Woes of suction pumps on BWSSB water lines

Our home in Richmond Town, in the heart of Bangalore, has been battling erratic supply of corporation water (from the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board BWSSB) for years. In the 1980s and 90s, our 3-foot wide, 15-foot deep open well would augment the corporation water, but the water table has fallen and the well has water only during the monsoons.

Water these days is released by the BWSSB valve-man every alternate day, so the water that comes on an appointed day needs to be enough to last two days. Looking back, most often, the water would come in a trickle, so much so that we barely received 5000-6000 litres the whole month. Those days I was living away from Bangalore and my mom would regularly call in the morning to tell me to lodge a complaint online with BWSSB saying that there was no water. I would religiously do this, but nothing much would happen. She would call the local BWSSB engineers and on and off, they would offer to send a water tanker to help, but the root of the problem was not addressed.

BWSSB water bill
5000 litres from BWSSB for a whole month

About a year and a half ago, March 2021 to be precise, we didn’t get water for several days. It was just my mom and me in the house. After managing with whatever water we had stored in the sump and overhead tank, both finally got emptied and our taps ran dry. BWSSB engineers (AEE, JEs) and workers said that something must be wrong with our water line. They dug up and found that all was clear. No blockage or anything. The next “water day” morning we still didn’t get water. On calling the valve-man, he promptly came and checked the water flow in the opposite house and the apartment building next door. Both were getting water. It was indeed a strange situation.

Looking at the speed at which the water meter in the apartment building was spinning, it didn’t take much to realise that they were pulling the water unnaturally using a suction pump. We found that on closing their inlet valve, our house was getting water with reasonably good flow. The mystery was solved! We now understood how we got water intermittently. After these people had filled their tanks each day, if water was still being released by BWSSB, we would get the remnants.

Water meter
Water meter reading

When confronted, the residents of the apartment admitted to sucking the water, something that “is common in Bangalore”. They also were quite clear that they needed to do this to ensure that they got enough water even if it meant that we didn’t get any, and that they would continue to use the illegal suction pump. “Many things are illegal but we have to do them.” Our water problem was our problem and we could do whatever we wanted about it. As a consolation, once in ten to fifteen days, they would switch off their pump and allow us to get water for about an hour!

Circumstances were such that it is impossible that BWSSB officials were not earlier aware of the use of the illegal suction pump. For years and years, they had let us suffer, putting up a charade, offering tanker water, when all that they needed to do was enforce the law with regard to illegal water sucking. With constant pressure from our side, BWSSB was forced to issue orders to the neighbour apartment to disconnect the suction pump. Despite this, the residents brazenly continued and our house continued to suffer.

We tried to amicably resolve the problem by talking to each of the residents, to make them realise what they were doing was not just illegal but morally wrong, but we were woefully unsuccessful. Morality was thrown out of the window. They would seek forgiveness at the temple or church or mosque and God would understand.

We had no choice but to escalate the matter to two Executive Engineers (EEs) and the Managing Director of BWSSB. The EEs visited our premises separately but nothing concrete happened. On “water day” mornings we would call the JE and the valve-man saying that we weren’t getting water. I would send them WhatsApp messages and pictures of the meter reading to show that the meter had not moved. “Give me 5-10 minutes”, is what they would say. And they would do some magic and we would start getting water. Logically, the magic could have been a phone call to the neighbours asking them to switch off their pump. Imagine a situation where every alternate day, you get up thinking about whether or not you will get water. Ridiculous, but this is how were were managing. A water tanker now and then.

In March this year, the situation returned to the way it was the previous year. No water for several days. By this time we were 4-5 people living in the house, so our requirements were much different from what they were a year ago. BWSSB engineers were very polite in taking our calls and even visiting our house. They advised us to move our sump closer to the road so that pressure would be sufficient for water to fill up. They told us there are technical issues which we do not understand. All bull crap.

Over the year it seems that the neighbour apartment had submitted a letter saying that they had disconnected the suction pump. This was always BWSSB’s defence when we asked them about the suction pump. There was a clear relationship between us getting water and the suction pump being operated by the neighbour. In reality, they hadn’t done any permanent disconnection. They had just put their inlet valve and water meter and pump into a lockable grill chamber and reconfigured their illegal system. An eyewash. It is impossible that the BWSSB engineers weren’t aware of this, but they admitted to being helpless saying “their meter is kept locked”.

We had had enough. We decided that if BWSSB was helpless in enforcing the law, they needed police help. So we informed BWSSB that we would be filing an FIR against the neighbour apartment and they would be a party to it.

Finally BWSSB took action. It took a couple of days. I got a call from the neighbour saying that they were disconnecting the pump. After doing this, they realised that corporation water was not flowing into their sump because their inlet from the road was too high. They needed to lower the entry point into the sump. The technical flaw was really at their end and not at ours, unlike what BWSSB had been telling us.

We are happy that BWSSB finally enforced the law and that the neighbours have sorted their water inflow issue. It has been about four months and it looks like the situation is under control. We have been receiving adequate supply of water from BWSSB. Hope it stays this way.

We also took a big step for the future with regard to our open well. More in the next post.

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