Delhi gets ready to wrestle for water as summers sets in


Express News Service

With the arrival of summer in the national capital, Anil (prefers his first name)– a resident of Mehrauli, is worried that he would have to face the same struggle for water again.  “It comes down to fistfights and people attack each other for water. The privileged living in Vasant Kunj have no trouble. It’s colonies such as Kusumpur Pahdi that are made to suffer,” he says.   

What worries Anil, who manages a dog shelter, more is the government announcement that there will shortage of water in Delhi this summer. The matter was raised last year with the local MLA, who had then said that installing taps would reduce the water pressure in the existing lines and hence no new system was to be introduced. “It is clear discrimination between privileged and non-privileged. It’s unfortunate that it still exists, despite so many promising words by the Delhi government.

If the government has allotted 20 tankers, we are getting 15,” He laments.  Anil indeed has reasons to be afraid or be apprehensive of ‘water fights’. In past years, there have been instances of even killings over water. Three years ago, a 60-year-old man was beaten to death allegedly over filling water from a tank in northwest Delhi’s Wazirpur.   

“Areas like JJ clusters do not have pipelines so they are more dependent on tankers. And in summers, the water mafia creates more problems. Whosoever pays money gets the first preference i.e. more water. They can charge from Rs 100 to Rs 1,000. Those who pay more are given more water. Suppose the tanker does 10 rounds, then they will collect Rs 100 each time for a visit,” he explains.

Vinod Mahto, a social worker who works in Tughlaqabad and lives in Madanpur Khadar JJ Colony near Sarita Vihar, also highlighted the daily plight of residents. “Paani ke liye maramari ta time aa gaya hai (the time to fight over water is here). Distribution of water is purely based on communities. There are pipelines but water doesn’t come every day. So, people rely on tankers or water distributors. A lot depends on people’s representatives MLA or councillor. If they are active, there could be a solution to the problem,” he says.  

The situation is not much different in Rawta and Dauralla villages in Najafgarh area. 32-year-old Ravi Phalswal who lives in Rawta says that around 500 families out of a total of 1,500 purchase water from private tankers who are charging nearly Rs 500 weekly for 4,000 litres of water.  “With no tap water and sole reliance on tankers, villagers often get involved in brawls. Some have got underground water systems from Ujwa village. Scene becomes chaotic,” he mentions. 

Shortage this summer  
About a month ago, the Delhi Jal Board had announced that the city will be facing a shortage of water this summer. The closure of Nangal Hydel Channel for one month for repairs will affect a quarter of water supply to the national capital which could lead to an unprecedented water crisis and even a law and order situation, DJB vice-chairman Raghav Chadha had earlier said.  

As per the DJB, the closure of the channel will affect supply of 232 MGD (million gallons per day) of water supply from the Beas river to Delhi which is 25 per cent of water supply in the national capital.  The DJB had written to the Bhakra Beas Management Board last month, requesting it to defer the repair work of the Channel till the lean period to avoid a “severe” crisis. The Bhakra Beas management board is engaged in regulation of the supply of water and power from Bhakra Nangal and Beas Projects to the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Chandigarh. The repair work is on hold currently after the Supreme Court directed BBMB and the Punjab and Haryana governments to maintain the status quo on water supply to Delhi. 

Precious sources
The Yamuna river is a major raw water source for the national capital. Apart from this, Delhi’s other sources are Bhakra storage (Himachal Pradesh), upper Ganga canal (Uttar Pradesh), and Munak canal (Haryana) all of which do not fall under the state’s administrative limits.  

Distribution pattern
A research article by Rumi Aijaz, a Senior Fellow at ORF on the water scenario in Delhi, states that the distribution of water is largely divided into two broad categories – planned colonies and those living in unplanned, unauthorised, and resettlement colonies, slums and villages.  “There are existing inequalities in service availability of water in Delhi.

Piped water and sewerage services are available to a large proportion of the population living in planned colonies, which allows them to utilise treated water conveniently for various potable and non-potable purposes. This population does face problems such as insufficient water availability during summer months, only a few hours of daily supply throughout the year, and inferior water quality. The communities living in unplanned, unauthorised, and resettlement colonies, slums and villages, however, suffer the most because of Delhi’s inability to ensure adequate supply and access to water,” reads the research titled “Water Supply in Delhi: Five Key Issues”. 

Illegal boring may go up
Delhi’s groundwater is fast depleting and illegal boring poses a major threat. With shortage of water, it is highly anticipated that illegal boring will go up in certain areas. Last year, the National Green Tribunal directed the Delhi government to implement its standard operating procedure (SOP) to stop illegal extraction of groundwater. The NGT had also expressed concern over the repeated allegations of “tankers mafias” who are often associated with groundwater extraction.

In 2020, as per official sources, the DJB had identified more than 19,000 illegal borewells and groundwater extraction points.   The DJB had also issued a revised SOP to deal with illegal groundwater extraction which states that drawing groundwater for domestic, commercial, agricultural or industrial uses is illegal without the prior permission of the board or the New Delhi Municipal Council. “But in the summers, no one cares. A borewell can be set up- at least for fetching water for household chores. In JJ clusters, people collect money and set up a borewell to be used by various families. For drinking purposes, bottles are sold for around `30-40 each which people have no other option but to purchase,” says Vinod.  

DJB to blame, say experts
Water expert and activist Diwan Singh believes the DJB is to be blamed for the water crisis.  
“Every city has an optimum size and its capacity is limited. The DJB is the stamping authority for extension plans of the city. In such a scenario, DDA has a free hand to expand the city. However, water is limited and resources are running out. The government hasn’t shown much interest in projects related to the Yamuna, especially its floodplains. Delhi also doesn’t have many alternative water resources. Groundwater is not in great shape and rainwater is not being harvested properly. Delhi has already dried up its share of Yamuna,” said Singh. 

Problem of deficit 
The water body says there’s currently a deficit of about 85 MGD. “Water shortage expected due to the canal closure is about 215 MGD which did not happen as we approached the Supreme Court. However, we are getting very little water from the Yamuna for about two months which is after February 15 when the pond level in the Yamuna started reducing from the normal maintainable level of 674.50 feet,” said a DJB official.  

Litres per capita per day (lpcd) Delhi’s daily requirement. According to the Delhi Jal Board, the city’s water production and supply agency, 172 lpcd is needed for meeting the demands of domestic consumers. Another 102 lpcd is for non-domestic consumers, such as industries, commercial establishments, hotels and fire stations

Recently, the Supreme Court had directed Punjab and Haryana to maintain status quo and ensure regular supply of water to Delhi till April 6. The direction came following a petition filed by the Delhi Jal Board which claimed that Haryana had reduced the regular supply, due to which water levels at Wazirabad reservoir fell by at least six feet. The board moved a separate petition against the Punjab government and Bhakra Beas management board against a likely reduction in supply to Delhi owing to a proposed repair of reservoir gates at Nangal Hydel Channel. There has been no development on this after that

As temperature soars and water crisis deepens in the national capital, residents are gearing up for another season of struggle for access to this basic necessity. Communities living in unauthorised, resettlement colonies and slums are likely to suffer the most, finds out Somrita Ghosh

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