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Ground beneath Delhi running dry

The increasing water demand in Delhi and limited supply has put tremendous pressure on groundwater. Rampant extraction has resulted in a falling water table. The situation is no different in Noida and Gurgaon, Nivedita Khandekar reports.

delhi Updated: Apr 17, 2013 03:07 IST
Nivedita Khandekar
Nivedita Khandekar
Hindustan Times

For centuries, Delhi’s primary source of water used to be its water bodies — step wells and dug wells. As the population increased, the demand rose, putting tremendous pressure on the earlier “ample” water supply. The city, obviously, had to look for other sources — the Yamuna basin and groundwater.

Delhi’s primary source of water remains the surface water from the Yamuna basin from where it gets 735 MGD (million gallons a day). But with only a slim chance of getting additional river water, groundwater is the only future. But that too is under threat.

To meet Delhi’s rising demand for water, the water utility, Delhi Jal Board (DJB), extracts 100 MGD (million gallons a day) of water daily from the ground.

But with DJB’s supply proving inadequate, more and more residents are turning to hauling up groundwater — levels of which are going down considerably. Neighbouring Gurgaon has been declared a ‘dark zone’ when it comes to ground water.

Sanjeev Khurana drilled 70 metres in December 2012 to reach water in DLF City in Gurgaon. His neighbour had struck water at 40 metres in 2007.

Groundwater levels have been falling at an alarming rate in Gurgaon. Large-scale construction, water guzzler malls and extraction by residents with impunity in absence of municipal supply have contributed to the bleak scenario. Experts have warned, if groundwater extraction continues at this rate, Gurgaon will run dry by 2017.

Groundwater aquifers do not coincide with political boundaries and Gurgaon’s depleting levels will soon have a catastrophic effect on Delhi, especially adjacent south Delhi.

Although groundwater extraction is banned, about 4.5 lakh tubewells/borewells continue to leach out water with impunity. In fact, water levels in south Delhi areas such as Vasant Kunj, Chhatarpur and CR Park have gone down between 15-30 metres in the last decade.

Rightly termed as ‘reserve bank’ for water, this is the resource that will help Delhi when Haryana refuses to part with more water, when water from other surface bodies evaporates and if there is a drought.

Spread over 1,483 sqkm area, Delhi receives an annual rainfall ranging between 611 mm and 750 mm during July to September. Delhi never depended on Yamuna and relied on its water bodies that used to be recharged during monsoon. Water bodies also recharged the water table in respective areas.

But unfortunately, no lessons have been learnt. “On one hand, residents, industries and even government agencies — by way of dewatering during construction — continue to extract large amounts of groundwater with impunity.

On the other, the agencies responsible for monitoring and preserving the groundwater continue to squabble over who will take action to curb illegal extraction,” said Nitya Jacob, director (water), Centre for Science and Environment.

Who should monitor groundwater in Delhi?

An advisory committee in each district gives permission for borewells / tubewells. But lack of data has hampered any action against the unauthorized users.

"I had sought data under Right to Information Act from both the DJB and the CGWB, but both claimed no data was available," Vinod Jain of NGO Tapas, involved in saving Delhi’s water bodies, said.And who takes action against illegal drawal of groundwater?

DJB and Revenue department pointed fingers at each other. Debashree Mukherjee, CEO DJB, refused to admit responsibility. “We are not a nodal agency for groundwater. It is the revenue department which has to look into this.”

Dharam Pal, Revenue Commissioner, Delhi government, however, said: “The DJB has to identify the illegal borewells and bring it to our notice. Only then we take action.”

A CGWB official warned of the loopholes. One, Delhi does not have a dedicated department for groundwater like other states. “Also, ironically, the Environment Protection Act stipulates no punishment and the penalty for violations is left to the discretion of the courts.

Delhi has to pass the model bill proposed by the Ministry of water resources to regulate and control development and management of groundwater,” the official said.

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Related stories:

‘We need to measure water use at each level’
Glitzy Gurgaon stares at a dry future
Real estate boom takes toll on groundwater

First Published: Apr 17, 2013 01:16 IST