BENGALURU: When A R Shivakumar speaks, he reflects a belief that while nature uses patience and simplicity to provide for us, we complicate it, because over time humans have lost both the traits. After all, the principal investigator of Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) at Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology (KSCST) has always pursued simplicity to solve complicated issues faced by society.
Having undertaken the RWH project as a mission and successfully implementing it in thousands of households in the state, he was wise enough to know that it has to be part of a government policy. So, while he devised ways to harvest rain, even patenting a filter to purify the water, parallelly he was involved in training programmes.
“I joined KSCST in 1981 when my solo engineering college project on extracting fibre from Sisal plant was adopted by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission. I was involved in smart wood stoves for rural areas. From 1984 to 1994, I was involved in studying the energy curve of Karnataka, the solution in solar water heaters and generating awareness in 174 taluks,” says Shivakumar.
After 10 years, the solar heater market took over. It succeeded because there was a business model which appealed to the plumbers, manufacturers and dealers — the key drivers. In 1994, Shivakumar focused on RWH, but soon realised that unlike solar water heaters, it was not a product, had no business model, and was hence less appealing.
After a lot of brainstorming, he felt the solution could lie in the home he was planning to construct. He took the challenge of not using even a drop of water from the corporation.
“After research, I approached the Indian Meteorological Department for 100 years of rain data of Bengaluru. I realised the city received close to 1,000 mm of annual rainfall and the gap between two successive rainfalls was only 100 days. Based on this, I built my house and for the past 21 years have not used a drop of Cauvery water,” he says.
In 1996, a Norwegian councillor heard about him when Shivakumar was the project manager for an Indo-Norwegian Environment Programme, working on cleaning lakes and solid waste management. “They offered to fund the project on a large scale,” he recollects.
Then began the tedious process of convincing the government. His initial suggestion to make Vidyaranyapura Layout self-sufficient using RWH was rejected. He then advised taking up buildings like Vidhana Soudha, BBMP head office and GPO. “I took up 10 projects in landmark buildings and used various technologies for RWH,” says Shivakumar, also the brain behind the country’s first rainwater harvesting theme park, Sir M Visvesvaraya Rainwater Harvesting Theme Park in Jayanagar.
But the policy makers never deemed it a priority, until one incident. Shivakumar says, “I was travelling near the then BMP office, when I saw workers demolishing an iconic structure, a 7.5 lakh litre swimming pool built by the Britishers. I met the commissioner and suggested converting it into a RWH tank. He accepted. He created a committee to look into RWH which led to a change in the building bylaws. RWH was included in the bylaws for the first time in the country in 2002. But from 2002 to 2008, I struggled because implementation of the bylaw was only on paper.”
He convinced the then BWSSB chairman, but the BWSSB Act had to be amended, which meant assembly’s nod. “In a month, every MLA endorsed it. By November 2009, RWH had become compulsory in the city for any new connection,” he says.
He has since moved to policy making. Along with Environmental Management & Policy Research Institute, he conducts programmes for IAS and IFS officers. “The idea is to develop policies for their departments keeping RWH in mind,” he says.