That sinking feeling is very real

Groundwater crisis

An environmental disaster is in the making right beneath the ground under our feet, and most of us – residents of Delhi-NCR – are blissfully unaware about it.

Levels of underground water – the last reserve available to a populace when faced with severe crisis – are plummeting at alarming rates, and the reasons for this dangerous phenomenon are going largely unchecked.

A recent report by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), Ministry of Water Resources, has revealed that the water table in two of the largest blocks of Gautam Buddh Nagar – Dankaur and Bisrakh (including satellite city Noida) – is going down at the rate of 3.87 metre per year. This is in contrast to the one metre dip per year recorded by CGWB in just 2008.

An earlier report had damned the Delhi Government too for not checking unauthorised extraction of groundwater – in some areas of the city the table has fallen to below 250 feet inspite of its proximity to river Yamuna. And for Gurgaon, it suffices to say that India’s mini-Singapore has earned its title of ‘dark zone’ in terms of groundwater, very well.
Environmentalists say that at least Gautam Buddh Nagar was once a water-rich zone owing to its location between the two rivers, Yamuna and Hindon.

It’s only recently that this area has become ‘semi-critical.’ Vikrant Tongad, whose court pleas made groundwater extraction for construction work in Noida illegal, says, “It’s still going on. Over 300 private builders here are pumping out water day and night to create basements and for other construction needs.”

“This goes on for years and the fresh water is simply flushed down drains. Then there are illegal water packaging units mining groundwater and also mafias which take out groundwater in Gautam Buddh Nagar and transport it to water-scarce areas of Delhi through tankers. Once in a while such tankers are nabbed at the borders but the mafias escape unscathed.”

The areas Vikrant is referring to are largely in South and Southwest Delhi where the groundwater level has gone down drastically. These are the same areas where deaths due to water contamination are also reported from frequently.

Govind Singh, activist and professor in Delhi University, says, “The culprits here are domestic borewells. The daily water demand of Delhi is over 1100 MGD. In contrast, water made available by DJB is only 850 MGD. Obviously, people will resort to borewells. The Government also goes on legalising unauthorised colonies at election time without
caring to lay water lines.”

Southwest Delhi is a perfect example.Gurgaon seems to be the worst off of the three cities, bereft of any river, lake or other water body to recharge its groundwater naturally. The only rainwater catchment zone it has – Aravalli – is fast giving way to multi-storey housing facilities and malls.

Activist Vivek Kamboj says, “Aravalli gave rise to several freshwater nullahs such as Nathupur and Sultanpur. The former used to merge in the Najafgarh freshwater drain while the latter fed the Sultanpur lake. Now both have
been covered up by private housing societies.”

“The Government,” he adds, “prides itself on 500 rainwater harvesting pits it has created. But if you see the number of illegal borewells Gurgaon has – over 3,500 – the pits are a joke. Our authorities are not taking the issue of depleting groundwater seriously.

We are not just choking our future generations but making sure that the next earthquake will cause real damage in the absence of groundwater as a cushion. Once that happens, there’ll be nothing left to do but lament.”

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