn’t built and sewage was flowing. Farmers pick up the raw sewage, treat it on their own land with small pits and then grow Mulberries, which then go to become silk. The silk saris are made from sewage. We call it shipped to silk. The entire sewage of Vijayapura town is consumed by farmers as a productive fertiliser and they make a livelihood from it. The silkworm cocoon jumps on the mulberry leaf on a day to day basis, it certifies the quality of the mulberry leaf, if there’s heavy metal, it will die. It’s doing the job of the pollution control board which is not doing any of the job at all. So on a daily basis, right? Then the sill worm itself becomes a cocoon and then it becomes fibre; the fibre itself is very sensitive. The whole process is so sensitive that no imbalance can occur there. If imbalance occurs, everything is disrupted, and it’s a solution. So my question is, should the farmer be paid by the town of Vijayapura for taking care of the sewage? Or should the farmer pay the town for the manure or fertiliser he gets. It’s a completely financially sustainable model. It works there and farmers have achieved it. Similarly, I’ve seen in Jakkur that fishermen keep the lake clean right and they do it because they get fish from it right. So my day to day is in talking to this fisherman today morning before I came here, I was talking to a borewell driller a filter board well driller it’s a father son duo who come from Madurai and drill these shallow borewells 100 feet deep only tapping into the shallow aquifer but it’s a skill it’s an art to that’s my day. I spend time talking to them and then seeing where this solution fits.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:22:20

So this is listening time, right? What part of your time goes in building the solution, making sure the execution is the most important part.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:22:28

Most of it is a nudging solution. So, the Devanahalli project I was talking about is the first project in India where treated wastewater from Bangalore is becoming drinking water for the Devanahalli town, it’s a toilet to tap. And this happens through a process of the city institutions treating water of great quality STP is working perfectly and then the lakes being revived so that the lake gets watered, then it filters through to the well, the well is revived through the traditional welding community. And we put up a state of the art water treatment plant through entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs, who are now doing a business of treating wastewater and selling it as the market right. So my job is to bring all these players together and say this is the goal and we can get water to the Devanahalli by itself. No institution can imagine all the solutions. So my work is to bring the BWSSB people and show them that the water is clean now. So your STP will work, if your STP doesn’t work they will drink sewage and see the consequences. People say I’ve never seen this, they don’t see it. Well was cleaned In the CPSU manual of the government of India, they’ve given up wells as a source of water. But that one single well which has frogs and many fish in it can give 250,000 litres of water in a 15 to 12 hour pumping cycle right. And then that’s potable water and it’s at one rupee 19 per kilolitre. Like I was telling you, so my job is to do this large Canvas visioning and get all the players and make them play violin, play guitar, play drummer, let it all play together so it will become a orchestra, it doesn’t play if you try playing it on your own do it together minus the conductor of the symphony.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:22:40

And how did you start this?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:24:11

Just luck.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:24:13

It just became the driving force for your life


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:24:17

That an old monk on a Friday evening(Chuckles). Both are driving forces in the sense, there’s great joy in finding solutions. What we figured out is that when people take credit for the solutions, they do a remarkable lot and if you know that you’re the spider in the web, when you know it has happened because of you a personal satisfaction that you get out of it. And then if the whole thing plays itself out, well, like today, people came from Canada to see what’s happening in Devanahalli. And they’re going to take that message to Africa and they’ll do that because they see the simplicity of the solution and they take it out there. It’s a great sense of satisfaction of well digger digs a well finds water sends me a Whatsapp video, sir we got water I get happy because he got work because of the work we did at policy level and they are digging rechargeables and every day I get 500 photographs with somebody’s cleaning ponds, somebody’s digging, somebody’s using waste water. So because of their happiness my phone’s memory gets filled. So I have to do something about that. But otherwise, you know, in India, work is a pleasure if you find joy in the littlest of gains we get.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:25:31

And has it ever bothered you that for a large part of this 38 years of contribution they have had financial reward and incentive was never there.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:25:43

So you have to make your compromise with what you think is right. I don’t own a car. I use public transport as much as possible and I do that and so money wise maybe but there’s enough poor satisfaction that gets you there and enough and more money for what you need to do. So it’s not really a compromise. When your expectations are low then.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:26:05

Yeah, but you never associated yourself with a body that you could have a regular income from.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:26:10

In Hindu mythology, they say that either Saraswati is your guest or Lakshmi is your guest. You can’t have both of them. So you have to make a choice, right? So I chose Saraswati. That’s the excuse I give myself. But I’m a lousy entrepreneur. I’m a lousy marketeer. I’m a lousy person to charge consultancy. And that’s a weakness in me. It’s not the American way. This is the sort of Indian way of doing it. And I wish and I think my caste has a lot to do with the way I think about it. I could have been from the trading community and I would have done better. But no.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:26:12

And during this 38years has not been many moments where you got you temporarily gave up.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:26:58

So there’s no excuses. Once you have the intellectual firepower and you understand your privilege, your top 2% In India, if you know what the whole of India’s economy is about, there’s no excuse then for not finding it, then there’s a cleverness in where you position yourself now I sit with the Bangalore water supply and sewerage board as part of their technical approval committee right, that seat at the table does not come by itself, you have to have the right network the right influence and then you have to right capabilities of delivering and institution should irrespective sit with the government of cannot count terms of the technical approval committee for the judge evaluation scheme. So I’m able to influence the BWSSB up to a limited extent with the Government of Karnataka but find that seat at the table, don’t complain that the government is doing wrong things, go there and get it done. Right. Whatever you think is right. There’s no excuse for the young Indian who’s so educated. There’s no point in throwing stones at the caravan if you get on the camera right or straight, make sure that the caravan hits in the right eye.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:27:55

And how many years did it take you to get a seat at the table to make your voice heard?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:28:03

But it’s also because you have to build a brand, right? This is as much as podcasts or anything new to build your brand and what is the brand, you can’t be associated with a product. Let’s say I’m making a water filter, then they’ll say that he wants to sell his water.You have to be neutral, you have to be advisory, you have to be non tied to more pecuniary benefits or monetary benefits and your advice should be valuable in a generic sense. So for that, you have to work assiduously and you have to be at the right place and you have to do the right thing.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:28:34

Tool long to 25 years to make that happen.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:28:36

In my opinion it can be done no in less than 8 years—


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:28:41

Because there’s social media to amplify—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:28:43

And the knowledge base that you’re tapping into the world as a knowledge base, In my generation there was no internet too.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:28:51

I believe in the last 10 years it might have been compounding your message.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:28:57

Compounding has become confusing. The choice now for the youngsters is how to choose the right knowledge frame for us. Where do we get knowledge from? At a point when I was studying my urban planning, the only place I could get information on American Planning institutions was my library. And there were only three libraries in India which had those books that I could refer to as what urban American planning was. Now my mobile phone tells me what it is now I don’t know which….spoiled for choice, right?


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:29:28

People want to listen to podcasts on Urban reforms should they listen to this or that.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:29:34

And listen to whose and who is right and who is wrong. So there should be a brand credibility.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:29:49

One more thing is I want to bring awareness to the community of well diggers which is one of your favourite communities. Tell us more about them.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:29:52

So this is a community called the wonders of the ODE community. It could be that the state of Odisha is named after this community. They are a community which specialises in bringing tanks and playing. It’s an open well, and they’re in a rented community. They migrate from place to place where they find work, they do the canal work or the lake work and then they go away. So therefore to speak a language which is already Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada mix. They are wonderful people, very hard working with great physical abilities. They understand the world very sensitively, right? So they understand that the wall can collapse or not. So they are able to take care of it. If there’s a gas inside, they’ll put a light candle inside and if it goes out, they understand its carbon monoxide. So they’ll make sure that the carbon monoxide is taken out and then decode. So they never have accidents. They do this. And this community did not have work because the board culture had come and nobody wanted well. So my question was, what do I do to help them get a livelihood so when I was able to write the rainwater harvesting policy and bylaw for Bangalore, we made sure that it we wrote a recharge well as mandatory right, so now they’re busy digging, recharge wells and recharge wells take rooftop rainwater and push it into the aquifer. So they had to be upskilled. They only knew how to dig a well to draw water out. But how to put water back in what should be the quality of water takes half a day for a conversation with them and they understand it and they do it now. The more than 500 families to 1000 families are doing recharge with solid cross and making a livelihood out of it and helping the city become more secure. These 1000 families are in Bangalore, in the peripheral areas of Bangalore, so they used to be previously within the city but now they’re near Sarjapur near Ramnagar from right, near Anekal.There are at least 14 villages where these families are. There’s one particular village near such a point where all the 134 families are welding us and to do this welding community building job

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:31:36

And now they’re all well placed or well taken care of?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:31:40

Some of them have done very well for themselves. Some of them who are entrepreneurial, go to Hyderabad, go to Coimbatore and dig wells, and they’re well known and they’re doing really well. Many of them have better jobs than they would otherwise have. Some of them are not entrepreneurial, have at least daily work or somewhere. There could be a lot more work for them.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:32:24

And are there new ones coming up in Bangalore? Because I never heard of it.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:31:52

A good friend of mine from Friends of lakes called Ram Prasad and India Cares Foundation, they just finished a well in Lalbagh in the traditional way with stonework. So there are many groups who are now working on it. And they’re bringing funds from everywhere. They’re bringing expertise and digging in Lalbagh. They also got water in about 25 feets. So it’s great.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:32:24

These wells are— just a curiosity but they don’t pose any risk to people So we make sure that there are safety grills at two levels, one at the mid level at the ground level and the other is at the top and you make it absolutely secure. We’ve done wells in schools, government schools where rain water harvesting has brought the well back but we made sure that there’s a lock and key and there are two levels of security.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:32:52

I think that India has lost the culture in modernization of handpumps. I belong to a small city called Meerut. 30 years ago there were hand pumps in every home. Now they have disappeared.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:33:05

Because that pump lifts water from 120 feet to 200 feet, they call it chapakal(Handpump) in Bihar. After 200 feet you have to pump again for around 10 to 20 times to get water. So after 2011 they got electric pumps and motors.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:33:22
So in India, how has the groundwater level decreased?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:33:27

We used to draw around 250 cubic kilometres of water a year, agricultural crops, industrial urban use, 250 cubic kilometres a year, we have 33 million to 14 million wells and Borewells. The next two countries are China and the USA. Together China and the USA don’t drought 250 cubic kilometres as much water as we draw individually for ourselves. So we have the world’s largest user of groundwater. And we’re completely dependent on groundwater for all our agricultural needs. 50% of urban needs, right? This has happened because surface water is scarce. Water comes only in four months, and we would hold on to it in our rivers and rivers are faraway dams are faraway. So therefore groundwater is ubiquitous. So slowly, incrementally, we become groundwater dependent. So for us, our survival depends on understanding groundwater hydrogeology, making sure we recharge enough, making sure we draw less and so for us, the goal is that if you’re able to bring back the water table to an open well level, then we are water secure.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:34:25

What is the right level in most of the wells?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:34:27

In Bangalore it is 1800 feet in parts of the city. But Cubbon Park it’s 20 feet. If you’ve done enough recharge, you can get it back at 20 feet. In Devanahalli the well I talk about is at 14 feet or 15 feet. If you’re able to maintain your lake, fill it with rainwater and treat wastewater, the groundwater table will come up.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:34:46

And you think that is a movement that is happening?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:34:48

Yes it is, and that’s what happened more and more. Every one of our lakes has to be saved.

Every one of our lakes has to be filled with water and it has to reach out that buffer and we have to have demand management.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:34:58

And now new wells are getting constructed and these well owners are demanding that get me 20 feet of—


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:35:06

So you have to be patient right, it’s not the, it took you 40 years to finish the water and when you build a well you can’t expect it to come back in a year, right? You need to have patience and have to recharge it and water will come on its own. So that’s the biggest thing that we’ve lost. We have lost patience nowadays. We wean results in stuff instant 2 minute..


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:35:32

That’s why these tube wells and borewells and all these?


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:35:34

They will give you water, but see what happens if the tubewell or borewell only talks to us twice. First time you get the water it says water has come the second time. Open well talks to you on a daily basis, if you go and check the water levels are low summer has come please use me less, rainy season

the water table will come on, you can use me abundantly year of drought use water less year of good monsoon Use plenty. That connection between water availability as a resource and our consumption has been lost because the tap does not tell you where the water comes from. How much water is there in the dam, how much of it you can use it doesn’t tell you anything. The only way the tap can talk to you is if the scarcity value of water is transmitted to you as a bill. That’s not happening. So either you talk and listen to the well or you listen to the bill which the tap brings these are the two forms

of communication. If we’ve lost both, we will over exploit the resource.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:36:30

Thank you so much sir.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:36:32

My pleasure.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:36:33

I am so grateful to you for doing this conversation and the work that you do right.


Vishwanath Srikantaiah 1:36:38

It’s my pleasure to be here and thank you for a very interesting and wide spanning conversation.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 1:36:42

Thank you so much.

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