Here again is the summer of discontent. After a round of water crises in parts of Delhi earlier this month, it’s now Gurgaon’s turn. The problem, however, is not restricted to these northern cities. Come summer, such scarcity will be seen in other parts of the country too. The recent shortage in Gurgaon was caused by a breach in a canal that supplies water to nearly 70 per cent of the city, forcing residents to buy water from tankers at Rs 500-700 per 5,000 litres. But the root cause of this scarcity lies elsewhere: farmers living near Gurgaon breached the canal because they desperately needed water for their farmlands. The erratic electric supply had made it difficult for them to extract fast-depleting groundwater to irrigate their fields. Such inequities in water availability are a sure-shot recipe for civic unrest and could lead to — who knows — future water riots.
If inequity is one side of the story, mismanagement and reckless extraction of this finite resource is the other part. The second UN Water Development Report, 2006, clearly states: “Good governance is essential for managing our increasingly-stretched supplies of freshwater and indispensable for tackling poverty.” And, it is here we have been found wanting. Both Delhi and Haryana have legislations on water harvesting. But implementation, as usual, has been amiss. In fact, in Gurgaon, which has been officially declared a ‘dark zone’, the extraction is nearly 63 per cent while recharge is a modest 40 per cent. But this has not stopped the government from carrying on with the massive pace of urbanisation marked by huge residential complexes and malls. This relentless over-extraction of water is also bad economics as a falling water table has a direct impact on power bills. And extracting more than what is meant for you also means denying someone else their fair share.
Hiking water tariffs could block leakages. But the issue is politically volatile and politicians will shy away from taking such a call. Therefore, there is an urgent need to rationalise water use, decentralise our water management systems, make ‘recharge’ a commitment and popularise traditional water harvesting systems. If the onus is on the government to pass legislations and implement them, it is the responsibility of the users to contain wastage and use water responsibly.