Tall promises, but difficult to keep

Tall promises, but difficult to keep

Which aam aadmi is not fond of freebies doled out by the Government? Not surprising that there has been jubilation in general, in colonies that have a DJB water supply at least, since Aam Aadmi Party delivered on its promise of giving 20 kilolitres of water per day to each household for free.

However, that has also raised questions on whether this largesse by Delhi’s new Chief Minister is sustainable? Does the City receive enough water to distribute this amount to every single resident? Is the new water tariff structure devised by the Government feasible in the long run? Will Delhi continue to receive 20 kl of water per day for free, or will subsequent Governments have to disappoint Delhiites by withdrawing the freebie?

SA Naqvi, convenor of NGO Citizen’s Front for Water Democracy, who also devised the ‘Peoples Water Manifesto’ that AAP has implemented, is optimistic. “If you look at the statistics, Delhi supplies about 382 crore litres of water per day right now. AAP has promised about 135 litres per person daily, in its new plan. The population of Delhi at the moment is 1.70 crore. So if you divide the number of Delhiites with the amount of water available, you would still have about 90 litres surplus. So providing that water is not a problem,” he insists.

But other activists knowledgeable on the issue say it’s not a problem of water availability but how you supply it. Currently, only 80 per cent of households in the city get piped DJB water while the rest 20 per cent rely on the tanker mafia. Nitya Jacob, director, water, Centre for Science and Environment, says, “Instead of giving out water for free, the AAP Government could have used the incoming revenue to repair and expand the pipeline network. It is well known by now that 50 per cent of the water Delhi gets is lost in leakage and theft.”

“Without fixing the pipeline network and ensuring that everyone gets sufficient water, dealing with the tariff structure right away is like putting the cart before the horse.”

Then there is also the problem of inequitable distribution wherein certain parts of Delhi, where politicians, bureaucrats and armymen reside, and hotels and clubs, receive much more water than other localities do. “These clubs and hotels waste away water while people in slums and unauthorised colonies go thirsty,” highlights Nitya.

Several environmentalists are also unhappy with the private companies botching up figures, not meeting water treatment quality standards and raking in all the profits while DJB loses money. Dunu Roy, director, Hazard Centre, says, “While France has chucked out the water distribution privatisation model, years after having introduced it, these French companies are now doing business in Delhi. DJB has laid out all the infrastructure and asked these companies to only run it in lieu of huge amounts of money. Only God knows why?”

“Till the 1980s,” he adds, “DJB was one of the most efficiently functioning Delhi Government agencies. It is only post that, when it became understaffed and corruption crept in, that things became bad. AAP can certainly modernise DJB and give over the charge of these water treatment plants to them. Of co­urse, that will take more than just changing of the chief.”   

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