The drinking water supply situation has remained poor across the city. In the past few weeks, an acute water shortage was reported in East, North East, and South East Delhi, reports Amit Pandey.
DELHI: In the cramped streets of Kusum Pur Pahadiya in South West Delhi, the sight of locals desperately waiting for the Delhi Jal Board tankers and the endless queues of water containers has become a daily routine. For the residents of this area, access to drinking water is ‘nothing short of a privilege’.
“Sir, Yahan ke halat dekh kr koi apni ladki ka rishta bhi nhi deta” (Looking at the pathetic condition of water, no one would allow their daughter’s hand in marriage tO someone from here), remarked 55-year-old Sant Ram.
While clad in formal attire and polished black shoes, Sant Ram continues to bicker with his neighbors, waiting for his turn to fill up his gallons. “I have to go to my work. But, I have to face a delay in my office timing as the water tanker timing coincides with my office timing,” Sant Ram said with a helpless look.
For the residents of Kusumpur Pahadiya, water is their topmost priority, followed by employment, education, health, and even family relations. Amid the hustle and bustle around water tankers, Babli interrupted, stating that Kusumpur Pahadiya has been cursed, and the people of this area will die thirsty. Babli’s comment resonates with the long-standing water woes of the area.
Although Babli was unaware of her age, she vividly recalls the water problem she experienced. “I, along with my brother, arrived in this area during the year when Indira Gandhi was assassinated, and riots engulfed the entire city,” Babli recounted. The water situation has remained unchanged from the time of Indira Gandhi to the Modi era, added Babli.
Mornings in Kusumpur Pahadiya begin with the worry of fetching water, as mothers are yet to prepare breakfast for their school-going kids. Even the kids are concerned about water over school. A local informed us that on a daily basis, women in this area carry approximately 200 liters of water, which has a direct impact on their health.
“A Delhi Jal Board tanker arrives once a week to cater to a specific society in this area. Now, imagine how much water we have to fetch in order to meet the weekly needs of a family of five,” Sant Ram posed a question. He further continued, stating that the water woes multiply a hundredfold during the summer season.
Naresh Yadav, the local MLA, said that the issue of water scarcity in Kusumpur Pahadiya has been raised by him at the Delhi Assembly, and he assured that the problem would be solved soon. Yadav mentioned that he requested Jal Board to increase the number of water tankers in the area to address the water shortage during the summer and the number of tankers also increased as well. As a result, the water problem is not as serious as it used to be.
The situation of drinking water supply is no different in other areas of the city, just like Kusumpur Pahadiya. In the past few weeks, an acute water shortage has been reported throughout the city, including East, North East, and South East Delhi.
The severity of the water crisis can be gauged by the presence of a thriving business of water fillers in Jamia Nagar, located in South West Delhi. “Upon starting my tenure as a tenant here, I used to mock the views of others regarding water scarcity, unaware of the impending reality. However, after two years, it dawned on me that I have to allocate approximately three thousand rupees per month towards water fillers,” said Yameen.
In mid-March, several areas of New Delhi suffered from water shortages. Even the Supreme Court, the Parliament, and the city’s prominent hospitals remained untouched by this crisis during the hot and humid summer. Somnath Bharti, Vice -chairman of Delhi Jal Board , denied that Delhi was facing any summer-specific water shortage.
Bharti further added that the Kejriwal government had several ambitious plans to increase the water capacity of the city. These plans mainly include the rejuvenation of lakes or recharging the groundwater level. “Under this project, we will create artificial lakes or rejuvenate natural lakes. Along with this, with the help of water harvesting, the groundwater level will also be increased in the area,” added Bharti.
Furthermore, the Delhi government led by AAP has acknowledged the problem of contaminated water in the city. In this regard, the Delhi Chief Minister recently directed DJB officials to create a comprehensive plan to resolve this problem. To understand this inevitable problem of the capital, it is important to understand from where and how much water Delhi receives and how much is required.
About 93% of households in Delhi now have access to piped water supply. Water production during the summer season is being maintained at 956 MGD consistently. Water is supplied to about 20 million residents of Delhi through the existing water supply network comprising 15,383 km of pipelines and more than 117 underground reservoirs (UGR).
Based on the norms of 60 gallons Per Capita per Day (GPCD), the total requirement of water for NCT of Delhi in March 2021 was 1,260 MGD for the projected population of 21 million. Out of the total expenditure on water, domestic consumption is 172 LPCD (Liters per Capita per Day), while industrial, commercial, and community requirements are based on 45,000 liters per hectare per day at 47 LPCD. For the city’s floating population and special uses like hotels and embassies, the requirement is 52 LPCD.
The experts believe that Delhi’s dependency on neighboring states for water is one of the reasons why the capital cannot fully utilize the Yamuna water. Delhi depends on neighboring states to meet around 90 percent of its drinking water demand. The city, being located in a semi-arid zone, depends to a great extent on raw waters from the Ganga basin, Yamuna basin, and Indus basin.
Political blame game for not giving the capital its required water share is not new. Surprisingly, this year the water level in Yamuna decreased drastically even before the summers. According to Saurabh Bhardwaj, the Vice Chairperson of DJB at that time, water levels in Delhi experienced an unusual decline in February. Typically, the current water levels observed in May were witnessed this year instead. The decrease in the Yamuna River’s level since February has resulted in a water supply crisis in Delhi.
Bhardwaj asserted that the decrease in Yamuna River’s water level is a result of illegal sand mining activities taking place along the riverbanks in Haryana. He emphasized that the current situation is not solely due to weather conditions but rather the rampant sand mining operations conducted by the sand mafia. This group has constructed multiple barriers downstream of Yamunagar, obstructing the natural flow of water towards Delhi. Bhardwaj stated that the current water level in the Yamuna is 671.7 feet, which falls short of the desired level of 674.5 feet.
Apart from this, the capital city of India is confronted with a significant issue concerning its water supply network. With approximately 15,383 kilometers of water supply mains, a considerable portion of this infrastructure is old and prone to higher leakage losses. Calculating water losses in Delhi poses a challenge as a majority of houses lack functional water meters.
The Delhi Jal Board estimates that distribution losses account for approximately 58% of the total water supplied, a significantly higher percentage compared to developing countries where losses typically range from 10-20%. The DJB, in an effort to minimize leaks, has specifically established a leak detection and investigation (LDI) cell to address this issue.
According to the figures presented in the Economic Survey of Delhi 2022-23, over the past five years, the Board has replaced around 1,432 kilometers of old, damaged, and leaking water mains. In addition to addressing leakage losses, the Delhi Jal Board has implemented a recycling program for backwash water at five key water treatment plants: Haiderpur, Bhagirathi, Chandrawal, Wazirabad, and Nangloi. Upon the commissioning of recycling plants at these locations, an impressive 47 million liters per day (MLD) of water has been added to the supply, further optimizing resource utilization.
The water supply and sanitation sector in Delhi face several challenges that hinder sustainable access to clean and safe water. One major concern in Delhi is the declining groundwater levels due to excessive extraction. In numerous areas, the water table has dropped 20-30 meters below the ground level. Groundwater quality is also compromised, with high nitrate content exceeding 1,000 mg/liter and elevated levels of fluoride and salinity. These contaminants pose health risks, making the water unsuitable for human consumption.
In addition to this, the unsustainable water shortage is also a big worry. According to the Outcome Budget (Q3 of 2022-23) of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), the total distribution losses are alarmingly high at approximately 58%. This percentage is significantly higher than the 10-20% range observed in developing countries.