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Cannot survive long on borrowed water

columns Updated: Jun 17, 2012 23:42 IST
Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
Hindustan Times
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Behind every story of deficit, usually lie three more: Of demand, supply and wastage. Delhi needs about 4,200 million litres of water per day. The DJB supplies about 3,150 million litres, up to 40% of which is lost in distribution, resulting in a daily deficit of about 2,300 million litres.

So we want an additional 300 million litres per day from neighbouring states. We push for the Renuka dam in Himachal Pradesh, which may fetch us about 1,050 million litres per day in the next decade. But even at the current demand, we will be still facing a daily deficit of about 1,000 million litres.

Delhi Jal Board (DJB) claims it routinely changes corroded water pipes. But drinking water flooding roads amounts to a daily loss of more than 1,250 million litres, which includes 'theft' by the poor who 'steal' water mostly because they are denied the basic minimum supply. The rich squander their ample share simply because they can.

I have grown up watching neighbours letting their tanks overflow and using drinking water for construction work. In cantonment and NDMC areas, per capita daily consumption is 300-400 litres. The aquifer has sunk disastrously in the farmhouse belt of Jasola-Mehrauli-Najafgarh to keep swimming pools filled and lawns watered. The fines for wastage range from R100 to R2,000, but in the past two months, water magistrates could find just 150 homes wasting precious drinking water in the city.

DJB does not charge for 6,000 litres per family per month. For a family of four, this translates to a meagre 50 litres per person per day. In many slums, per capita availability of water is less than 20 litres a day. A 2010 study estimated the per capita consumption of water in Delhi to be 296 litres, of which 102 litres went to commercial sectors and hotels. So the majority of us, who make do with less than 100 litres per day, have a negative water footprint in a city where the average daily per capita consumption far surpasses London (170 litre) or Paris (150 litre).

To beat this waste-and-want dynamics, we must make water free and reliably available up to at least 100 litres per person per day, and charge additional usage incrementally, making it exorbitant to consume anything more than 250 litres a day. Incremental power tariff already discourages unnecessary consumption. Upgrading of faulty water meters will be the first step towards a similar rationalisation of demand and distribution.

Ensuring equity and curbing wastage may not dramatically bring down the water deficit in India's most rapidly growing city. While the parched Capital needs immediate relief from its neighbours to stay afloat, it has to look within for any long-term solution to its water woes.

The city's water systems must be reclaimed. Back in 1913, Delhi municipality fined a hefty R50 if anyone fouled wells, tanks or Yamuna by washing, dumping garbage or sewer. A number of Delhi's 800-odd water bodies and thousands of wells can be revived for restocking of the aquifer. From Barapulla to Najafgarh, the city's many rivulets and canals have either disappeared or become filthy drains. Even after the completion of an upgrading project presently underway, only 60% of Delhi's daily sewage load of 3,200 million litres will reach the treatment plants.

Two Delhi Metro depots and stations, Akshardham temple and the Commonwealth Games Village have come up on the Yamuna floodplain. Encroachments from government agencies, malls, squatters and tonnes of construction waste are choking Delhi Ridge. There is no policy yet to protect the city's two best insurances against water scarcity.

Delhi gets about 610mm of rain a year. Rainwater harvested in 100 sq metres can yield 36,000 litres in a year, which meets the basic need of one person. But making rainwater harvesting compulsory for buildings that came up after 2001 only covers a few. Despite abundance of funds, we could get only one out of 272 councillors to invest in a rainwater system. Unlike ornamental gardens or high-mast lights, underground water tanks are not for public display. But with water riots breaking out, what lies ahead will soon depend on what lies beneath.