India’s Silicon Valley is dying of thirst and a growing ‘water mafia’ is calling the shots

Photo- Water tankers await their turn at a filling station near the Bangalore suburb of Whitefield. credit-Mahesh Shantaram

The world’s tech support centre is running out of water and your city could be next

By SAMANTH SUBRAMANIAN Originally published by WIRED US
29 Jul 2017


On the outskirts of Bangalore one morning in the summer of 2016, a sullen young man named Manjunath stood high atop a cocoa-coloured 7,000-litre tanker truck, waiting for its belly to fill with water. The source of the liquid was a bore well, a cylindrical metal shaft puncturing scores of metres down into the earth. An electric pump pulled the water up from the depths and into a concrete cistern; from there, a hose snaked across the mud and weeds and plugged into Manjunath’s truck. As the water gushed into the tanker, a muffled sound emerged, like rain on a tin roof.

Once the tank was full, Manjunath disconnected the hose, climbed down and settled into the truck’s cab. Then he drove out through a web of newly tarred backstreets in the suburb of Whitefield. He passed rows of half-finished buildings, still grey from raw cement, and he honked often so that motorcycles and pedestrians could scurry out of his way. Whitefield’s roadways are almost always coagulated with traffic. Over the past two decades, the area has become home to major outposts of Oracle, Dell, IBM and GE, as well as countless IT parks – proud, gleaming edifices that Uber drivers here recognise as major landmarks. When people describe Bangalore as India’s Silicon Valley, they’re really talking about Whitefield. From the altitude of the truck’s cab, though, Whitefield looked somewhat less impressive – smaller and flimsier, even more starved for space than it already was.

After a quarter of an hour, Manjunath turned through a back gate of the campus belonging to Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications firm known for its sleek, inexpensive smartphones. He made his way to a corner of the car park. By the wall, under some plants, he found a metal water pipe that poked up out of the soil. A length of rubber tubing had been affixed shoddily to the pipe’s inlet valve. Manjunath spent a few minutes using a handy rock to hammer the tubing tight over the valve’s mouth. Then he fastened the other end of the tube over his tanker’s outlet, turned on the spigot and sat down near his truck to pick his teeth as his cargo unloaded.