Every monsoon, most Indian cities become flowing water bodies, throwing daily life off kilter. This happens thanks to bad drainage systems and concretisation. Cities can no longer absorb heavy rain and much of the water literally goes down the drain.
Recently, the Delhi high court, while hearing a PIL regarding rainwater harvesting (RWH) units in government buildings, grilled the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) about the status of implementation of its policy to adopt RWH system in the city. The scenario is pretty grim: Most RWH schemes in the city have remained on paper. Forget residential areas, even most government buildings don’t have an RWH arrangement. So even though Delhi gets 650-850 mm rainfall annually, much of it is wasted.
Against the demand of about 1,050 million gallons per day (MGD) of water, the DJB gets approximately 900 MGD; of this, 100 MGD comes from groundwater. The city already has several pockets of ‘dark zone’ (authorities caution against further withdrawal of ground water from these areas) but over 450,000 bore wells pump water relentlessly.
Unfortunately, the solution for Delhi’s unapologetic demand for water is more lethal. The Capital already gets its water from far off places in Haryana and the Bhakra-Beas Management Board, which regulates the supply of water and power from the Bhakra Nangal and Beas projects to Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Chandigarh.
Delhi is supporting the construction of the Renuka dam project in Himachal Pradesh, 280-odd km from the city, to get about 270 MGD of water, a fourth of its peak summer requirement. The project cost has already escalated to Rs 4,000 crore and, more importantly, it would displace thousands of people who live along the Giri river, submerge fertile land and rich forests.
Like Delhi, Mumbai too gets its water from dams located about 100 km away. Bhopal, which once had huge lakes, now gets Narmada water and Hyderabad is planning to mine the Godavari.
Rather than collecting rainwater and recharging the ground table or storing it for direct use, we are impounding rivers for supplying water to cities that are hundreds of kilometres away. This needs to change.
Instead of this parasitic existence and robbing locals of a valuable natural resource, cities like Delhi must initiate rainwater harvesting on a gigantic scale, manage the surface water bodies in a better way and have strict norms for groundwater withdrawal.
There must also be equitable water distribution — not more than 400 litres per day per capita for VIPs — and an end to distribution losses. Last but not the least, the city must learn to recycle and reuse water.
(Nivedita Khandekar is a Delhi-based independent journalist. The views expressed are personal.)