Water, water not everywhere

Water, water not everywhere

One of the primary pre-poll promises of the Aam Aadmi Party was to ensure 700 litres of free water per day. Two days after coming to power, the new chief minister of the AAP-led government, Arvind Kejriwal, announced 20 kilolitres a month of free water to all households with functional water meters, which translates to nearly 667 litres a day.

But the biggest challenge remains – how to tackle the shortage of water?  The government’s water supplying agency Delhi Jal Board (DJB) supplies only 834 million gallons a day (MGD) of water to the capital, including 100 MGD of groundwater, whereas the demand is running past 1,000 MGD.

“Right now it’s hard to say how much water we lose due to leakage or theft. The district meter area (DMA) has been launched and it will update us with the situation very soon,” says a DJB official.

But by its own admission last year, the agency reported 40 per cent of water supplied as ‘non-revenue water’, meaning leaks in the distribution system coupled with challenges in meter reading and billing as well as theft.

Equitable distribution

“Water is the biggest concern of the aam aadmi in Delhi as more than 50 lakh people do not get piped water in their homes,” reads the party’s election manifesto, implying that very few households in “slums and unauthorised colonies” have access to piped water connection, let alone metered water supply.

The party’s claim holds forth. Against the city’s population of about 1.8 crore, only 19.65 lakh households have piped water connection, out of which only eight to nine lakh households have metered water connection, according to DJB sources.

The party has a long road ahead as it had vowed to “ensure that all households in Delhi get water in their homes, irrespective of whether they are in slums or unauthorised colonies.”
Many pockets in densely populated localities across Delhi, not limiting to Badarpur, Sangam Vihar, Okhla, Jamia, Dwarka, Palam, Najafgarh, Chirag Dilli and Mehrauli, have limited or no access to water. In summer, water scarcity expands to more places than usual.

After the formation of the new government, residents of Delhi who were suffering from water scarcity or hefty water bills were hopeful with the new government to change the scenario immediately. But lack of water, pipelines and metered connections are yet to be addressed.

Burari, a case in point

The DJB supplies 5 MGD water to Burari, a northern suburb of Delhi. But Sanjeev Jha, the local AAP MLA, says that his constituency requires 20 MGD water. Considering that a very few households in Burari have piped water supply, Sanjeev’s primary attention is to ensure “increased frequency of water tankers”.

“I was told by Jal Board engineers that Wazirabad water treatment plant, which supplies water to Burari, has a capacity of only 11 MGD,” he says, explaining that he has to keep the limitations in mind.

“For the time being our supply is based on availability of water. In muhalla sabhas (public meetings), we are trying to identify localities where tankers don’t reach,” he added.
Sanjeev says his party is serious about laying new pipelines. “People are expressing their concern. But if they get connection, they will start saying that they don’t get water,” he says, pointing out that AAP plans to take one step at a time.

He pins hope on public meetings. “Residents and officials would put forward their concerns. The muhalla sabas will throw open a communication channel and both sides would understand each other,” he says, explaining that such meetings would ensure transparency and public participation in decision making.

Old issues

The last government’s lapses may create trouble for the current government as the city is still not getting 80 MGD of water from Munak Canal, situated on Delhi Haryana border.

A series of talks between the Haryana government and the former Sheila Dikshit government ended inconclusive and at least two of the water treatment plants are still vacant due to lack of water.

Water experts point out that recycling of water was ignored by earlier governments, which led to scarcity of water and pollution of river Yamuna, a prominent source of water in the capital. Sewers from all of the 1,695 unauthorised colonies still fall into the Yamuna untreated. Lack of sewage treatment and waste water disposal plants are also the city’s major shortcomings.
Ensuring ‘enough water’

“There is enough water in the city. Had it not been available then how can so many people survive without piped water?” Kejriwal said in a press conference on January 2. “Apart from piped water, the rest of the water resources are in the hands of water mafias,” he said, emphasising on the need to clamp down on water mafia. Water is available in the city and the needful are buying them from water mafia at higher rates, he said.

The AAP-led government is against privatisation of the DJB and is unequivocal about its commitment to public provision of water to all citizens. The government has sought more transparency in this agency, which keeps no proper record or tally of water received and supplied to each area.

The party also plans to install bulk meters and put the data on the DJB website. Long-run solutions to Delhi’s water situation will focus on city-wide rainwater harvesting, reviving water bodies and the conservation and recycling of water.

What’s the rationale

With users being charged (for the entire consumption) only if they cross the 20 kilolitres mark, experts believe that both arrears and profits of DJB are expected to reduce.

“But Delhi government has no budget to subsidise water. The government will have to divert funds from other heads,” says Umesh Sehgal, former Chief Secretary of Delhi.

He says the free water policy may lead to government postponing plans for laying new pipelines. “How can they issue tariff orders without any project future?” he says. Sehgal added that giving piped water supply to unauthorised colonies is the first step towards equitable distribution of water.

Soon after the announcement on water, Kejriwal in a Tweet wrote, “Do you know the costs involved? Rs 160 crore per annum and just Rs 40 crore for the balance of present financial year.”

The DJB registers an annual profit in excess of Rs 400 core. A K Arun of National Platform Against Water Privatisation says the government’s claim is not too tall to meet. “We wrote letters to several parties. We are happy that AAP took it up in their electoral campaign,” he says. But he too says that supplying water to deficit areas will be an uphill task for the new government.

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