Sabotage, extract, supply, repeat: How Gurugram’s water mafias operate
As the city’s demand for water grows with its population, Gurugram residents turn to private tanker water suppliers to make up for deficient supply from the GMDA. The tanker operators run their business from private farmlands in the city’s villages, where illegal borewells suck out groundwater as musclemen keep a hawk eye
Taps at Pioneer Park condominium in Sector 61 suddenly ran dry on May 11 after the canal water supply from the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) was allegedly disrupted by the water mafia. Upon inspecting, authority officials found that a valve of the high pressure water pipeline had been damaged using a JCB machine. Soon after, the GMDA approached the police to seek a night patrol service to deter miscreants. They also suggested that a private security agency be engaged to protect the pipes supplying water to condominiums in the new sectors.
There have been at least five more such incidents, wherein residents from various new and developing sectors have complained that the water mafia allegedly sabotaged their civic water supply to stay in business. However, in the absence of GMDA supplied water or deficient supply, residents said they are forced to purchase water from this informal sector at a rate that’s 40 times that of the GMDA’s.
Gurugram is presently facing a major water crisis, with the Central Groundwater Authority saying that the city is overdrawing its groundwater supply by 300%. Between 1974 and 2014, the water table fell from six metres to 33 metres, and continues to fall by about a metre every year. On the other hand, the population has grown from 4,00,000 in 2001 to 18,00,000 in 2017, and is expected to touch 40,00,000 by 2030. This means that the daily demand for water will rise from the existing 410MLD to over 1,600MLD in the next 11 years.
Historically, Gurugram has only relied on groundwater, but since 1990, it has been dependent on water from Yamuna river supplied through a canal via Sonepat. However, this supply is extremely limited (200MLD per day). The balance demand, approximately 210MLD, is driving the illegal water supply industry.
Some of the hotspots for such operations are Ullawas village, Sector 61, Palam Vihar, Pataudi, Badshahpur and Kadipur, where illegal groundwater extraction takes place day and night, police said.
“The mafia has a lot of muscle power. Visiting these spots is not easy for anyone who is not a part of the trade. More than the machinery itself, the bigger investment for such people is security, to ensure that no one chances upon the operation,” assistant commissioner of police (crime) Shamsher Singh said.
A Hindustan Times team tracked down several of these operations, which flourish behind closed gates in the city’s newer sectors and in peri-urban villages, tucked away in old industrial units or on plots of privately held land, where borewells work round-the-clock, guarded by musclemen to make sure that their locations remain secret.
Akash Yadav, who runs one such illegal boring and tanker supply operation in Gurugram, and has previously been charged with murder, extortion, and kidnapping, said he entered this business due to extremely high profit margins. “It is one of the best businesses if you want to make large returns with little investment. I have my own plot where I have installed two borewells, which run round-the-clock and fill up almost 100 tankers (of 5,000-litre capacity) per day,” Yadav said, adding that from here, he sells water to shopkeepers, construction contractors, and even private residents. “We have distributed our numbers widely. We will provide water to anyone who contacts us and asks for water,” he added.
Another such establishment was in a truck parking lot in Carterpuri, where upon some convincing, the HT managed to speak with Rajesh Kumar, who oversees the administration of the operation for a wealthy villager (whose name he did not disclose).
Kumar said, “Presently, we are selling one full tanker for ₹600, but if you take a minimum of 50 tankers a month, we reduce the price to ₹500 per tanker. As the summer progresses, in the next two months, prices will surge to as much as ₹1,500 per tanker because we need to compete with others in the same business.” According to Kumar, it takes about eight to 10 people to run such an operation.
Posing as customers, the HT also interacted with five other operators of such units in different parts of Gurugram. They said that in peak summer, groundwater in one tanker is sold for anywhere between ₹750 and ₹1,500.
“We sell two kinds of water. One for domestic purposes, which is expensive as has to be treated and filtered using a reverse osmosis (RO) system. The other kind is slightly cheaper and is used by construction companies,” said Sunil Kumar, another illegal private tanker operator.
The police said that the water mafia holds a monopoly, particularly in the newer and developing sectors of the city, namely sectors 58 to 115, where demand for water is rising in tandem with the population. Officials also attributed the booming construction industry in these sectors as a key driver for the growth of illegal water mafia.
Concerned residents and activists said they have been raising an alarm over the water tanker mafia for years now.
A resident of Sector 57, Shyam Yadav, who spotted an illegal borewell near his society and reported the matter to police shared his experience with the HT and said, “When I went to click pictures and tried to record the act, I was assaulted by a group of villagers who were deployed near the spot. The tankers are seen plying openly on city streets, yet the police does not take any action or question them.”
The police said that the water mafia is not only intolerant of newcomers in the business, they are often violent. “People’s families have been threatened, and in some cases even shot at, because of the illegal water business,” ACP Singh said.
The police officers added that at least 22 such operations have been raided and sealed since January 2018.
This year alone, the Gurugram police has made 40 arrests in connection with water theft, sabotaging of water pipelines and operation of illegal borewells. Last year, 157 cases were registered against similar offenders, and this year, so far, 18 such cases have been registered.
Police commissioner Muhammad Akil confirmed that 24 people have been arrested in relation to these cases. “This year, we have formed a special team consisting of six police officers to keep a check on this issue during peak summer. The team will be headed by ACP (crime) Shamsher Singh,” Akil said.
Multiple officials confirmed that the main source of water for the mafia is illegal borewells. The district hydrology department is the nodal authority which is authorised to book a person found extracting groundwater illegally. Though the department claims to have received complaints of illegal groundwater extraction, it could not provide data to substantiate this.
District hydrologist Vijender Singh Lamba said, “We normally book such persons under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. We take action whenever we receive any complaint, and have already taken action against more than 20 people in the last one year.”
The GMDA, which is responsible for water supply in the city, said that it would be better equipped to monitor and report such violations by July, once its Integrated Command and Control Centre becomes functional.
“We have started installing CCTV cameras for surveillance of such activities, and in one year our optical fibre backbone network within the GMDA boundaries will be established. The entire water network will be mapped and sensors will be placed to ensure there is no theft of water or damage to pipelines. If anyone tries to tamper with the infrastructure, we will be immediately intimated and the problem will be resolved at the earliest,” said Sultan Singh, head of the Geographic Information System (GIS) at GMDA, and a senior scientist at the Haryana Space Applications Centre (Harsac).
He added that they would use their CCTV network to keep an eye on the movement of illegal water tankers in the city.