India sitting on water disaster | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times

India sitting on water disaster

Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi
Mar 24, 2011 01:47 AM IST

Kalka Devi in Uttarakhand’s remote Rudraprayag district lives in a perpetual water paradox.

Kalka Devi in Uttarakhand’s remote Rudraprayag district lives in a perpetual water paradox. From her window she can see the snow-laden Himalayan peaks almost round-the-year, but she has to trek 3-5 km everyday to fetch drinking water sourced from the same peaks.

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HT Image

Till a few years ago her village, Arkund, had abundant supply but construction of the Singouli hydel project since the late 1990s has resulted in piercing of local water aquifers turning three villages into dry zones.

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Now there is a proposal to pump water from the Mandakani for them.

“What a waste,” says Bharat Jhunjunwala, an activist fighting for the local residents suffering because of hydel projects.
In India — which has over 25 million water aquifers with just 40,000 monitored — there are many Kalka Devis whose main work in the day is to fetch water.

It has happened because the country’s supply has stagnated at 1,123 billion cubic metres (BCM) while demand has risen by over 800 BCM. Most parts of Rajasthan, Vidharba, Bundelkhand and Uttar Pradesh have been categorised as water-deficient. A NASA study in 2008 showed groundwater level depleting at a rate faster than it could be replenished in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

“Between 2002 and 2006, over 17,500 farmers committed suicide, most of which were in water-deficient areas,” says a report on Water Conflicts in India brought out by Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflict in India.

Water riots are not new to cities but they are likely to aggravate. In Delhi, about 30% of the population get less than 30 litres for each person per day while 5% get about 200 litres. In Mumbai, 34% of the population get less than 75 litres, while 8% get more than 175 litres. The situation is unlikely to improve with demand set to outpace supply in the next decade. By 2020, India’s water demand is expected to be around 1,000 BCM against the supply of about 700 BCM.

The track record on spending on irrigation has been dismal. Despite an expenditure of R1,20,000 crore since Independence, only 30% of cropped land is irrigated.

“Efficiency of most irrigation systems is just 30% compared to the global average of 60%,” says Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People.

India’s poor record has struck the UPA-2 government with the water resources ministry deciding to set up a Bureau for Water Efficiency along the lines of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency.

Appliances such as washing machines, water filters, showers, toilets, pumping systems and dams will get rated on the basis of efficiency in usage of water — higher the rating, more water-efficient the appliance.

“It will help consumers make a better choice and create awareness on the need to save water,” says water resources minister Salman Khursheed.

Will this approach help Kalka Devi? May be not, as India wants to tap water resources to generate power.

“It is a big challenge for the planners,” says Mihir Shah, member in-charge of water in the Planning Commission, who has been asked by PM Manmohan Singh to draw a up water management policy.

Through Pani (Water) Panchayats in Maharashtra, lives of several farmers in drought-prone areas have changed. Vilasrao Salunkhe of Gram Gaurav Prastishan prepared a watershed management plan to improve levels in each aquifer and ensured its equitable distribution through tankers.

To each person 1,000 cubic meter is allocated every year for an area of 0.5 acres with a maximum of 2.5 acres per family. “The Pani Panchayats are the ultimate regulator,” says KV Joy of the forum.

Gujarat segregated the source for drinking water and irrigation to bring efficiency in both sectors. Power was supplied for pumps to lift water from irrigation sources only for limited hours. No heavy-duty pumps were allowed to tap water sources meant for drinking. With it, incentives have been provided to construct check dams for water harvesting. “It has improved agricultural output and ground water levels,” says Shah.

But, these are just a few drops of hope in an ocean of chaos with over 36% of water bodies being contaminated with pollutants and water in rivers such as the Ganga, Yamuna, Krishna and Brahmaputra drying downstream because of unsustainable growth in the upstream.

Mumbai cure

Snehal Rebello


At a glance, they look like insignificant tiny black crystals. But when put in water, these tiny Bio Sanitizers made from processed soil extract, have the ability to disinfect waste water.

Residents of Arunodaya housing society in suburban Andheri starting using these crystals to scientifically treat wastewater from their kitchens to tide over shortage six months ago. Impressed with its efficacy, they now use the crystals on a regular basis and the treated water can be used for flushing toilets.

They have also reduced their society’s monthly water bill by 50% from R3,500 to about R1,700. “Since residents didn’t want to recycle sewage, we decided to treat the sullage. In fact, sullage is more toxic than sewage because of high amounts of inorganic chemicals from detergents and soaps,” says Janak Daftari, a resident and water conservationist who suggested the technique. Water world really?

About three lakh housing societies in the city are supplied with 3,450 million litres of water every day. There is a still a shortage of about 1,000 million litres. Adopting such a technique will help the city conserve water, especially for drinking purposes.

“Flushing needs a lot of water. So treating our kitchen water will ensure that we are self-sufficient with regard to drinking water during a shortage,” says Subodh Chitnis, building secretary. “Most important of all is a significant drop in water bills.”

Delhi struggling

Nivedita Khandekar

New Delhi: People from the resettlement colonies of Bawana and Bhalaswa in northwest Delhi — with a population of four lakh — wake up to a daily dose of highly contaminated water.

Samples of drinking water collected from these two colonies were found to contain high levels of pesticides and heavy metals during an ongoing study by NGO Hazard Centre.

There are about 1,600-odd unauthorised colonies, which do not have a proper sewer system. “(So), wherever there is no sewer system, contamination of drinking water is quite possible,” says Ramesh Negi, CEO of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB).

Counters Dunnu Roy, director of Hazard Centre: “In fact, areas that have sewer lines would face such contamination. The sewer and drinking water pipelines run parallel below the ground. Mostly these are old, damaged lines.”

Depleting groundwater levels is an area where the DJB has no control. Pointed out environmentalist Himanshu Thakkar, “Several south Delhi homes have borewells that are not registered. They are after all drawing water from the common ground water pool.”

Negi said: “Even though there is a 2009 policy where only community organisations or institutions will be allowed new borewells, we can do nothing about the existing bore wells.”

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    Chetan Chauhan is National Affairs Editor. A journalist for over two decades, he has written extensively on social sector and politics with special focus on environment and political economy.

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