Rock bot­tom

It is dif­fi­cult to find wa­ter even at record depths in Ko­lar, Kar­nataka's hor­ti­cul­ture hub


Bshash­vata neero (We want a per­ma­nent source of wa­ter)!” For the past five months, Ko­lar, a dis­trict in Kar­nataka, has been re­ver­ber­at­ing with this slo­gan. Ev­ery day, hun­dreds of farm­ers and traders gather at Col­lege Cir­cle in Ko­lar town to protest an acute short­age of wa­ter, which re­sulted in a 50 per cent crop loss this year in the dis­trict. Ko­lar is ranked highly among all the dis­tricts in the state in pro­duc­tiv­ity and yield of hor­ti­cul­tural crops. But the protest has landed on deaf ears as no­body from the state gov­ern­ment has ac­knowl­edged it, for­get about vis­it­ing the site. This forced many farm­ers to aban­don agri­cul­ture and mi­grate to Ben­galuru.

For more than a decade, Kar­nataka has been over­ex­ploit­ing its ground­wa­ter. In 2006, Ko­lar’s av­er­age ground­wa­ter level was at a depth of 15.03 m. This year, from Jan­uary to Au­gust, it dropped to 61.48 m. It now ranks the low­est among all dis­tricts in the state. In fact, ground­wa­ter has been over­ex­ploited in all its five talukas, leav­ing no scope to fur­ther tap ground­wa­ter, which meets its ir­ri­ga­tion and do­mes­tic needs. How­ever, this is not the first time Ko­lar has wit­nessed such scarcity. Ground­wa­ter was over­ex­ploited in all its talukas in 2011.

The eastern gate­way to Kar­nataka, Ko­lar, has no peren­nial source of wa­ter. Al­though it is drained by three river basins—Palar, Pon­nai­yar and Pen­nar—th­ese rivers and their trib­u­taries are small and carry wa­ter only dur­ing the rainy sea­son. The semi-arid dis­trict re­ceives an an­nual av­er­age rain­fall of just 748 mm. The rain­fall is also ex­tremely er­ratic. While in 2005, the an­nual rain­fall was 1,195.4 mm, in 2016 it was just 521 mm. In the ab­sence of sur­face wa­ter and ad­e­quate mea­sures to recharge wa­ter aquifers, farm­ers started dig­ging bore wells in early 2000s, a prac­tise which soon be­came ram­pant.

In just four years, from 2011 to 2015, the num­ber of bore wells in Ko­lar in­creased by 64 per cent. Al­though the Cen­tral Ground Wa­ter Board says Ko­lar had 84,287 bore wells—the high­est in the state in 2015—Ho­lali Prakash, a farmer from Ko­lar taluka and one of the lead­ers of the protest, says that this is a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate. It could be at least 125,000, Prakash says. Like

Since June 12, the cit­i­zens of Ko­lar have been protest­ing the acute short­age of wa­ter. Ground­wa­ter in all its five talukas is over­ex­ploited

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