Delhi water crisis: Water tanker mafia, high ammonia levels and sewage treatment among key concerns

Water may be an everyday need, but its journey from the source to the end user’s pipeline is punctuated with political ifs and buts. The water crisis in Delhi exemplifies this.

The population of Delhi increased from 138 lakh in 2001 to 167 lakh in 2011, and is expected to cross 230 lakh in 2021. As per the 2011 Census and Delhi Jal Board (DJB) records, there are 33.41 lakh households in Delhi and at present, about 20 lakh households are provided a piped water supply system.

A large number of migrants come to the national capital each year. In 2001 alone, the capital’s population increased by 215,000 due to natural growth and 285,000 through migration. The burden on its existing infrastructure is constantly increasing.

Rituraj Jha, the MLA from north-west Delhi's Kirari, said, "The problem lies in the tanker mafia, and the practice of bribing government officials. When I was elected, each day, no less than 500 women would come to me and demand that a tanker be brought to their locality." Jha has experience of dealing with water woes, as he had worked with the Delhi Jal Board for two years after being elected to the Legislative Assembly. He claims that now, 106 colonies in Kirari have piped water supply.

Ashmit, a resident of Kirari’s Agar Nagar, said that he had grown up watching the water mafia. According to him people who were part of the mafia had divided areas within the locality among themselves.

In South Delhi's Devli, Jitu and Shahnawaz said that water supply has considerably improved in the past five years, but added that hundreds of families on the Bandh Road are still dependent on tankers.

 Delhi water crisis: Water tanker mafia, high ammonia levels and sewage treatment among key concerns

Laying water pipelines will extend the metered water network and reduce problems related to the tanker mafia. Pallavi Rebbapragada/Firstpost

Prakash Jarwal, the MLA from Devli said, “Since the area lies partly on forest land, setting up a pipeline requires approvals from the forest department. The possible depletion of water resources from forest areas is a big reason for delays in water pipelines.”

Delhi Jal Board vice-chairman Dinesh Mohaniya had earlier stated that NOCs have not been granted for laying water pipelines in some unauthorised colonies. "Land-owning agencies give NOCs for laying water pipelines in any area. In these cases, they haven't. For example, the Archaeological Survey of India may not give an NOC for laying water pipelines if a colony comes up on its land," he was quoted as saying.

He had explained that since unauthorised colonies have come up in a rather haphazard manner, the distances between houses vary greatly, making the installation of water pipes difficult. The Delhi government’s data suggests that water pipelines have been laid down in 1,482 unauthorised colonies.

Earlier, citizens were charged around Rs 14,000 to regularise a water connection. Residents of the nearby locality of Sangam Vihar say this has now been reduced to Rs 3,310. Shahnawaz said, “Here, a tanker would come once every 10-15 days for 20-30 minutes. During summers, women and children would migrate back to their villages.”

Residents of East Delhi face the problem of a high level of ammonia in water. Due to the high ammonia content, over two dozen tube wells are non-functional in the area. The technology to treat ammonia in water was pilot tested at a well in Shakarpur. The results of a test were found to be positive by the DJB's quality control department. Scaling up modern technology to treat ammonia is still taking place, and many colonies like Krishna Nagar and Gandhi Nagar continue to be dependent on private water tankers that distribute large Bisleri cans. “Drinking water is privately sourced because ground water is not fit for drinking ever after filtering,” said Manoj Sharma, a resident of East Delhi and a member of URJA, United RWA Joint Action.

In south-west Delhi's Dwarka, water scarcity is a prime concern. According to residents, a major mistake in urban planning was that the DDA did not take permission from the Delhi Jal Board before constructing areas like Dwarka. The locality of Dwarka, till recently, got around 25 percent of its water supply from the DDA. There is huge demand-supply gap in this area.

It has been seen that where the supply of water from the civic authorities does not match the demand, people have taken recourse to alternative measures to get access to water. These include government tankers, private tankers and extraction of groundwater. However, these measures are not sustainable. Suresh Kumar, who works as a plumber, said that most people take recourse to private networks, as ground water is dirty, and processing it in reverse osmosis machines leads to immense wastage.

While the AAP has laid emphasis on facilitating the setting up small-scale decentralised sewage treatment plants, the National Green Tribunal found in its 2018 report that only 14 percent of 1,797 unauthorised colonies in Delhi had sewage connections. People are unwilling to pay charges and the use of treated water isn’t incentivised. The government currently provides a 90 percent rebate on sewer charges on using DSTP for water recycling. Moreover, the current scheme of the Delhi government requires bodies like DDA and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to procure raw sewage water and treat it in their own decentralised sewage treatment plants. A simple, standardised procedure must be put in place, instead of leaving the process to multiple agencies that may not have the know-how or the will to execute it.

It is also necessary for the Delhi government to impress upon neighbouring governments in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to set up water treatment plants.

Playing a political blame game over shortage of water diverts attention from a solution-centric approach. However, for such an approach, there needs to be good co-ordination between the state and the Centre.

Updated Date: Jul 02, 2019 18:50:31 IST