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Tanks, but no thanks

For the Sethis of Vasant Kunj, the battle starts early in the morning. Anita Sethi (49) wakes up at 6 am to await the drone of her neighbours’ booster pumps. It’s her cue to switch on her own pump.

delhi Updated: Aug 04, 2009 00:49 IST
Avishek G Dastidar

For the Sethis of Vasant Kunj, the battle starts early in the morning. Anita Sethi (49) wakes up at 6 am to await the drone of her neighbours’ booster pumps. It’s her cue to switch on her own pump.

Sethi, like her neighbours, is never sure how long the morning supply will last. “Sometimes, it lasts only 15 minutes. On such days, our tanks remain almost empty. Even on days when the supply exceeds half an hour, it is only a trickle,” said the mother of two.

This morning ritual decides how the the day will go for the whole family.

“When the morning supply is too meagre to fill even half the tank, I have to either call in sick or report late to work because I’m busy arranging for a water tanker,” said SS Sethi (52), a businessman.

Such days also mean no washing of clothes or watering of the plants.
In Vasant Kunj — one of the oldest Delhi Development Authority colonies in South Delhi, inhabited by the upper middle class — this is normal.

While most colonies in South Delhi get water twice a day for an hour each, most parts of Vasant Kunj manage with 40 minutes or less twice a day, sometimes once.

It can’t be fixed

Countless complaints to Delhi Jal Board and talks with its various officials in the last 20 years have convinced the residents about two things.

One, Vasant Kunj is at the tail end of the water supply pipeline from the source, hence the supply gets exhausted before it reaches them.

Secondly, there are both elevated and low-lying areas within Vasant Kunj, which adversely impact water pressure — leaving some areas parched while giving others more than their share.

Bottomline: nothing can be done to fix it.

“At every meeting with DJB and the local legislators, we have been told that it is a problem arising out of the location of the area,” said Usha Minhas (49), housewife and member of the residents’ association in D1 Block.

Minhas remembers how some time ago she and her family had to leave home because there was no water for two days.

“The house was in a mess. We went to my parents in Kalkaji. We knew that water supply at any other place would be better than in Vasant Kunj.”

The Singhs of C6 block ate outside on several days this summer because they did not have water to wash the dishes. To top it, their two-year-old younger son had frequent bouts of diarrhoea.

“It was like living in a slum, if not worse. I was considering shifting to my friend’s place in Dwarka,” said R Singh (36), who works with a publishing group.

“The Jal Board tankers never respond when needed. Private tankers demand from Rs 300 to 600,” he said.

Paying a hefty price

Residents have gone to great lengths to draw out the last drops of water from the supply network.
They have invested in huge, additional tanks, which can store around 1,000 litres of water (a family of four typically uses around 600 litres a day). They have installed the tanks underground hoping that some water will trickle in even when the supply pressure is low. They have also invested in powerful booster pumps to suck out the supplied water.

“And on top of that, people routinely spend extra on water tankers, mineral water cans and other such arrangements. The total cost is enormous,” said Anil Sood of the Federation of Residents’ Associations in Vasant Kunj, which has been fighting for a better water supply for two decades now.

To install and maintain the whole infrastructure — booster pumps, additional tanks, electricity etc- the 13,000-odd families in 21 pockets of Vasant Kunj have spent around Rs 225.34 crore in the last 10 years, according to an assessment by residents with the help of the non-government organisation Chetna.

“With that money, we all could have set up a parallel water supply network of ours,” said Sood.

40 per cent goes waste

The water distribution network in and around Vasant Kunj is so corroded that an estimated 40 per cent of the supply often goes waste due to leaks and bursts, as per various Right to Information responses from Delhi Jal Board.

In other words, for every bucket of water supplied, half a bucket goes waste.

“For years, we were told Sonia Vihar water treatment plant, dedicated for South Delhi, would solve our problems. Sonia Vihar did start operations three years ago, but little has changed as corroded pipelines continue to waste so much water,” said AK Mehta, Chairman of the Federation of RWAs.

With big and small malls crowding Vasant Kunj and the surrounding unauthorised colonies going vertical and increasing the demand for water, residents feel the quest for water may only get tougher by next summer.

‘Location, elevation and pumps pose problems’

-- Negi spoke to Avishek Dastidar

Parts of Vasant Kunj go without water for several days at a time. The supply is generally unpredictable and inadequate. Why is the situation so bad?
Vasant Kunj is a problem area. It lies at the tail end of the distribution network of Sonia Vihar water treatment plant. Much of the water pumped in that line gets drawn before it can reach Vasant Kunj. Indiscriminate use of booster pumps by residents is to blame. Also, there is a gradient problem. Some areas are low-lying while some other pockets are at an elevation.

What are you doing to remedy this?
We are doing our best. The main problem is the massive pressure on infrastructure. Delhi is growing vertical at a rapid pace. Where is the water to supply to so many houses? Vasant Kunj was designed for a certain number of people. The actual population is probably thrice as much. So, the pressure of demand per water connection is tremendous. Not just Vasant Kunj but entire Delhi is facing this problem.

Residents are forced to procure water from private tankers, which charge a fortune. Why don’t your water tankers respond promptly at the time of a crisis?
It is not true that Vasant Kunj does not get proper tanker supply. We have 1,200 tankers, which service all the areas wherever they are needed. But there is a limit to the volume of water that you can supply through tankers.

A huge amount of water goes waste in transmission and distribution, thanks to the corroded pipeline network. Residents say if the pipes are repaired or replaced, half of their problem will be solved. Why can’t the pipes be repaired?
We are in the process of a massive overhaul of the old pipeline network in Delhi. The pressure on infrastructure increases the damage to distribution pipes. We are replacing around 300 km of old, corroded pipes every year. We plan to increase the rate of replacement.

What is the duration of water supply in Vasant Kunj?
It may vary but is never less than an hour per day. Some areas even get water for two hours. Our immediate target is to supply water for two hours to every area in the Capital. We are concentrating on equitable distribution to every part of Delhi.