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2033: Not a drop to drink

This will be Delhi’s fate just 15 years from now. So says the NITI Aayog, and also cautions that ground water aquifers are drying up

Delhi is looking into the face of disaster, where taps will run dry, and people will kill each other for a bucket of water. NITI Aayog’s most recent warning in Composite Water Resources Management report, says that 20 more cities, including New Delhi, will run out of groundwater by 2020.

If this doesn’t shock Delhi’s people, NITI Aayog vice chairman Rajiv Kumar’s warning in April must push us over the edge to take action and prevent the prediction — that the capital city will be bereft of water in 15 years — from taking place.

This summer has seen several areas reeling under severe water crisis for days, some even weeks. Lutyens’ Delhi and VIP areas, were affected, along with Moolchand, South Extension, Greater Kailash, Delhi Cantt, Janakpuri, Punjabi Bagh, Mukherjee Nagar, Model Town, GTB Nagar and Ashok Vihar amongst others.

What’s more revealing is that dearth of water, which many predict to be the premise of the next war, have led to killings. Earlier this year, a 60-year-old man was beaten to death over who was first in the queue to get water from a tanker, at Delhi’s Wazirpur industrial area — which has regular water woes.

The city’s continuous water crisis has also led to local mafias taking advantage of the situation. The latest victim of a fight over water was Krishan Bhadana — who was shot dead on June 14. A resident of the infamous Sangam Vihar, Krishan Bhadana, lived with 19 members of his family. His brother, Subhash Bhadana tells Patriot that the main accused, Babli, also his brother’s neighbour, is a local mafia kingpin.

Subhash, a BJP councillor from CR Park said that since 1993, when his brother moved to B Block, there has been no pipeline. “There’s only a tube well which ran from the killer’s home. He was the ring leader of the local mafia which sold water from the tube well”, he says.

The family had not received water in 15 days, having to buy from tankers. Krishan’s wife Suman and son Manish were allegedly trying to set up a connection to a Delhi Jal Board (DJB) pipeline running through the house of the accused, when things got heated. “They hit my brother’s son, then when his mother intervened they hit her too, by this time my brother had got a word about this and went to the spot,” says Subhash.

DCP (south) Romil Baaniya, said that then the accused, Babli, “allegedly opened fire”.

According to Subhash, even when someone in the area would want to install the government pipeline they would first have to pay off the mafia. “Everyone knows about the water mafia but no one cares. Even after murdering nothing has happened.”
Five people have been arrested in the case while five others are missing.

Some parts of Delhi still remain without pipelines, and those with, don’t get water every single day. DJB Vice chairman Dinesh Mohaniya admitted that the problem with water mafia had to do with the irregular supply of water. He told Patriot that if water came only on alternative days, the mafia will thrive, because there’s a need.

Currently 85% of Delhi is connected with water pipeline, according to Mohaniya. But there are homes which has a promise of a pipeline but no connection yet, like Lal Kuan’s residents in D-block which are also without water for the past 15 days. Less than 10 kms away from the notorious Sangam Vihar, one resident Ritu (name changed) tells Patriot that while pipeline has been laid down, the supply has not started and nor are they connected to their homes.

They have to rely on two tube wells, although there are four. “Pehelwan (Tukhlakabad MLA Sahiram Pahelwan) had installed two of the tube wells using less pipes, so it has not reached the right height and thus the water used to stink. So, these two tube wells were shut down”.

Furthermore, she alleges that the connection of the tube wells has been given to “encroached houses in Haryana, who have more frequent access to water than us”. She says it is life threatening to report the matter due to officers being involved in the racket.

The Delhi Jal Board distributes around 900 MGD (Millions of Gallons per Day) of water in the national capital. It depends on 543 MGD from Haryana and 240 MGD from UP via Upper Ganga Canal.

Haryana government announced that it could not possibly give Delhi more water. Notification on its website reads: “Haryana is already supplying to Delhi 120 Cusecs more than its allocation of water and will not be able to supply more up to June 30, 2018”. But that too is under contention as it adds, “Thereafter, the situation would depend on the availability of water.”

The DJBs plan is to become less dependent on Haryana, Mohaniya tells Patriot, adding that every time Haryana decides to supply less “we get disturbed”. The plan now is to create better water storage systems and also get “extra water from Uttar Pradesh”. He also spoke about plans of creating seven to eight ponds with treated water, which will require about 12 acres of land each. The first one already under construction in Dwarka sector 25, has a quantity of 10 MGD.

The rest will be built with a capacity of 5-12 MGDs.

Dirty water

Central Ground Water Board’s report also found that 70% of the water resources are polluted.

Over five years to 2017, water-borne diseases — cholera, diarrhoea, typhoid and viral hepatitis — caused 10,738 deaths in India. Diarrhoea remained the leading killer, causing about 60% of all deaths, according to the reply to the Lok Sabha by Jai Prakash Nadda, minister for health and family welfare, on April 6, 2018. According to the details provided, Delhi registered 413 deaths from 2013-2017 from Diarrhoea. (For Delhi’s report please see figure)

In all of India, diarrhoea caused 6,514 deaths, the most of water-borne diseases in India, over five years to 2017. Other killers were viral hepatitis (2,143), typhoid (2,061) and cholera (20).

A look at the Delhi Jal Boards complaints section, one can see contaminated water is not an isolated event. On June 18 there’s a complaint from Karol Bagh on drinking water pipe being contaminated. Sapna Suri wrote that the problem has persisted for years and they have had symptoms of vomiting, diarrhoea and skin problems.

Another complaint was from Rani Bagh, where he alleged that for the past 3-4 months, they have been receiving contaminated water supply which smells of sewage. The other complaints made this month over dirty or contaminated water were from Dwarka, Kakrola, Mandawali Fazalpur, and Dilshad Garden.

Clearly the problem is not just shortage of water but the quality of water that is supplied to the people of Delhi.

‘Capital might have to be shifted’

Rajendra Singh, dubbed as the waterman of India, has won the Stockholm Water Prize and also the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership for his pioneering work in community-based efforts in water harvesting and water management. He warns Delhi to make changes or lose its place as the Capital of India in this interview with Patriot.

What do you think about NITI Aayog’s warning on Delhi’s tap running dry in 15 years?

You know, when the Indian Capital moved different times, from Fatehpur Sikri, to Agra, Calcutta, and then Delhi, it was all in relation with water.

Delhi’s water crisis that the NITI Aayog has pointed out recently, I’ve spoken about it for the past 17 years. Delhi should de-centralise its water.

Delhi’s ridge is 22 km long and two and half km wide. It should be recharged. Instead they’ve made new constructions around the area, while the ridge should be protected as it’s Delhi’s water bank.

Second is the Aravalli ridge and third are the 22 small nullah (drains) that you find in Yamuna. The Delhi government must take care of these and also ensure that dirty water after the rains don’t get mixed with the good water.

Torchbearer: Rajendra Singh has helped villagers take charge of water management in Rajasthan (photo: Mullookkaaran CC BY-SA 4.0)

What can Delhi’s people do?

Delhi must do rain water harvesting, efficient skill development and its people need to be educated. The rich people especially use the most amount of water. About 150-200 litres a day, whereas a poor person would utilise 40 litres. The rich must learn how to conserve water, while the poor must be taught not to mix bad water with the good.

What are the steps needed to be taken by the government?

There should be skill development in water and dirty nullah (drain) should not come into ganga and it should be instead treated and sent for domestic purposes, parks and industries, and only ‘A’ class water should be sent for drinking purposes.
Right now, drinking water is being used in parks and domestic work, which is wrong.

The water which comes from the Yamuna, should be given catchment treatment, so that there is continuous flow. This will fulfil Delhi’s needs. But the Delhi government does not think about these things. They feel they will get water from outside, but they haven’t thought about how they’ll live without that support.

The local mafia has recently been highlighted as a menace in Delhi. What are your thoughts?

Delhi has water mafia and now they are very active because of the water crisis. They have been able to profit from this problem, selling water and making money. Government of Delhi has to control the water system and monitor the workings, there is a need for a task force to make sure the water supply is not misused.

The SC had warned of water wars due to depleting ground water levels. What is leading to this over-exploitation?

Ground water in Delhi was never used for construction or domestic work, but only for drinking water. But for the past few years, the water mafia are using this drinking water in construction, industries and horticulture, which is why ground water level is going down.

Ground water recharge and discharge is interlinked. If you discharge water and not replenish it then that makes the aquifer dirty and polluted. Because an empty area will not allow the aquifer to work.
Ground water use for anything other than drinking water should be banned.

Many areas in Delhi still get dirty water in taps. Why can’t they fix this?

Drinking water supply pipes have holes in them, they aren’t in a good state, nor are the sewage lines which are sometimes parallel to the drinking water. This means, during a leak, drinking water can easily get mixed with sewage. Many complaints have emerged recently about dirty water in people’s homes in Delhi. Once I had become sick as well after using Delhi’s water.
Delhi must identify and demarcate its 370 water bodies, and rejuvenate these areas. The government must notify these areas on the map and avoid any encroachment from taking place, else nothing will be left of them as well.

Former chief minister Sheila Dixit had tried but later it had stopped. This present government must see the old water bodies catchment area, the input and output areas should be identified and they should allow water to enter the water bodies.
For Delhi’s health, it’s very important to ensure good water supply. Right now, the city’s health is very much interlinked with the water body.

Finally, I can say that if Delhi wants to be saved from disaster it has to do something about its water body. Else again, India’s capital will have to be shifted.