Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Lessons on dealing with Cauvery water supply issue at home in Bengaluru

After moving back from the US a few years ago, my wife and I have been living in the house that my dad had built nearly three decades ago – after all, the house now belongs to me and is centrally located in a nice neighborhood in Bengaluru.  

During the years since we built the house, the neighborhood has transformed. Our house has enjoyed continuous water supply for decades since my parents moved in. Therefore, I was rather surprised to find water supply from the mains had become rather erratic during the past few weeks. 

Houses in urban India are designed with a large ‘sump’ to store water from civic supply, that is supplied alternative days along with an overhead water pump. We had the supply routine noted in our calendars, but for a week or so in early January our sump started running out of water. Water supply in urban Bengaluru is managed by BWSSB, colloquially known as ‘Cauvery water,’ since the water is pumped upstream from Cauvery River. 

I checked around with our neighbors and was told they didn’t face any issues. It was only our house that was facing issue with water supply, which felt rather strange. 

I decided to call the local BWSSB line-man Avinash, who came and inspected the meter and pipe coming from the mains. Local line-men are the first point of contact since they operate the ‘valves’ from water mains into residential neighborhoods. Avinash didn’t find have any issues or blockage that perplexed us further. He suggested that I lodge a written complain at the local BWSSB office that he would review with the area AE (Assistant Engineer).

The issue continued to persist for weeks and in the interim I had to call for a local water-tanker to come and supply water into our sump. 

The sump at home had been designed to store about 2-3000 liters of water, just sufficient for a couple of days for our family of four. In the meantime, I took to social media and began tweeting about the issue too. 
While the tweet generated a few likes, comments and re-tweets, it didn’t lead to action or a response from officials. During the weeks following, I also lodged a complain in BBMP’s complaint management system and also on Sahaaya 2.0 (Namma Bengaluru) city corporation’s complaint App. These systems simply generated a ticket number, but didn’t lead to any action. 

In the meantime, I continued to call the lineman every couple of days to see if there was a follow up. He came home with his supervisor who asked me to record the meager flow of water that we were receiving on my smartphone. I also got the phone number of the local AE and sent him a message with my issue along with the video of the water supply.

Lessons on dealing with BWSSB water supply issue

During the last weekend in January, I read about a ‘Water Adalat’ (complaint hearing) that the commissioner of BBMP was conducting that day between 9 an 11 AM. 

I called the hotline at 9 AM and found the line was busy but I persisted and continued to call the phone line every few minutes. I finally got through at about 10 AM. An official took down my Water supply account number, name and address and connected me to his superior. The officer heard my rather brief request and promised to send the local engineer to resolve our issue. 

About 2 hours after my call with the commissioner, the lineman, his supervisor and the Engineer came by our house. The AE asked a few pertinent questions and speculated that our water line, drawn from the mains by the main road years ago may have changed. 

The Engineer suggested that could draw water from the water mains that had now come winding by adjacent to our compound. He agreed that the change of line would be the responsibility of BWSSB, while I would have to pay to get the pipe inside our compound re-routed to the new inlet from the mains. 

I called my plumber to figure out the re-routing of inlet pipes from the mains and the lineman brought in labor to work on the connection to the water mains from the road.

In India, unlike in the west, cartography of public water, sewage and other services aren’t well mapped or documented. This leads to a lot of guess-work while digging roads and other public areas for utilities. The guys dug a 3-feet wide circle adjacent to the road about 3-feet deep but weren’t able to strike the mains. 

They left after covering up the dig and said they’d be back the next day, but didn’t come back as promised. They came back after a week citing other work emergencies by which I had to order another tanker of water. When they started digging a bit deeper in the same spot, they found the water mains and went on to connect it to the line my plumber had already extended from our house.

That evening, when the water was supplied to the mains, water supply to our house resumed. Finally; after about 3-4 weeks of complains and calling.

Lesson learnt: 
  • While dealing with public officials, be persistent and pursue the matter at the top and also work with local officials 
  • If you are able to reach a top official, it will streamline the communication and ensure your work gets done promptly. 

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