It’s a summer of discontent in the National Capital, yet again! The Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has a new action plan in place, but the same old water crisis is back to leave the city high and dry.
The water and sewage utility is supplying 900 MGD (million gallons a day) of water, mostly from canals carrying river waters. The rest of the supplies come from ranney wells and tubewells.
Still, there is a shortage of about 300 MGD of water that has affected tens of thousands of people. This has also allowed the water mafia to rake in the moolah.
Pankaj Kapoor (52), a businessman with a two-storey bungalow in south Delhi’s posh Sainik Farms, said, “DJB is unable to provide sufficient water, forcing us to take supplies from private tankers.” There are also a number of rackets that are selling contaminated water in genuine company-stamped jars, making the most of the crisis and putting public health at risk, police sources said. And the situation will only aggravate in peak summer days.
The crisis turns so grave that violent fights over water among neighbours in summers are common. Delhi Police said they are gearing up to tackle water clashes that left three dead and many injured last summer.
Police Spokesperson Madhur Verma said, “Our control room receives a large number of calls from almost all corners of Delhi. Most incidents occur when there is a shortage of water and arguments erupt when people fetch water from tankers.”
Water crisis is one of the biggest challenges Delhi has been grappling with for decades. Experts say the city has sufficient water, but faulty distribution systems lead to shortages.
They say that as high as 45% of water is lost to spillages and thefts. Manu Bhatnagar of conservation body INTACH said, “Even if we plug only distribution spillages, we will be able to supply at least 30-35% more water and there wouldn’t be any shortages.”
All experts are unanimous that Delhi must revive its water bodies, ensure groundwater recharge through storm drains, store rainwater, and recycle and reuse its waste water.
Rapid concretisation has extinguished hundreds of water bodies and degraded the catchment of those left. Now, there are hardly any wells, ponds and lakes to hold rainwater. Of the 1,200-odd bodies at the turn of the 20th century, only 480, whether dry or wet, remain, mostly in rural west Delhi.
Bhatnagar said restoration of natural bodies can be one big solution. “Hauz Khas Lake was revived. It has treated sewage water and people are using it for daily consumption. It’s fit for drinking purposes,” he said.
In the 1970s, there were about 200 stormwater drains that together combined into 22 outfalls into the Yamuna. Many of them have been lost to construction. The remaining ones are carrying sewage. No wonder, the river that meets about 70% of Delhi’s water needs has become a sewage canal at some places.
“There is still a lot that can be done. About 80% of water we use turns waste and if we are able to recycle at least 50% of wastewater, we will never face shortages. Rainwater harvesting can be another solution,” said Manoj Misra of NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan.
But residents say government needs to make serious efforts to achieve these goals. Rajeev Kakari (60), RWA member in Greater Kailash Part-I, said, “Authorities have not maintained the rainwater harvesting unit. We cannot store and recycle rainwater to meet our requirements. Residents are also responsible. We waste water every day. Over-flowing water tanks on rooftops are a common sight. Much water goes down the drain in washing cars.”
AAP MLA and DJB vice chairperson Dinesh Mohaniya said the government was trying to increase water production this summer.
“For South Delhi areas, the water treatment plant in Sonia Vihar is a major source. We do daily reviews of the plant and may increase the supply as and when needed,” Mohaniya said.
“Additional supplies will be sourced from new borewells. We are targeting a peak production of 935 MGD. Last year, we had targeted 916 MGD and could produce 860 MGD,” he said.
But borewells have pushed groundwater levels to dangerous depths. Delhi is the third most overexploited groundwater state in India after Punjab and Rajasthan, the Centre informed Parliament a year ago. The government placed a report that said 56 per cent of Delhi’s aquifers were overexploited. Levels at some places in south and south-west Delhi have gone 20 to 30 metres below the ground level, according to the Delhi government’s economic survey released a year ago. The water is not fit for human consumption, the survey also said.
Delhi has some 4.5 lakh borewells, mostly illegal, run by the water mafia. Authorities have failed to take effective action against those running them, despite repeated orders from the National Green Tribunal.
Last year, government think-tank NITI Aayog released a report warning that 21 cities including Delhi will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people.
Delhi has also been fighting a festering battle with upper riparian Haryana over Yamuna water shares. Haryana’s agriculture minister, Om Prakash Dhankhar, said: “Haryana is releasing sufficient water to Delhi and we cannot increase the quantity. We also have 22 districts and it is our responsibility to provide adequate water supply to them too.”
Mohaniya said a solution has been found. “The chief secretaries of both states had a meeting recently. We have decided to agree on a certain amount of supplies before the dispute is resolved,” he said.
BJP has blamed corruption in DJB for the crisis. Last week, BJP MLA and Leader of Opposition in Delhi Assembly, Vijender Gupta, urged Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal to order a probe by the Anti-Corruption Branch.
Congress has also made similar allegations. The Delhi unit of the party recently launched a protest called ‘Jal Satyagraha to highlight water shortages. “Instead of putting an end to tanker mafia menace, the government has increased the number of tankers. Poor people are forced to buy water from these tankers,” said a Congress leader.
With inputs from Ajay Kumar