Delhi’s water woes begin as mercury soars

May 6th, 2009 - 6:06 pm ICT by IANS  

By Pupul Dutta
New Delhi, May 6 (IANS) With the onslaught of summer that is pushing temperatures to new highs, the capital’s water woes have also started, sending people to queue up with their buckets at neighbourhood taps or make frantic calls to water tankers.

And like in the past, people complain that the Delhi Jal Board, the primary supplier of water in the capital, continues to maintain that it is well equipped to handle the situation - almost bordering on a denial.

“May has just begun but the problem has increased. Supply is erratic. Sometimes there is no supply at all,” said S.K.S. Kanwar, president, residents’ welfare association in one of the blocks at Vasant Kunj, among the largest residential colonies in Asia.

“Our complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Water board officials have not even paid a visit once to check the status of pumps in the area,” Kanwar told IANS. “It’s nothing new, we have now become totally dependent on water tankers.”

Home to over 16 million people, this city has been plagued by acute water shortages for several decades during summers. Studies point out that ageing infrastructure and dripping pipes have only added to the problem.

As per a recent report of the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), the city’s daily water requirement is around 4,275 million litres, while the supply is only around 3,375 million litres.

Almost half this supply is lost due to leakage and theft, which stands at a whopping 47 percent in Delhi compared to Bangalore’s 39 percent and Mumbai’s 30 percent. Therefore, 27 percent of the city’s homes get tap water for less than two hours a day, says Assocham.

The capital’s water board, however, downplayed the crisis.

“There is no scarcity so far. We are meeting the demand,” said board chief executive Ramesh Negi. He told IANS that about 3,200 million litres were sourced from the Ganga and that the Uttar Pradesh government was also supplying water.

Negi said Uttar Pradesh has helped in another way.

Last month, the Uttarakhand government planned to plug supplies from April 15 for a fortnight to clean up parts of the Upper Ganga Canal near Haridwar for the Maha Kumbh festival in 2010.

But the Uttar Pradesh government, which manages the canal even though it originates from Uttarakhand, spiked the proposal, ensuring uninterrupted supply of around 1,000 litres of water per day to Delhi.

Delhi gets its water from several sources such as the Ganga, Yamuna, the Bhakra Nangal dam on the Sutlej river in Himachal Pradesh as also 53 underground reservoirs. “Another 20-25 reservoirs will be constructed in about two years,” Negi said.

He maintained that the Sonia Vihar Reservoir Project in Delhi to address the capital’s water problems, which did not receive water till a couple of years ago, now gets regular supply from the Tehri dam in Uttarakhand.

But like Kanwar, Chittaranjan Park resident Polly Sanyal disagrees with Negi. “It seems that I am paying a price for staying in a good neighbourhood in south Delhi. There is no water. Private tankers fleece us, but we have no choice.”

On an average, water from a private tanker costs Rs.130 for 750 litres and Rs.200 for 1,000 litres. In other words, if an average family has to survive on the supplies from tankers, the cost would come to Rs.3,900-Rs.6,000 per month.

Though the Delhi Jal Board also has 25 emergency tankers, these seldom reach on time during crises, residents complain. “I’ve never seen one,” said Sanyal.

What has exacerbated matters is the growing number of Delhi’s floating population and hotels that account for 52 litres of per capita water consumption. Rainwater harvesting has also not really caught on, though Delhi receives on an average 611 mm of rain per year.

Little wonder Assocham says the capital’s water crisis can get more complex and lead to more inter-state conflicts if prompt measures are not taken to tackle the problem. “The capital could run out of water by 2015.”

(Pupul Dutta can be contacted at pupul.d@ians.in)

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