Arvind Kejriwal and the politics of water: Here's why the Delhi CM failed Sangam Vihar

As of now, no one knows whether the Kapil Mishra's allegation that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal accepted a bribe of Rs 2 crore from Satyendar Jain is true. However, this allegation points to the seedy underbelly of Delhi: The politics of water.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. PTI

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. PTI

In Delhi, water equals power and money. Sangam Vihar, in south Delhi, is a large unorganised colony with adjoining slums. With its population of nearly 10 lakh, it is a sad example of this dark reality.

“We buy every drop of water from private water suppliers. We do not have water supplied to us through pipes,” said Rasheed Khan, who sells parathas at a roadside shop in Sangam Vihar.

Being an unauthorised colony, Sangam Vihar does not get water from the Delhi Jal Board. It is living proof that the Aam Admi Party’s ‘bijli half paani maaf’ slogan is a farce. “We have to pay a private supplier Rs 500 for 2,000 litres of water,” he said, while serving a customer.

Private water suppliers do brisk business in areas such as Sangam Vihar, which are outside the ambit of the Delhi Jal Board. These suppliers collect water mostly from private borewells in Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon and sell it at a premium.

While the Delhi Jal Board has also started reaching out to these areas with water tankers, Umar Nayees, who works for a butcher, tells Firstpost: “ Their service is not always available. Normally, the government water tankers visit our area once every eight to ten days. So we mostly have to depend on private players."

Significantly, this misery is meant for the poor, who form the majority of the population, while a handful of affluent families make money from the water crisis.

“The people who are rich enough to dig a borewell for themselves never run out of water. In fact, they sell water to the private players at Rs 300 per 2,000 litres. And the private players turn around and sells it to the public at Rs 500 per 2,000 litres," Nayees adds.

Radheshyam Tyagi, member of Water Connection, Delhi Jal Board, told Firstpost that the board has taken over all borewells that have been dug outside homes. “But there may be some borewells on private property," Tyagi adds.

In Delhi, digging a borewell for personal use is barred. However, people are allowed to dig and extract water from borewells for the purposes of the community.

The few rich families in the area who are good at flouting groundwater extraction norms without getting caught are making merry. The rest are have-nots.

The lack of water sets the poor living in Sangam Vihar apart from folks living in the nearby authorised colonies of south Delhi: Chittaranjan Park, Malviya Nagar and Greater Kailash, who get up to 20,000 litres of water free of cost every month from Delhi Jal Board.

While the have-nots in Sangam Vihar jostle with each other in front of a tanker every morning for their daily supply of water, the luxury vehicles of the haves are washed with the water they get free from the Delhi Jal Board.

The politics

“There are 1,669 unauthorised colonies like Sangam Vihar in Delhi. All of these colonies suffer similar water scarcity,” said Radheshyam Tyagi, Delhi Jal Board.

As per the records maintained by the Delhi Jal Board, the city needs 800 million gallons of water every day. However, the city gets only 650 million gallons of water every day, leaving millions of people water deprived.

These water deprived folks constitute a huge votebank for political parties to  mobilise during election season.

“During every election, all political parties approach us. They promise to build pipes and supply us water. But after they gain power, they just defer the project," Nayees said.

In the 2015 Assembly election, the AAP rode to power in Delhi on the promise of supplying free water through pipes.

Arvind Kejriwal vigorously took up the issue of water crisis in Delhi and promised the people of ‘jal swaraj’. He promised every household up to 20,000 litres of free water each month. He also accused the Congress, which had been ruling Delhi for three consecutive terms, of being hand-in-glove with water mafia and depriving the unauthorised colonies of piped water supply.

“AAP is committed to clamping down on Delhi’s powerful tanker mafia, and prosecuting the political leaders who protect and control the water mafia,” said the AAP manifesto.

Though the promise of water has always been an election plank in Delhi, in 2015, the AAP created a new narrative around water and captured the imagination of the people by promising to end the disparity in water distribution.

No wonder the 2015 Assembly election saw more than 1 lakh votes cast in Sangam Vihar and AAP candidate Dinesh Mohaniya winning after bagging nearly 65% of the votes. However, even after the AAP won in a landslide, the disparity inherent in the Delhi's water distribution system did not change.

Sangam Vihar, like many other unauthorised colonies, remained beyond the ambit of Delhi Jal Board's piped water supply scheme. Tankers still charged exorbitant sums from residents for water.

The Delhi government’s initiative to supply free water through Delhi Jal Board’s tankers has also met a foul end. It has been alleged that this scheme is used by some local AAP leaders to maintain their clout over voters.

“Only the high and mighty with links to the government and AAP get water. The rest of us have to buy water from private players,” says Nayees.

A source in the Delhi Jal Board, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirms this allegation. “When we go to supply water in Sangam Vihar, we have to follow instructions given by the MLA’s men. They tell us to supply water to certain individuals and not to give water to others. We have to obey, for the sake of our safety."

If this disparity helped AAP to come to power, the continuation of this system seems to have helped the party stay in power. Despite the AAP's dismal performance in dealing with Sangam Vihar's water problems, the party won two MCD ward out of the five wards in the area. The rest were won by the BJP and an independent candidate.

The money

Piped water supply seems to be the only solution to the woes of Sangam Vihar and other unauthorised colonies.

But Radheshyam Tyagi of Delhi Jal Board said: “We cannot supply water to these colonies until the government notifies them as authorised. We can proceed only after the government takes this policy decision.”

But why has the Delhi government dithered? More than two years after it came to power, why has it not fulfilled its election promise of  supplying piped water to every household?

Despite repeated attempts by Firstpost, Dinesh Mohaniya, MLA, Sangam Vihar, remained unavailable for comment.

In a public meeting held in Sangam Vihar before 2015 Assembly election, Arvind Kejriwal alleged an unholy nexus between the Sheila Dixit-led Congress government and the water mafia. “It will take only 24 hours to connect Sangam Vihar with piped water supply. But the government does not do that because it will hurt the Rs 1,000 crore business of private water sellers,” he alleged.

After taking power, the AAP  claimed to have unearthed a Rs 400 crore water tanker scam during the Sheila Dixit regime.

But after Kapil Mishra trained his guns on Arvind Kejriwal and accused him of accepting a bribe from Satyendar Jain, many have questioned whether the  AAP did not provide drinking water to Sangam Vihar and other unauthorised colonies for the same reason.

This is a question only Arvind Kejriwal can answer. His best answer may be fulfilling his promise and supplying Sangam Vihar and other unauthorised colonies water through pipes.

 

 


Published Date: May 12, 2017 09:15 pm | Updated Date: May 12, 2017 09:14 pm


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