Now, Karnataka voters get free water as BJP, Congress rush to capitalise on scarcity in parched Bengaluru villages
Congress party workers claim that this distribution is an eyewash and the entire region in Bengaluru is living on the mercy of water mafias.
A group of 20 odd houses behind a row of commercial outlets in Nallurahalli in east of Bengaluru have one thing in common: They all have water storage tanks outside their main entrances. Residents in at least 30 other villages in and around Nallurhalli are yet to receive Cauvery river water. Until that happens, the people here are completely dependent on these water tankers for their daily needs.
But with elections fast approaching, political parties are cashing in on the water scarcity in the city. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the ruling Congress are offering free water to residents, who otherwise would be spending anywhere between Rs 400 and Rs 1200 per tanker load of 4,000 litres. The residents say that prices vary as per demand during peak summer season. Free water is being distributed in areas like KR Puram, Whitefield, Pai Layout among others.
The water tankers bearing a BJP sticker stops by Nallurhalli at least once every day. Three words in English are placed like a halo above MLA Aravind Limbavali’s face on the sticker: "Free Drinking Water". Above it, the same is written in Kannada. Beside Limbavali’s picture is a picture of the BJP’s candidate for the region, Chandrasekhar Reddy.
Congress party workers claim that this distribution is an eyewash and the entire region is living on the mercy of water mafias. These water mafias, with the help of party workers, are hindering work to lay out the Cauvery water pipelines.
However, the BJP doesn't think the move amounts to an election gimmick. "The BJP is distributing water for the good of people and not with the elections in mind. We are not like the Congress," said a BJP supporter.
Acknowledging that his party has been active in distributing water for utility purpose in and around Nallurahalli, and denying any electoral motive behind the distribution, Limbavali said that this is a social service that his people have undertaken.
Considering the water crisis in the city and delivering on its promises made in the state budget, the Siddaramaiah government had issued an order last year for supply of free drinking water to slum dwellers in Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) limits.
Chikka Raja, a resident of Nallurahalli, said, "As the Cauvery pipeline was approved for the area only recently, this is nothing more than a political gimmick by the Congress. Now that the elections are nearing, they have started to lay pipelines. Once the elections are over, water supply will stop again."
"The BJP party people are supplying us water that is free of cost. The party has always helped the people in our area, not the government," Raja said.
Ram Das, another Nallurahalli resident who also believes that the laying out of Cauvery pipes is a political gimmick on part of the ruling party, said, "The pipes are being laid. But we do not know when we will get a proper water supply. The BJP leaders have been helping us out for years. Now they are supplying us with free water. I think it is a good thing."
Das is one of many direct benefactors of the water tankers and believes that the party will reduce their daily cost of water consumption.
However, the Congress' Mahadevapura constituency candidate AC Srinivas believes that the whole thing is proof of the 'water mafia' receiving 'favour' from BJP leaders.
"No tanker is supplying water free of cost. The tag is put on tankers only to evade legal authorities. It is run by water mafias who do not want Cauvery water to reach the area as it will hamper their business," he said.
But residents in and around Nallurahalli find themselves lining up with buckets and plastic pots as the BJP's advertorial tractor stops to receive free water.
"I am aware that our party leaders are doing this as a social service. I don't have an objection. Yes, they are using my face with local leaders, but they are not using my money," Limbavali said.
"There are 31 villages under my constituency for which Cauvery water was recently approved. Now the plan is being materialised. It will be another one or two years before the water actually reaches them. In some places, the work is almost complete," he said.
Political blame game
The Congress’s Mahadevapura constituency candidate Srinivas said that due to the hurdles created by the water mafia, the government is facing difficulties in giving water to areas from where Opposition candidates were elected. "In several parts in my constituency, I have dug borewells at my own expense as the residents there are completely dependent on tanker water. There are 10-15 water tankers in the area that sell water illegally and have been doing so for at least 10 years," he said.
In February, a BBC report listed 11 world cities that were "most likely to run out of drinking water", and put Bengaluru at number two, behind only São Paulo, Brazil.
But Limbavalli and Srinivas feel that Bengaluru is not reeling under any water shortage. While Srinivas blames the water mafia for lack of connectivity in parts of the city, Limbavalli blames poor management on part of the government for the same.
"There should be no political discrimination when it comes to basic facilities like water. The Cauvery basin has enough water to meet the supply requirements of the city," Limbavalli said.
The author is a member of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.
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