Change Makers

Solving Bengaluru's water crisis - Ganesh Shanbhag


How did the water crisis began?

Water travels a minimum of 130 kilometres before reaching the homes of Bengaluru. This distance in the future will increase to a minimum of 200 kilometres with the building of new dams.

According to the IPCC’s sixth assessment report, the governance of urban and peri-urban water resources is significantly impacted by climate extremes, especially in a world that is becoming more urbanized. Currently, more than half (54%) of the world’s population resides in cities with rising urbanization rates (WWAP, 2019).

From 1973 to 2012, 17% of cities experienced statistically significant increases in the frequency of daily precipitation extremes, according to Mishra et al. (2015). Researchers indicated that these observed climate variations in urban areas were predominantly brought on by large-scale changes rather than local land cover changes.

All of us read these statistics every other day. Right? However, very few of us genuinely come up with solutions.

They stay meaningless if governments, lawmakers, and citizens do not act on these thoroughly established facts.

But there are people and engaged citizens like Ganesh who take matters into their own hands to deal with issues.

Ganesh Shanbhag, a citizen like you and me, took this seriously and made some fundamental changes.

“I always believed it was someone else’s responsibility”, he says, “I didn’t act on such truths. But it only dawned on me when I was down to my last drop of water.”

Ganesh Shanbhag is a professional senior software engineer and an eco friend by passion. With his master’s degree from Manipal university, he has been working and residing in Bengaluru for the past eleven and a half years. He is working full time as a software engineer in the product development team of Dialpad and following his passion for conserving the water of Bengaluru on the weekends.

How did the water crisis began? - Dying of a historical lake

His efforts towards the environment started in 2018, after the Vidhan Sabha election. It was when the Begur lake was emptied to be modernized. To everyone’s shock, 200-year-old inscriptions were discovered at the bottom of the lake when the water was dried out. This incident demonstrated the killing of a historical lake. This lake was not just a waterbody but an ecosystem. One day after the lake was dried, Bengaluru lost five borewells supplying water to many nearby villages.


After the borewells dried, tankers were another option which seemed feasible to all. Ganesh commented on how tankers are a source of air pollution. Some apartments borrow over 240 tankers from other states to fulfil their water needs. This involves loads of carbon, plus it’s not a natural water source as the source is always unknown.

Current situation of lakes in Bengaluru
Image courtesy: NDTV
The city of rivers, Bengaluru, has more than three now- dry rivers that were formerly a significant drinking water supply. Some lakes dating back thousands of years, like the Singena Agrahara lake, were exposed to garbage dumping. Lakes like Kothanur, Chunchaghatta and Doddakalsandra fall under the Class D category.

“We don’t act until the last drop of water is available. In my case, we lost the last drop. Hence, I had to act” said Shanbhag.


How did Ganesh Shanbhag develop the Rain Water Harvesting system?

Ever since Ganesh was a school-going boy, he used to read Kannada vernacular and showed particular interest in Shree Padre, the rainwater man. He read about the NDA government and their river-linking plans and saved these cut-outs. He knew he wanted to do something related to this but found no necessity. It was only in 2018 that this hidden passion was put into use when he decided to replace tanker water with a rainwater harvesting system.


Ganesh had a modest beginning. Then, with his residency, he began. First, he conducted an analysis using basic studies on rainwater, which Bengaluru received well due to its location. With an average of 1500 mm in the last three years, he realized that water availability is not an issue.


The start, however, wasn’t the easiest. One of the biggest hurdles Ganesh faced was convincing people:

  1. He lived in a residency, so using a shared space was an issue.
  2. The mentality of spending on operational costs rather than investing in the cost reduction method was hard to change.
  3. He recalled how people would not have an insight into saving money in the long term with this approach.

Ganesh then built a POC for the area he needed to prove his idea could work. This was when he started putting his knowledge to work. He sourced all the materials needed for setting up the rainwater harvesting system for his residence from Alibaba.


Water isn't something that buyers even consider. They check the gym and the pool. And not water systems. Even contractors are reluctant to raise their investment. We have 12 recharge pits and all the necessary sewage treatment equipment. The rooftop is redirected to underground storage as a filter. Extra sewage water is redirected to recharge pits.

During January and February 2019, he made an effort to collect rainwater, and as a consequence, empty tanks were filled. The entire apartment could survive on the two lac litres of water for five days. In reality, from February 2019 to May 2019, the residency only used rainwater. He was causing a drift in the residents’ thinking by lowering the need for tankers. The locals gradually believed that the rainwater was sustaining and safe to drink and bathe in.


He recalled how people would first get offended at consuming water converted from drain water. It took a lot of effort, but the locals gradually believed that the rainwater was sustaining and safe to drink and bathe in.

What spurred Ganesh’s efforts towards a grid-free life?

The trigger came when a fellow resident shared Ganesh’s efforts on social media, which caught many’s attention.


Following Ganesh’s impressive effort on his home and the surrounding area, Mr Tejasvi Surya, a recently elected MP, invited him. Post this, he was also nominated for the Water Awards 2020. This opened up many possibilities for chances to spread out the solution’s implementation.


Ganesh decided to advance his plan after seeing its impact on the ground and in the media. It was time to help Bengaluru, the city of lakes, to be restored to its original glory.

One of the most significant helping hands in doing so was becoming a part of the Wow forum, which allowed him to connect with many other people.


WoW, or the World of water forum, brings together people who want to work for the city’s water consumers. WoW partner city mission includes cities like Bengaluru, Chennai, Trichy, Hyderabad and Kathmandu. The forum not only facilitated networking but also served as a medium for Ganesh to help other people.


“These initiatives can scale up easily. You need to know the fundamentals and how to tweak them to get the desired results. Now that I have a bigger network due to wow, it is easier for me to help people.” Said Shanbagh. He helps people voluntarily by providing them with resources, networks and knowledge to initiate rainwater harvesting systems at their scale.

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Meet the grid free Ganesh

Ganesh is currently working on a solar power plant which will offset 40% of the power used. He also focuses on living a sustainable life by using only electric vehicles and recharging vehicles from renewable energy-driven stations. He believes that it is not burdensome to live a sustainable life as long as you’re making small efforts now and then. Be it reading about the wastage created by RO water systems or bathing in the purest form of water.

How does employment look in sustainability sector?

Ganesh Shanbagh emphasized the realities of being sustainable. According to him, living grid free is the way to go.

To explain this, he used an example. Suppose a farmer with a few acres of land builds a house of the soil on the same ground. There, he cultivates his food, grows trees, uses the wood for fire and cooks his food. He might even go for a solar panel if more energy is needed. After a few years, if he doesn’t want the house, he’ll destroy it, and it will return to the soil.

This is what a grid-free life is. Today, we are trapped within grids. We are living a gridded life. Consider the grids for water, electricity, and sewerage.

We must live without the need for a grid. One way to do it is by using solar electricity or collecting rainwater later. Every solution is regional. We are fortunate to have enough sunlight, rain, and temperature to handle sewage. So it’s not just about abandoning non-renewable resources but about leaving the grid surrounding us.

Keeping this in mind, there is no need for incentivizing such projects because we are already living an incentivized life.

Water is a cornerstone of socialism in India. At the lowest possible cost, we want it to reach everyone. Here, 1000 litres is obtained for 20–25 rupees. Pumping at this rate is almost undoable. We already live in a society where there are incentives. The only possibility of incentives can be reduced GST rates on modular designs dealing with renewable energy. The real deal is unfolding from a socialist perspective. You cannot expect the government to reduce your electricity bills just because you’re using solar panels, said Shanbagh.

What does Ganesh have to say to the readers?

In an attempt to unmask the realities of the general people, Shanbagh mentioned how residents of his society were ready to bear the operational costs instead of taking the small delta that comes with sustainability. In such cases, the residents had to be aware of the return on investment and the self-funded future.

Any economic downturn won’t impact environmental economics. Because it directly relates to engineering humans. Additionally, it includes a CAPEX delta, which no one likes to have in a down economy. It occurs only when water levels are depressed and not due to economic conditions. Consider your home an ecosystem, and make it aatmanirbhar, said Shanbagh.

पृथिव्यां त्रीणि रत्नानि जलमन्नं सुभाषितम् ।

मूर्खैः पाषाणखण्डेषु रत्नसंज्ञा विधीयते ॥

Shanbagh concluded that the only three treasures on this earth, according to our Vedas, are food, water, and good deeds. People who believe gems to be genuine gemstones are fools. My point is that if our epics and Vedas emphasized these elements, who are we to ruin them? It’s time to repay the damage we’ve already done. If you approach thinking in that way, you will begin to live morally.

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