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Why Delhi can never be self-reliant in water

The city’s biggest water sources are not under its control and the recent Jat agitation has shown how deeply this affects all residents – MPs, MLAs and VIPs included.

delhi Updated: Feb 27, 2016 01:46 IST
Mallica Joshi
Out of the 900 million gallons of water that the Delhi Jal Board distributes every day, 540 million gallons come from Haryana. Any trouble in the neighbouring state can, and does, spell trouble for Delhi’s water supply.
Out of the 900 million gallons of water that the Delhi Jal Board distributes every day, 540 million gallons come from Haryana. Any trouble in the neighbouring state can, and does, spell trouble for Delhi’s water supply. (Saumya Khandelwal/ Hindustan Times)

Delhi has a water problem with no solution in sight.

The city’s biggest water sources are not under its control and the recent Jat agitation has shown how deeply this affects all residents – MPs, MLAs and VIPs included.

The crisis led to questions about why Delhi can’t have a water-delivery system free from outside influence.

Here is why:

Delhi’s dependence on other states

780 out of 900 million gallons supplied everyday

Delhi’s primary source of water is the Yamuna, which travels through water-scarce Haryana before reaching the city.

Out of the 900 million gallons of water that the Delhi Jal Board distributes every day, 540 million gallons come from Haryana. Any trouble in the neighbouring state can, and does, spell trouble for Delhi’s water supply.

The Yamuna, which is barely even a river in Delhi anymore, also feeds and raises the water table in east Delhi.

Delhi’s second major source of water is the Upper Ganga Canal, through which it gets 240 million gallons daily. This provides water to east and South Delhi – areas that remained mostly unaffected by the Jat agitation.

A similar situation could prevail in the two areas, however, if trouble brews in western Uttar Pradesh, through which the canal flows.

Delhi’s own water sources

120 out of 900 million gallons daily

The only sources of water that Delhi can call its own are the natural water bodies, underground water, Ranney wells and recycled water. They provide 120 million gallons of water every day, barely enough to fulfil the demands of the 1.8 crore Delhi residents.

Water demand has always been higher than supply in Delhi. According to conservative estimates, Delhi’s water demand is 1,100 million gallons daily. The Delhi Jal Board can only provide 900 million gallons per day.

The gap is filled by illegal ground water extraction and private tankers.

Policy after policy and expert after expert have said Delhi needs to build an emergency response mechanism that can be used to deal with extraordinary situations such as the Jat agitation.

A call for reviving Delhi’s natural ponds and aquifers is made every few months. Experts such as Rajendra Singh, CR Babu, Manoj Misra, Himanshu Thakker and VK Jain have come up with plans about how this can be achieved but nothing in the government, irrespective of who is in power, has moved.

The idea is that these natural reservoirs can be used to extract water when extraordinary situations leave Delhi dry.

Policies for rainwater harvesting have been made stricter with more focus on institutions than individuals but implementation and checks, which will have an effect, are missing.

Cities, small and big, have managed to implement their rainwater harvesting policies well but Delhi lags behind.