Is the water we drink safe or not? Four reports in less than two months – with a split verdict – have left the Capital’s residents in a quandary. To add insult to injury, the pre-Assembly election politics surrounding the four studies has reached such a level that any objective assessment looks improbable.
In two of its reports, the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs said that the tap water samples from different locations of Delhi had failed to meet the quality norms. However, according to two other studies (one by Jal Shakti Ministry and the other by Delhi Government), the water supplied in Delhi’s taps is fit for drinking and is in fact better than European cities.
On Saturday, Union Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan released the second part of a Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) study which said that Delhi, along with
Kolkata and Chennai, failed on almost 10 of 11 quality parameters that make drinking water safe. The study has sparked a political row, with the BJP and Congress accusing the Arvind Kejriwal government of supplying “unsafe” drinking water to residents of the city. On Sunday, posters were seen in parts of the National Capital that accused the AAP government of forcing people to drink “poisonous” water.
ORIGINS OF THE DISPUTE
On September 27, BIS officials said that in preliminary tests, tap water samples from 11 different locations of Delhi had failed to meet quality norms. BIS, the national body which frames quality standards, had collected samples for testing after Paswan said Delhi’s tap water was unfit to drink. The BIS said that the results were in line with Paswan’s pronouncement. “All the samples failed on 24 parameters which included total dissolved solids (TDS), pH value and odour, among other norms,” said a BIS official.
Paswan’s observation was, however, contradicted by his own ministerial colleague. Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said that based on samples collected from 20 different locations, drinking water in Delhi was way better than most European cities. It must be noted that most of Europe drink water directly from the tap.
“This must be his (Paswan’s) personal opinion. A few months ago, we had checked water samples from 20 locations in Delhi. All were better than European standards,” Shekhawat had said.
On Tuesday, contradicting BIS’s second phase report, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), the Capital’s water supplying agency, threw open its water treatment plant at Sonia Vihar and claimed the water was 100% safe.
“The DJB collects 500 samples every day from different places in Delhi. Between January 1 and September 24, we collected 1,55,302 samples. Among them, only 2,222 samples (1.43%) failed, while 1,53,080 samples (98.57%), passed the test,” said DJB Vice-Chairman Dinesh Mohaniya.
On Tuesday, the Delhi government said it will form 32 teams to collect drinking water samples from across the city and the test results will be put out in the public domain within a month. Mohania said the teams will collect water samples also from the 11 locations that BIS had targeted. “We will collect water samples right from the treatment plant up till the households in 4-5 stages,” he added.
HAZE OVER WATER QUALITY
Amid these conflicting reports, the common man remains confused about the actual quality of tap water. “We have been hearing different versions from different agencies. We do not know who is right. We anyway use a water purifier,” said Ashish Mishra, a resident South Delhi’s Saket.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is the chairman of DJB, on Sunday termed the BIS report “false and politically motivated.” Union Health Minister and Chandni Chowk MP Harsh Vardhan tweeted: “Arvind Kejriwal is giving poison to the people of Delhi in the name of free water supply. Delhi water was found to be the most poisonous in a survey of 20 cities. The AAP government is making tall claims of development, but has failed to even provide safe drinking water to the people.”
Kejriwal responded and said, “Sir, you are a doctor. You know this report is false and politically motivated. A person like you should not become a part of such dirty politics.” On Tuesday, Paswan shared the locations from where samples were collected.
“Many leaders of Aam Aadmi Party have questioned the BIS report on water quality. They had been asking for proof of the samples collected. I have already shared the details of the 11 locations from where we collected the samples,” he revealed in a tweet.
AAP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh hit out at Paswan for using just a few samples for the survey and “spreading rumours”.
“The report by Consumer Affairs Ministry contradicts the Jal Shakti Ministry. It itself raises doubts on its authenticity. We are ready to get the tap water tested by any independent agency, if the Ministry agrees,” Singh told Mail Today on Tuesday. In a run-up to the 2020 Delhi Assembly Polls, both the Congress and the BJP hit the streets on Monday accusing the Kejriwal government of playing with lives of people in Delhi.
Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari blamed Kejriwal for the poor air and water quality in Delhi and asked him to refrain from doing politics on issues which were vital to people’s life. “I want to ask the CM how will people live in the city when its air and water are polluted? He should visit residential areas where people are ready to serve him bottles of polluted water,” he said.
The Congress, on its part, blamed the AAP as well as the BJP. “Aam Aadmi Party government is clearly playing with the lives of people of Delhi by supplying poisonous water. We demand a criminal case be registered against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The undrinkable water and the highly polluted air have put people’s lives on the edge,” Subhash Chopra, Delhi Congress President, said. “There is a ministry of water supply in the Centre. It has failed the people of Delhi too,” he said, targeting the Union government.
On an average, each household in Delhi gets around four hours of water supply per day. The Delhi Jal Board (DJB) supplies around 935 million gallons of water per day against the demand of 1,140 MGD.