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Understanding Equity of Land Economics on Urban Water System- Case of Bengaluru

Bengaluru city’s unprecedented economic and demographic growth has resulted in the vanishing of its lake systems. Over the past two decades, the economic boom in the city caused the surge of real estate investments which led to the overconsumption of resources. This scenario calls for an urgent look into the growth of the city v/s depletion of water systems, which were constructed about 500 years ago to sustain the city’s water demands. Today, the apathy of the lakes has caused it to become the backyard of urbanization and is merely a system to carry the sewage and stormwater of the city. These systems could have helped in reducing the gap between water demand and supply in the city. The city’s supply-demand gap makes the city second in the category of Cities having the lowest water availability after Karachi.

The reasons for diminishing lakes range from land-use changes to shift in governance and ownerships to economic and technological advancement, pushing the city to source water from the Cauvery reservoir almost 100 km away from the city, which directly or indirectly contributes to the present condition of the system, fuelling private water tanker mafia and real estate mafia to exploit the system. As a result, many of the lakes are drained in the public interest to make way for residential housing, bus depot, sports stadium and so on, thereby interrupting the spine of the whole system. 

In this paper, we look at the influence of land politics on the supply and the drainage side of the system, set against rapid urbanization, increasing land values and depleting resources. We discuss different scenarios that eventually changed the water system from down-hill supply using the terrain to up-hill supply enforcing the whole network of pumping systems. Land politics observed in uneven and fragmented water supply glaring at the haphazard peripheral development of the city is discussed in comparison with more organized and equitable supply at the core. Peripheral development is highly heterogeneous which houses the IT sector, international airport along with villages and slums.

On the contrary, the cascading system which controlled flooding has become cesspools, due to the encroachment of connecting primary channels, inlets, and outlets. The 500 years old system consisted of multi-tier components which included the primary channels which carried rainwater from higher levels and directed it to the lakes, the wetlands, which absorbed and filtered the water, recharging and rejuvenating the groundwater source and the Kalyani (stepped tanks) which were part of the community and religious service. In the core of the city, one could observe smaller temples/ idols attached to these Kalyani. 

These systems are diverted or altered as per the land requirement of real estate mafia resulting in flooding of many areas. Altering of topography, neglecting the watershed, the encroachment of wetland/lake beds, zero control over-discharge of wastewater into the lakes and gap in service infrastructure has resulted in flooding, depletion of groundwater and pollution of the water source. In this paper, we also look into the interplay of land politics and drainage systems leading to urban floods. This study looks at a few cases to understand the composite relationship between land and water, two highly thriving and controversial resources in the city. We mainly address these issues using geospatial analysis. This paper helps in understanding spatial patterns of these dynamics, adding to the knowledge body of land politics in metropolises.

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