With the rains playing hide and seek and most reservoirs in the Cauvery basin going dry, the issue of water scarcity has become more acute than ever. The rivers and tributaries that once flowed through the urban jungle of Bangalore have either almost disappeared or just existing on maps like the Kumudvathi, or for that matter turned sewage carriers like the Dakshina Pinakini and Vrishabhavathi.
Following successful people's movements for lake rejuvenation, it seems the only way out now is reviving our rivers next. Art of Living, under the banner 'Volunteer for a better India' has taken up the rejuvenation of River Kumudvathi at Nelamangala.
The movement kick started on February 17, and since then, Art of Living volunteers from the city have come to the villages of Kerekattiganuru, Arebommanahalli and Geddalipura.
Every Sunday after Sunday, they join hands with the villagers to put in a hard day's work. The project aims to address the water shortage problems through rainwater harvesting, increasing green cover and desilting existing step wells, among other methods.
So far, the hub of these activities has been the three villages but the plan is to eventually extend close to 300 villages situated in the Kumudvathi basin.
Geologist and scientist Dr Lingaraju Yale, who is piloting the project believes in imbibing traditional methods of water conservation and storage.
Having digitally mapped the catchment area, he states that the amount of rainfall these villages receive fluctuates but, on the whole, it has not declined. Then, why is there scarcity of water? "There has been a change in the terrain due to deforestation, loss of green cover and planting trees like the eucalyptus which sucks in a lot of ground water."
He further added, "Our ancestors were simple people. They may not have been technologically advanced, but they constructed tanks and lakes to store water and built check dams along the course of the river to prevent soil erosion."
He believes that reverting to the system that was in place then is the solution to the present water crisis. “There is also a natural system in place here,” he clarifies.
“This is a rocky terrain with undulations. So, when it rains, water flows down from the top of hills and collects in pockets in the rocks to make tiny pools.”
In addition, he explains that recharging of wells are also essential to raise the ground water table. "We dig up to 20 ft, and fill up the sides with gravel to increase the porosity. This, along with the pressure that the column of water exerts, speeds up the absorption of water along the river bed. If the ground water level rises, even the water flowing in the streams and river will increase."
Dr Lingaraju and noted environmentalist and former IFS officer, Yellappa Reddy who is also on the planning team, visit the sites regularly to evaluate the progress. Reddy makes it a point to hold the attention of the villagers with instances from the scriptures and mythology. “Make sure you plant a lot of Atti (cluster fig) trees,” he tells the Arebommanahalli Panchayat secretary. “Do you know the importance of the tree?” he asks the people huddled around him. They shake their heads but their curiosity is aroused. “When Narasimha slayed Hiranyakashipu, poison from the latter’s body entered him through his fingernails. And Lakshmi used the atti fruit to nullify it. So, it also has healing properties, apart from its ability to help the soil retain water and being good for the cattle.”
The environmentalist also believes in retaining as much of the natural habitat as possible, “Get the sludge and weeds removed from this rock pool, let the animals drink from here; make sure that you put in some guppy fish as they feed on mosquito larvae. Don't clear the thickets here; plant neem and sandal trees amidst them and they'll act as natural tree guards.”
Apart from this, Vivek Kulkarni, Incharge of the Youth Empowerment Seminar, has recently started bringing children from different schools in Bangalore for a day. "I want them to know the reality. Only then will they burn with fire to do something," says Vivek who is confident that the project will help eradicate water problems.
"We feel like we have learned something, it's refreshing to come to the village and do such work," says Pooja, a class X student from Jaigopal Garodia Rashtrotthana Vidya Kendra, Ramamurthy Nagar.
While the 15 or so children together planted 30 saplings, teams of volunteers and some villagers are emptying the stepwells of dry earth. They dig and pass on baskets full of hardened mud as if in an assembly line, making a pile close by as they have already done for about 10 such stepwells. As soon as they see some sign of moisture and feel some of its coolness, cheering and clapping break out with shouts of Jai!
Once more, the hope of more water is in the air, and the hope for a greener tomorrow…