The Jat protests for caste-based reservations that started in Haryana a week ago affected Delhi in several ways: Food prices skyrocketed, more than 1,000 trains were cancelled and there was chaos on the roads. But none was as big as the water crisis that brought Delhi to its knees and forced chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to appeal to the Centre “with folded hands” to intervene and get the Munak canal started in Haryana. The canal, which supplies water to large parts of Delhi, had to be shut down after it was vandalised by protesters. The protests are winding down, but Delhi’s water board needs two weeks to restore full supply to the city. However, don’t blame Haryana or the protesters alone for this: The blame lies squarely on successive Delhi governments and citizens because they have never given water conservation the priority it deserves.
This is not the first time Delhi is facing such a problem. In 2012, Delhi and Haryana fought bitterly over water. While then CM Sheila Dikshit accused her Haryana counterpart BS Hooda of arbitrarily curtailing water supply, Mr Hooda said that Haryana could not be held responsible for Delhi’s wastage. Experts agree with Mr Hooda’s analysis: While much of Delhi’s problems are largely the result of its dependency on external sources of water, they also say that mismanagement of water resources — inequitable distribution, losses in transmission and distribution, and unmetered or unauthorised use of water — has added to the city’s water woes. Moreover, Delhi manages to recycle just 40% of the water it generates. The city has also failed to enforce the existing regulation on rainwater harvesting. Last year scientists found that groundwater levels in northern India have been declining by as much as 33 centimetres (1 foot) per year over the past decade. It is worth noting that the success of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is dependent on availability of water since eliminating open defecation and toilet building are some of its objectives. And no sanitation goal can be successful without availability of water.
To change, Delhi must look inwards. It needs to create infrastructure and take a hard look at how it is managing water. The citizens must understand the enormity of the crisis looming before them and become willing stakeholders in conserving water. Water conservation has to be an ongoing process; it cannot just be a short-term response to some other crisis.