Uttarakhand’s foothill districts and parts of western Uttar Pradesh are battling a drought-like situation as authorities have choked the water source to these areas to ensure uninterrupted supply to New Delhi and Noida.
The UP irrigation department has stopped releasing water into the eastern Ganga canal, leading to an acute shortage for people and wildlife in Haridwar, Bijnor and JP districts of Uttarakhand and adjacent areas in western Uttar Pradesh.
“We don’t have enough water (in the Ganga). The upper Ganga canal is more important for us. We have shut down the eastern Ganga canal. When we get more water we will open the gates of the east canal,” said PK Gautam, an engineer with the department.
An average of 3,500 million gallons per day (MGD) of water is being supplied through the upper canal, which takes care of the irrigation and drinking water needs of eastern Delhi, many areas within the national capital region (NCR) and the rest of western UP.
Delhi and Noida are currently getting 107 and 80 MGD of drinking water respectively through canal. Under normal circumstances, the canal supplies 240 MGD to the Capital, which is roughly 20% of the city’s water requirement. The rest comes from the Yamuna and groundwater sources.
Officials of the UP irrigation department said the “rationing” was done because of the depleting water level in the Ganga and its rain-fed tributaries, which flow from the mountainous Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. The hills have received scanty rainfall this season.
Both canals are looked after by the UP irrigation department as the distribution of assets between the two states is yet to be resolved. Uttarakhand was carved out of UP in November 2000.
Sources said the department’s priority is to keep the water flowing into Delhi as any crisis there triggers outrage and controversy.
The water shortage is not only taking a toll on the farmers but also on the wildlife in the Shaympur region, which is close to the Rajaji tiger reserve. The 75km east canal, which normally carries about 1,000 MGD, is the main water source for wildlife, especially elephants and deer, in Rajaji.
“Herds of elephant and deer often go to the east canal. But the canal is dry now and wild animals are facing a crisis,” Shyampur ranger YS Rathore said.
The Haridwar forest division has requested the irrigation department to release water into the canal.
Rathore said the forest department has dug 11 waterholes. “We filled them with water from tankers but these are proving insufficient. It is difficult to fill the pits every day.”
(With inputs from MS Nawaz)