Engineers were working to restore New Delhi’s full water supply on Tuesday after Jat protesters damaged a key canal in Haryana and disrupted supplies over the weekend - highlighting the extreme water vulnerability faced by the national capital’s residents.
Some supplies resumed to northern and central parts of New Delhi, and will hopefully reach western neighbourhoods by Tuesday evening, said Delhi’s water minister, Kapil Mishra. In the meantime, 70 water tankers have been sent to western areas of the city where taps have been dry for up to two days.
The destruction of the Munak canal link by protesters demanding quotas in government jobs and educational institutions has focused attention on Delhi’s precarious water supply. The canal, which channels water from north Indian rivers, accounts for about 60% of the city’s water supply. Another 25% comes from groundwater, while the polluted Yamuna River supplies about 12%.
Yet even when the Munak canal flow is unimpeded, the overall water supply is not enough to meet Delhi’s needs, and shortages are common during the dry seasons.
The situation is especially bad for the most people living in slums or riverside shanties, where many rely on sewage-tainted river water, leaks from broken pipes or deliveries by municipal water trucks. Others in Delhi draw heavily from the ground, leading the city’s aquifer levels to decline by 4 metres (13 feet) in the last decade, according to the Central Ground Water Board.
When protesters from the Jat community breached the canal wall on Saturday, they effectively cut off about two-thirds of Delhi’s water.
Clashes between the protesters and government forces left 15 people dead before Jat leaders agreed on Monday to end the demonstrations while negotiating with officials, and the Indian Army took control of the canal.
Residents of Sanjay Colony, a slum in southwest New Delhi, said on Tuesday that this week’s water shortage was making an already bad situation worse.
“We already spend a lot of hours trying to get water,” said Indrapal, a security worker who gave only his first name. “People haven’t been able to go to work.”
They worried that a water crisis created by political protesters was setting a bad precedent for the capital’s water security.
“Now it’s the Jat community. Later it will be someone else asking for something,” a Sanjay Colony resident named Lila said. “The government has been slow in reacting.”
Ram Lal, a man who runs a small shop in the slum, also criticised the protesters, saying they “have done wrong. They should not have cut the water supply. Because of that, we couldn’t get our water tanker.”
Authorities in Delhi had issued warnings over the weekend of impending water shortages, advising residents to use the resource sparingly and cancelling all school classes on Monday. But while some residents were filling buckets and bottles in case the situation worsened, others, including many wealthier households that rely on groundwater, were buffeted from the crisis.
Delhi water board authorities were working with experts in the army and Haryana state on Tuesday to repair the damage done by the protesters, said Mishra, the Delhi water minister. Of the city’s three water treatment plants, one was again working at full capacity, while the other two had resumed operations at 50-60% capacity.