Delhi's water shortage is a crisis borne out of Haryana's refusal to abide by legal commitments

Last week in the ongoing tussle between the respective state governments in Delhi and Haryana over the perennially contentious issue of water sharing, Haryana requested Delhi to drop the multiple cases filed against it by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) in the High Court, National Green Tribunal (NGT), Supreme Court and the Upper Yamuna River Board (UYRB). Haryana’s request was made primarily on account of express assurances to Delhi that it would release the requisite amount of Yamuna water to Delhi. Such onerous terms notwithstanding, Delhi promptly dropped, albeit temporarily, all such cases in the hope that the Haryana government would abide by its promise. However, in a surprising and disappointing turn of events, Haryana’s chief minister, a few days ago, ruled out providing Delhi with its requisite share — in clear contradiction of the assurances provided by his state government.

For some time now, Delhi has been facing an acute water problem (which has only been exacerbated by the sweltering summer season) largely due to reasons beyond its control and jurisdiction.

Before understanding the roots of the current water problem in Delhi, it is imperative to understand the historical situation of water and its sources in Delhi.

Through the lens of history

Delhi’s water problems have often been caused for reasons other than the simple economics of demand and supply. In fact, the major risks that Delhi’s water supply system bears do not lie within the city’s borders, but outside.

Delhi is a land-locked state with little access to freshwater sources, unlike its counterparts. Rough accounting shows that the daily demand for water for, an ever increasing, population of 20 million is around 1,200 million gallons per day (MGD) while Delhi receives about 870 MGD of water primarily from the Eastern Yamuna Canal (270 MGD), Western Yamuna Canal (280 MGD), Upper Ganga Canal (255 MGD) and Delhi’s own groundwater resources (65 MGD). As is clearly visible, Delhi relies on the Yamuna for about 60 percent of its water needs.

The Munak canal near Delhi. File image. Reuters

The Munak canal near Delhi. File image. Reuters

In 1994, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the five basin states — Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh — regarding the allocation of the surface flow of the Yamuna river. The MoU mandated the following: (1) Creation of the Upper Yamuna River Board (UYRB), under Clause 7(iii), primarily vested with the authority to regulate the allocation and monitor return flows (2) If the available quantity of water is less than the assessed quantity, then the water will be first allocated to Delhi and the balance will be distributed, in proportion, to Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.

In 1996, in an order, the Supreme Court insisted that Haryana was supposed to maintain the level of the Wazirabad pond in Delhi at 674.5 feet throughout the year in order to ensure that (a) heightened ammonia levels do not pollute the water (b) Delhi continues to get its fair share (as per the MoU of 1994) in a case of an acute water emergency.

Water from the Yamuna reaches Delhi primarily through the 102 kilometre long Munak Canal, which is part of the larger 325 kilometre long Western Yamuna Canal, that takes off from the Hathnikund barrage built on the upper stretches of the Yamuna. The Hathnikund barrage is located at a point which comes after Yamuna has covered an undulating terrain of almost 200 kilometres through the hills. Hathnikund is constructed about 3 kilometres upstream of Tajewala and became operational by the end of 2002. Thus Haryana, through the dam and sluice controls at Hathnikund and its own extensive canal system is in a domineering position to control how much water to release to Delhi downstream through the Munak Canal.

Even though the Delhi government paid for concrete lining of the Munak Canal in order to avail benefit of water saved from wasteful leakages, the Haryana government often plays truant, and routinely diverts water from the Munak to multiple off-shoot regular canals downstream, a little before the Delhi-Haryana border.

Root of the current water crisis in Delhi

First, since early January, Delhi saw high levels of ammonia (0.9 ppm to 2.6ppm against the CPCB’s stipulated limit of 0.5ppm) in the Yamuna river water released by Haryana to Delhi, making the water unfit to process at DJB’s Water Treatment Plants (WTPs). Mixing such a high level of ammonia along with the treating agent of chlorine used at the WTPs could have potentially led to the formation of a carcinogenic compound called Trihalomethane. As a direct consequence, water production at three WTPs — Haiderpur, Chandrawal and Wazirabad — decreased by about 40 percent since 1 January. This caused less water to be pumped into circulation and taps to go dry. The raison d'être behind such high levels of ammonia was the Haryana government’s abject inability to stop factories at the Delhi-Haryana border from releasing polluted effluents directly into the Yamuna.

Second, the Haryana government, in direct contravention of the MoU signed in 1994 and Supreme Court’s order of 1996, has not released adequate water to Delhi this year. This has happened for the first time in almost 22 years. As per the MoU and the SC order, Haryana is mandated to provide 450 cusecs of water daily to Delhi. However, it has only been providing 330 cusecs of water daily — 120 cusecs less than the stipulated amount — and as a result large areas of Delhi are suffering from a water crisis.

BJP’s Political Vendetta is hurting the people of Delhi

That the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) holds the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Arvind Kejriwal in contempt is not news. Since the time Kejriwal, in 2015, consigned BJP, an erstwhile Goliath in Delhi politics, to a non-decrepit pygmy burdened with dropping external expectations and ridden with paralyzing factionalism from within, the BJP, through the constitutional office of the unelected Lieutenant Governor (L-G) has left no stone unturned to cripple the AAP government in Delhi.

The BJP-led Haryana Government reneging on the water-sharing pact is yet another sordid episode in a concerted and unholy bid to damage the popular state government in Delhi, both from within and without.

Pranav Jain works with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Delhi government on key issues. He tweets @pranavj142.


Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 12:54 PM

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