Gurugram’s plan to beat groundwater crisis
Unlike other offices at the Mini Secretariat, GuruJal’s is a modern space. In this first-of-its-kind office, a team of young professionals are busy studying the disproportionate use of water in the district. They have been deployed to look into the city’s ‘dark zone’ status — a result of depletion of groundwater. In 2018, Gurugram overdrew its supply of groundwater by 308%.
Given the gravitas of the situation which is likely to lead to drought, the GuruJal team is trying to make water conservation a mass movement through Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) — the Union ministry of Jal Shakti’s flagship programme to revive traditional and efficient water conservation and irrigation in 1,500 blocks of 254 districts.
The team is looking at five major interventions —water conservation and rain water harvesting (RWH); renovation of traditional water bodies; watershed development; reuse and recharge of borewell structures; and intensive afforestation. On July 12, Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar launched the JSA and set a September deadline to finish the work under these heads as part of the first phase.
Team HT conducted a spot check to understand the city’s status under these areas of intervention.
Water conservation and harvesting
Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation have increased Gurugram’s dependency on groundwater and stress on water management. According to data provided by the district administration, the groundwater table in Gurugram district has, between 2014 and 2018, reduced by two-and-a-half metres.
While in 2014, the district had recorded an average groundwater level of 26.3 metres below the ground, by 2018, the level dipped to 28.9 metres across the four blocks of Gurugram, Sohna, Pataudi and Farrukhnagar.
“Rampant extraction of water through borewells has been one of the major reasons for the current situation,” said P S Yadav, former geologist, Hydrology department. “Since 2011, after the district was notified as a dark zone, over 1,100 borewells were sealed. Still, the groundwater table is depleting by a metre each year,” he said, raising concerns on the poor law enforcement.
Recently, under JSA, the district administration conducted a drive, wherein 57 teams found 290 illegal borewells functional.
Deputy commissioner Amit Khatri, however, assured the seal on the borewells cannot be broken. “We have removed power connection rendering the borewells defunct. They can’t be made operational again,” Khatri said.
The teams also found over 200 non-functional RWH units, which play an important role in groundwater recharge. The 2018 NITI Aayog’s report states the state has, on the whole, failed in groundwater restoration due to lack of recharge infrastructure.
Yadav said it was in 2005 that the first groundwater recharge scheme — soil and water conservation scheme for accelerated recharge of groundwater — was introduced in the state. “Under this scheme, the department has built over 200 RWH units in government buildings, schools, panchayat buildings, and public health centres,” Yadav said.
“There are seven RWH units at Mini Secretariat. The groundwater level at the secretariat — depleting at a rate of 1.3 metres per year — has been reduced to 0.75 metre per year,” he said.
Even the Haryana Building Code, 2017, makes it mandatory for all buildings having area over 500 square yards to have RWH units. “Going by the rules, no occupation certificate shall be issued to the owner of the building unless the RWH unit is completed. But the question is it being implemented?” said Fawzia Tarannum, assistant professor, department of regional water studies, TERI.
In the 35 wards under the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram, officials said, of the 627 RWH units, only 100 were cleaned. The target was to complete cleaning of 174 structures before monsoons. Likewise, the Town and Country Planning Department inspected 414 RWH units. Of them, 109 were partially functional and 64 were defunct.
Renovation of water bodies
Renovation of traditional water bodies is another measure to improve the water table. Khattar had, on the day of the launch of the JSA, conducted an aerial survey of all dying lakes in Kasan, Kukrala, and Damdama. He had announced development of these big lakes to conserve rainwater flowing down the hills.
“Over the years, dependency on community-based ponds and tanks shifted to groundwater because of heavy silt deposit and their indiscriminate use as dumping yards. Moreover, there has been deforestation and encroachment in the catchment areas,” said Chetan Aggarwal, a city-based environmentalist.
Data collated by the Gurgaon Metropolitan Development Authority shows there are 826 water bodies, including 123 core ones, in 242 villages in the district. The core water bodies encompass 206 acres whereas the additional 520 water bodies encompass 935 acres. The estimates are based on signs of water inundation on the ground. Sizewise, about 63% of water bodies are of less than one acre area, 25% are between one and 2.5 acres or one hectare. Only 12% of water bodies are larger than 2.5 acres or 1 hectare. Of them, as many as 53 water bodies, encompassing a 78-acre area, are facing existential pressure.
“Water level in these water bodies can be improved through gully plugs, small check dams, staggered trenches and ponds,” Arjun Poonia, district soil conservation officer. “Repair, renovation, and restoration of water bodies under Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana are important interventions. This scheme is included in Har Khet Ko Pani. It is being implemented in convergence with Integrated Watershed Management Programme,” he said.
Under the JSA, the plan is to some of these water bodies this year. Shubhi Kesarwani, programme manager, GuruJal, said, “From August 30, the renovation of 30 water bodies will begin. A water treatment expo will be held on August 16. Vendors are invited to demonstrate their technologies. The best will be engaged as consultants for pond restoration. The plan is to renovate 250 water bodies in the next two years.”
Development of Watersheds
Watershed is the surface area through which rainfall is collected and drained into a pond.
The development of these watersheds is under the IWMP. However, as reported by HT, the district has failed to utilise funds to build watersheds. Due to laxity of officials, construction of structures for conservation and rainwater harvesting is held up.
Aggarwal said: “Tapping rainwater should be high on our priority list. Any construction during monsoons is not possible. It won’t prevent soil erosion or help recharge groundwater.”
Reuse, borewell recharge structures
The NITI Aayog’s report says the state’s treatment of its 95% of urban wastewater is the highest in the country. In the city, there are 366 Sewage Treatment Plants in offices and condominiums.
Under the JSA, the proposition is to utilise grey water too.
As stated in the JSA manual, in most villages of India, the average supply of water is between 40 litres per capita per day (lpcd) to 55 lpcd. Of the total water available, only 30-35% is consumed while the remaining 65% to 70% of is converted into grey water. On an average, one rural household of 5-6 members generates 150 litres of grey water daily. If this water is treated, it can be used for several non-drinking activities. Lack of awareness is a problem.
Vivek Aggarwal, joint secretary, union ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare, who is also the Haryana’s nodal officer for the implementation of the JSA told HT, only 8 per cent of greywater is being utilised in the city. There is a potential to increase its usage to 20 per cent. According to him, projects that have a longer gestation period will be covered under Phase II of the programme — starting October.
Much stress is being laid upon the plantation drive by the state government. More than two lakh saplings are to be distributed to residents’ welfare associations and at least 500 saplings to more than 230 gram panchayats, which amounts to 1.5 lakh saplings.
In addition to this, under Paudhagiri programme, which promotes plantation among students, the target is to distribute 1.4 lakh plants. Subhash Yadav, district forest officer, said: “Trees are crucial for water conservation and retention in the soil. Less water-intensive and non-indigenous species are planted in residential areas and within the premises of the official complex.”
Others interventions include promoting efficient water use by shifting to micro-irrigation systems.
“Despite these intervention the biggest challenge has been lack of awareness, poor enforcement of law and order and not enough participation of people,” said Tarannum.