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HomekarnatakaSoaked in water scarcity: Dhobi Ghats hung out to dry in Bengaluru

Soaked in water scarcity: Dhobi Ghats hung out to dry in Bengaluru

Bengaluru: Bengaluru is potentially facing a water crisis due to a poor monsoon and decreasing groundwater levels.

This has notably impacted livelihoods relying on groundwater, including Dhobi Ghats (open-air laundries)that cater to hospitals, hotels, and private dry-cleaning facilities.

At Srinagar Dhobi Ghat, two of the three borewells have run dry, forcing workers to wash clothes in shifts, leading to financial constraints.

“They might have got huge orders and have the potential. But water is a constraint. There is not enough water to let everyone work at a time. Hence, we have asked them to work in shifts,” said Lakshmi Narayana, deputy treasurer of the Hindulida Dhobi Ghat Madiwala Sangha, which runs the 54-year-old Dhobi Ghat in Srinagar.

Close to 112 families live at the quarters in the Srinagar Dhobi Ghat, and the water needs to be rationed for domestic use, too.

“Water is pumped for washing purposes for only one hour every day. Some of us wash during that time while others store water to be used later. Since we also have to meet the domestic needs, we have no option but to ration water,” said Rangappa (name changed), a worker at the Dhobi Ghat.

There are nearly 40 Dhobi Ghats in the city,and most face similar water challenges. While a few of them work in shifts to ensure equitable distribution of available water, a few others book water tankers, which burn a hole in their pockets.

“Many of them would have committed to delivering clothes and we cannot halt work completely. Hence, they will have to resort to getting water through tankers. Close to 50% of their income will be spent on tankers and this is a huge financial burden,” said Gangaraju, secretary of the Bangalore North Madiwala Mahajana Sangha.

Workers at the Rajajinagar Dhobi Ghat said they would require at least 20 tankers a day if they had to completely depend on it. However, the financial constraints make it difficult for them to get tankers every day. “We will have to pool in and get people to contribute and pay for it. It does not always work out,” a worker at the Rajajinagar Dhobi Ghat said. 

Owing to the huge burden, workers at Srinagar have decided not to get tankers. “They demand Rs 900 to Rs 1,000 during the crisis. Water is basic for us and since we require a huge quantity of water, we cannot afford it,” Narayan said. 

The bigger worry for the community now is the acute water shortage that might hit the city during the summer. 

“Summer months are difficult to manage. Given that the monsoon has failed and the situation is getting bad in October, the next summer could become unmanageable,” Narayan said. 

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Dhobi Ghat at Ashok Nagar in Bengaluru.

Credit: DH Photo/ S K Dinesh

Workers at the Srinagar Dhobi ghat, Rajajinagar Dhobi ghat, and Malleshwaram Dhobi ghat said that the treatment plants might ease their water needs to a great extent. 

Though there have been multiple discussions on setting up water treatment plants at these ghats, considering the huge quantity of wastewater generated, projects did not take off. While a few plants were set up at Vyalikaval and Rajajinagar Dhobi ghats, none is operational. 

“Even if a part of it can be reused, it will help, especially during the summer months and when the monsoon fails,” a worker at the Srinagar Dhobi ghat said. 

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Dhobi Ghat at Ashok Nagar in Bengaluru.

Credit: DH Photo/ S K Dinesh

While the BBMP does help them with the maintenance of washing machines and other equipment, authorities said setting up treatment plants was out of their purview. The workers at many of these ghats have been approaching the local MLA seeking funds. 

“A few of the MLAs are responsive and promised to get it done. But there is no timeline on when it could happen. This has been going on for years,” said a worker on condition of anonymity. 

Experts suggested that the government take the initiative to set up such plants since the environment is suitable for it and will help the community to a great extent. While on the one hand, it will prevent pollution bringing down the amount of detergent water entering the stormwater drains and eventually reaching the lakes on the other hand, it could also play a crucial role in ensuring water security for the workers at the Dhobi ghat. 

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Dhobi Ghat at Ashok Nagar in Bengaluru.

Credit: DH Photo/ S K Dinesh

Nirmala Gowda, co-founder and curator at Paani, a Bengaluru-based citizen think tank advocating for the river and wildlife of Cauvery Basin, suggested that the government follow the industry model. 

“It is a perfect environment for recycling water. Many industries treat the effluents they produce through a common effluent treatment plant and this is set up with funds from state and central governments. Similar arrangements should be made for Dhobi ghats. The government can maintain and operate them. Otherwise, it will be a burden on the workers,” she said. 

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Dhobi Ghat at Ashok Nagar in Bengaluru.

Credit: DH Photo/ S K Dinesh

(Published 21 October 2023, 21:04 IST)

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