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Forget rice, cash in on water ATM

Bangalore, Sept. 4: A set of new “ATMs” near Bangalore has created a splash. And no one blames D.K. Shivkumar for cashing in.

For the “ATMs” dispense not money, but pure drinking water, at Re 1 for 10 litres, in a project conceived by Congress MLA Shivkumar in his Kanakapura constituency.

While other politicians often dish out cheap food in the belief that the way to voters’ hearts is through their stomachs, Shivkumar seems to reckon it is through their kitchens.

“I had campaigned with the slogan ‘If our PM and ministers can drink bottled water, why not the villagers?’ But to meet that objective, we had to work very hard. It’s one of the projects of the charitable trust I run to reach out to the people by fulfilling the promises I had made,” said Shivkumar, referring to the chain of 20 “water ATMs”.

His DKS Charitable Institution Trust undertook the project a few months before the Assembly polls this May. It now has water kiosks — each costs between Rs 12 and Rs 15 lakh and is equipped with a treatment unit — dotting the constituency on the outskirts of Bangalore.

The kiosks resemble the Mother Dairy outlets. Only in Kanakapura, one gets 10 litres of water for every rupee coin dropped. “More such kiosks are planned. Our aim is to have 33 within a short time,” said Shivkumar.

Shivkumar also dipped into his MLA local area development fund of Rs 1 crore annually for the project, besides his charitable organisation.

His Congress colleagues pitched in. That included former chief minister S.M. Krishna (Rs 25 lakh) and Union minority affairs minister K. Rahman Khan (Rs 10 lakh).

The Congress government has not envisaged such a plan, but Shivkumar had a model to look up to. Senior party leader and state minister H.K. Patil had opened a few such plants four years ago in Gadag, his constituency in the state’s north.

“We replicated the project of H.K. Patil but improved it vastly by giving a clean look to the kiosks,” said S. Chinnaraj, secretary of Shivkumar’s charitable trust.

The 20x20ft kiosks, some on panchayat land and others on plots owned by the MLA himself, sport glazed tiles and vitrified tiled floors. “We added the features to make things cleaner and maintain high standards of hygiene,” said Chinnaraj, who supervises the water project that pumps out around 2,000 litres a day.

If the litres have quenched thirsts, they also appear to have watered the poll ground for Shivkumar and his relatives. His younger brother D.K. Suresh won by 1.3 lakh votes in the Bangalore Rural Lok Sabha — of which Kanakapura is a part — in a bypoll last month.

The margin surprised many in his party. Bangalore Rural had been a Janata Dal (Secular) bastion, held by party veteran and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy who quit the seat to contest the Assembly polls. Suresh trounced Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha.

“I’m sure such projects will get the support of common people, who struggle to get their basic needs fulfilled,” said Chinnaraj. More kiosks are in the pipeline. “We are planning to take the total number of water outlets to 100 by covering nearby areas.”

Government agencies have supported the plan. “Panchayats give land, welcome such projects and allow us to use community tube wells to draw water,” said Chinnaraj.

The beneficiaries are relieved. “We don’t mind paying one rupee for clean water,” said Puttanna Gowda, a tea-stall owner.

“Politicians usually make big promises. But we are interested in small things like a glass of clean water. Since I run a teashop, it helps that I get clean water,” Gowda added.

Women are among those greatly impressed. “Over the past few months, I’ve been getting clean water and it shows on the health on my children who earlier drank foul water,” said Nagaratnamma, a mother of four.

Even passers-by and auto-drivers are gushing in praise. “We need a lot of water to drink as we are out all day. Bottled water costs between Rs 15 to 20 (for a litre). Now I fill water in a bottle (from one of the kiosks) and carry it with me,” said Nagaraj Hulimavu, who shuttles around Kanakapura in his three-wheeler.