Mangaluru gripped by water scarcity, unprecedented situation sees residents struggle

“People don't have water to wash their butts,” a vinyl banner reads in Bajal Cross in Mangaluru city of Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka. Another banner on BC road reads, “People are forced to drink filtered drain (toilet) water.”

The Mangaluru City Corporation's (MCC) decision to ration water has not gone down well with the residents of the coastal city and its surrounding areas. Authorities say that the decision was prompted by soaring temperatures and lack of pre-monsoon rainfall in the coastal parts of the state this year.

Unlike parts of Karnataka that have been receiving rains in the last month, pre-monsoon rains have evaded Dakshina Kannada district. Apart from light drizzles across the city last week followed by light to moderate rainfall in Moodabidri, Belthangady, and Puttur taluks, there has been no rain to speak of.

Local residents are up in arms against political leaders for allowing rampant urbanisation and depletion of trees in the region; that according to them has even led to groundwater depletion and affected the water level in borewells and open wells. The pictures of Union Minister Sadananda Gowda, Senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily, along with local legislators of both BJP and Congress, have come up in several areas; with accusations of causing distress to the lives of the people.

Gerard Towers, an activist with Mangaluru Civic Group (MCG), posed wearing a bath towel, along with a bucket, soap tray and a mug, at a recent protest against water shortage in the city. He claimed that he could not take a bath due to the lack of water availability. “This is not a first, each year during the summer there is water scarcity, but our elected representatives are not doing anything about it. Neither are natural water resources rejuvenated, nor is there any plan of action to increase the capacity of water storage at the vented dams,” he said.

According to district authorities, the daily requirement of water in the city is 160 million litres. The key source of water to the city is the Thumbe vented dam, in which the water level has dropped to less than four metres against its maximum capacity of six metres.

The District Authorities add that water rationing is a necessity owing to delay in the arrival of the monsoon in the coastal district, and poor water collection in Nethravathi catchment areas. The soaring temperatures have also caused evaporation at dams (5 cms/day). Since April 11, water is being rationed in Mangaluru – residents get continuous water supply 96 hours, followed by no water supply for 72 hours.

Karnataka Minister for Urban Development and DK district in-charge UT Khader said that the government does not mean to cause public inconvenience, but water rationing has to be undertaken as a last resort. “In the present scenario (without rain), the water to the city will last up to June 15. However if we don’t control the supply, the water at Thumbe will last only till May 28,” he said.

Facing one of the worst water crises, alongside harsh summer, industrial, commercial, and private establishments have downsized their production capacity. While work at Mangaluru Special Economic Zone (MSEZ) has been brought to a complete halt, Mangaluru Refinery and Petroleum Limited (MRPL) and Mangaluru Chemical Fertilizer (MCF) have downsized their operations in petrochemical plants and chemical fertilisers respectively.

In accordance with the DC's order, since last month Mangaluru Electricity Supply Company (MESCOM) has been supplying electricity only three days a week to agricultural pump sets, in the wake depleting water in the city.

Hotels are seen installing sign boards suggesting water is served on request, “Given the limited supply of water and storage facility, we are dedicating water chiefly for cooking and maintaining essential hygiene of vessels and restaurant premise,” a hotel operator at Milagres in the city said.

On Friday, Dharmadhikari Veerendra Heggade of the famous Dharmasthala temple has appealed to devotees to defer their visit to the temple. The temple whose kitchen, sees a footfall of 30k-50k visits per day has requested its patrons to cooperate with the temple authorities.

Dakshina Kannada PU College Principals Association has submitted a memorandum to the DC’s office, petitioning for the postponement of the academic calendar year that is set to begin on May 20. The district has 2,070 schools and 201 PU Colleges including both government and private institutions. Many school and college authorities are concerned that they will not be able to meet drinking water requirements or for sanitation purposes. “Moreover several educational institutions have signed up for providing lunch for the students. How do we meet this requirement without uninterrupted water supply?” an association member of one institute asked.

College authorities are advising hostel residents to go back to their native or make alternative arrangements of stay. “Only a few PhD fellows or guest faculty or external evaluators who are on temporary visit can be accommodated at this point, we don’t have sufficient water resources to serve the larger crowd,” an administrative official of a popular medical college in Mangaluru city said.

In a recently held press conference, activist Dinesh Holla attributed the state government’s decision to divert water from Yettinahole (one of the tributaries of Nethravathi river) for Yettinahole Hydel Project as the major reason for water sources drying-up in Dakshina Kannada. The convenor of green NGO Sahyadri Sanchaya, Holla said that the lack of inflow to Thumbe from Nethravathi river can be directly called a repercussion of the Yettinahole project. “The project has not only hit the city’s regular supply of water but also has left a disastrous effect on the lush green forests of the Western Ghats,” Holla said.

Nethravathi River in Mangaluru | Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0, Neharana

He also pointed out that despite water scarcity being a pressing issue, none of the political parties have committed to address the concern of water shortage in the city during the summer and even people are acting indifferent to the matter, until they are affected by it.

Environmental activists in the district also raised concerns that the district will eventually fall victim to water-tankers, which will form another mafia of fleecing people for want of basic requirements such as water.  

The Karnataka government's recent call for tender on ‘Aircraft’ cloud-seeding to meet rainfall deficit brings optimism among the people of Dakshina Kannada, that the water-crisis can be eventually stalled.

Story by Story Infinity (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP.)