Water supply to Delhi was greatly crippled for days through the last month in the wake of Jats’ job quota stir in neighbouring Haryana. This has kicked off fears about availability of water during the approaching summer. Is Delhi prepared to pump enough water to quench city’s thirst through the harsh season? Team Policy Pulse looks for answers
Tanushree Pande, a resident of Mukerjee Nagar in North Delhi, is dreading the fast approaching summer this time. This is not just because of the rising mercury levels but also because of an impending water shortage. Year after year it’s the same story in the city; summers mean water shortage for the residents. But this time the situation is particularly grim as water supply in the National Capital and especially in North Delhi had been disrupted more than twice in through the last month.
“We didn’t get water for two days first because of Jat reservations stir in neighbouring Haryana and then for three days continuously the water supply was cut as there was some ammonia in our water. Through the last summers also the water supply was erratic. So we are really worried this time. Hope the Government has a plan for us.”
The Aam Aadmi Party Government somehow not so alarmed. Its higher ups claim that they are fully prepared to deal with the problem. In fact, this time the Delhi Jal Board has made a target of providing 900 million gallons of water daily to the people of Delhi. The DJB claims that last year it had set a target of providing 845 million gallons a day of treated water to Delhites but it managed to provide 895 MGD instead. Government data also shows that production of treated water peaked to 902 MGD and the DJB claims that it even managed to supply 900 MGD of treated water for several days amid blistering heat. This was made possible as about 90 million gallon daily was added last year through commissioning of the Munak Canal and the Government is hopeful that it would be able to maintain the flow this year as well.
“Last year we managed 900 MGD on some days. This year we will try to maintain the same flow for all the days. To boost the supply we are planning to add 250 water tankers on the roads of the city this April”, says Kapil Mishra, head of the Delhi Jal Board.
Despite the Government’s claims many people reportedly faced water shortage in 2015 and this year the situation looks even more difficult as the city has already seen too many disruptions in water supply. Firstly, due to the agitation by Jats in Haryana caused damage to Munak canal. It is a primary source of water to the city. In fact, it was for the third time this year that two water treatment plants in the city had be to shut due to high level of ammonia coming in from Yamuna. Against the permissible limit of ammonia at 0.05 parts per million this time the level crossed 1.6 PPM, one of the reasons for the high ammonia level in the water was the untreated sewage and industrial waste coming into the river from Haryana. This led to water supply being cut for around two to three days in many parts of the city.
The fear is that this time the Government’s focus shifted from summer plan to managing the water crisis before it. And, thus, the Government may not be fully equipped to deal with the summer water crisis. With water being an issue which resonates with the voters a lot, the opposition is also leaving no stone unturned to hit out at the ruling AAP government.
“The Government hasn’t come up with a summer action plan yet. They had promised piped water supply in all unauthorised colonies but where is it? Their claims of giving adequate water supply last year is a sham. Ask any one residing in Delhi and you will know the truth,” says Harish Khurana, spokesperson of the Delhi BJP. But the AAP Government says that they are already making an effort and they would be calling a meeting of all MLAs to identify areas where water supply is bad and work on an action plan for the city.
Water shortage in Delhi has been an endemic problem. With the rising population and urbanisation the demand for water has been rising steadily but supply has mostly been short. According to a survey by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) the total demand for water in the city crosses 3973 million litres a day (in 2009), while the city gets around 2034 million litres of water a day. While the average demand for water per person till 2011 was 251 litres a day, the per capita supply is 241 litres a day. According to conservative estimates the total demand for water in Delhi is 1100 MGD where the Government is struggling to provide 900 MGD of water. While the demand for water supply has been ever increasing if we look at the resources – 86 percent of the city’s water comes from surface water like Yamuna, Ganga and Bhakra dam. About 184 MLD comes from city’s tube-wells but according to a report by the Central Ground Water Board, Delhi’s ground water level has gone down by about eight metres in the last twenty years at the rate of about one foot a year.
With the ever rising demand, the other problem the city faces is its dependence on other states. Delhi’s primary source of water supply is river Yamuna which flows through Haryana. So any trouble in the neighbouring State immediately affects the city. Out of the 800 million gallons of water that Jal Board distributes around 540 million gallons comes from Haryana. The other source of water is upper Ganga canal which provides 240 million gallons water a day. Another big problem is the disparity in water supply, around 30 percent of Delhi’s population still doesn’t have a piped water supply. While the Delhi Government claims that they have reached over 200 unauthorised colonies, many areas in the city still don’t have a piped connection and about 10-15 percent of water is wasted due to issues with the piped connections. In fact, sewage generated is also a major problem. According to a data by the CPCB or Central Pollution Control Board Delhi sewage generated in the city is 665 million litres daily.
Disparity in supply of water to benefit a privileged few also aggravates the problem. According to a survey by the CSE, while one area like Mehrauli gets 28 litres of water per capita daily, another posh area like Delhi Cantonment gets 509 LPCD. In other words the area with five percent of city’s population, which are the capital’s elite, get 450 litres per capita water daily at almost no cost. The people living in villages that cover over 70 percent of the capital consume less than five percent of Delhi’s water supply.
Many activists like Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan feel that people in Delhi anyway get more than required supply of water as compared to their rural counterparts. “While people in the national capital get as much as 100 LPCD, but if you compare this to a national average there are tons of people who get a bucketful of water per person for cooking, drinking and bathing”, laments Mishra. People in Delhi use an average of 2.95 billion litres of water every day which is about 363 litres per person daily. Amid steadily rising demand of water, domestic consumption has gone up from 166 litres in 1961 to 224 LPCD in 2000. And today the Government has set a goal of providing 900 million gallons water a day. The big question is that with such insatiable demand for water will the Government ever be able to satisfy the people in a perpetually burgeoning city?
Many policy experts have said that Delhi needs to build an emergency plan that can be used in extraordinary situations like the recent Jat agitation. There is also a need to revive Delhi’s natural ponds which many experts are working on. Rainwater harvesting is also an important aspect which the Government needs to work on. Policies for rainwater harvesting need to be made stricter with more focus on institutions than individuals. Though policies still exist in books there is a need for better implementation. Many other states have been able to manage rainwater harvesting better but Delhi still has to do its bit and more.