‘Convene Upper Yamuna River Board meet,’ SC asks Centre to address Delhi water crisis | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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‘Convene Upper Yamuna River Board meet,’ SC asks Centre to address Delhi water crisis

Jun 03, 2024 01:40 PM IST

Set up in 1995, UYRB is an interstate body established to regulate the allocation and management of the water resources of the Upper Yamuna Basin

The Supreme Court on Monday urged the Centre to convene an urgent meeting of the Upper Yamuna River Board (UYRB) on June 5 to address the pressing issue of severe water crisis in Delhi amid the unrelenting summer heat and soaring demands.

People collect drinking water from a Delhi Jal Board tanker on a hot summer day at a slum in Geeta Colony area of East Delhi on Sunday. (PTI Photo)
People collect drinking water from a Delhi Jal Board tanker on a hot summer day at a slum in Geeta Colony area of East Delhi on Sunday. (PTI Photo)

The court added that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in the national capital should take proactive steps to ensure water is not wasted in Delhi and that leakages are detected.

“There shall be an emergent meeting of Upper Yamuna River Board on June 5, 2024, to address the issues agitated in this petition and all other connected issues in right earnest so that problems of scarcity of water for the citizens of Delhi should be properly addressed. Post this matter on Thursday (June 6) along with the minutes of the meeting and the suggested steps,” ordered a vacation bench of justices Prashant Kumar Mishra and KV Viswanathan.

The court was hearing a petition moved by the Delhi government last week for a directive to Haryana to release surplus water provided by Himachal Pradesh through the Wazirabad Barrage. The petition highlighted Delhi’s arrangement with Himachal Pradesh, which has agreed to share its surplus water with Delhi. However, since Himachal Pradesh does not share a physical boundary with Delhi, this water must be released through the Wazirabad Barrage, located in Haryana.

Representing the AAP government, senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi began by saying that the plea is not adversarial and that the endeavour of the government is to mitigate the water crisis through a one-time measure of using additional water that the Himachal Pradesh has agreed to share with the Capital.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the Haryana government, however, pointed out that the same issue was pending before the UYRB, which has asked the Himachal Pradesh to give details of the additional water that the state was willing to supply to Delhi.

Responding to this, the bench said that a high-level meeting must be called as soon as possible to consider the Delhi government’s plea as well as all other measures necessary to ameliorate the water crisis.

“Why can’t there be a joint meeting of all the stakeholders? Let there be a high-level meeting today or tomorrow. As an emergency measure, convene a meeting as soon as possible,” the bench told the SG, who accepted the court’s suggestion but emphasised that the meeting ought to happen before the UYRB, which happens to be the statutory body to deal with such issues.

Set up in 1995, UYRB is an interstate body established to regulate the allocation and management of the water resources of the Upper Yamuna Basin. The Board was constituted based on a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on May 12, 1994, signed by Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi.

While the bench highlighted the urgent need for collaborative efforts, Mehta flagged concerns regarding substantial water losses significantly exacerbating the crisis. “As per the figures placed before the Board, of every 100 litres of water that Delhi gets, only 48.65 litres reach the people in the Capital. 52.35% of it is lost due to leakage, tanker mafia and theft by industrial units. The government will have to tighten it,” Mehta said.

Agreeing with the SG, the court opined that addressing these internal inefficiencies is as crucial as securing additional water supplies from neighboring states. “What he (Mehta) is saying is also right. There should not be any wastage of water. We will look into this also at a subsequent stage,” said the bench.

It then proceeded to record a joint statement of the parties that a meeting of UYRB will be convened on June 5 for determining the immediate steps needed to alleviate the water scarcity in Delhi and that the outcome of the meeting shall be places before it within 24 hours.

The Delhi government’s petition, filed on May 31, highlighted the acute heatwave and red alert conditions in Delhi, with temperatures soaring to a record-breaking 52.3 degrees Celsius (in one station). The petition stated: “This unprecedented surge in temperature has led to an extraordinary and excessive demand for water, which is not being met by supply from neighbouring states, precipitating a full-fledged water and sanitation crisis.”

The plea explained that due to increased demand, the water levels at the Wazirabad barrage have critically reduced, putting the health and well-being of Delhi’s 25 million residents at grave risk.

“The Government of NCT of Delhi has taken all administrative measures to ensure optimisation, rationing and targeted supply of water in the national capital; yet, the shortage of water remains acute and it is clear, by all indicators, that the NCT of Delhi is in dire need of additional water,” it maintained.

Pointing out that the excess water that Himachal Pradesh has agreed to share with Delhi can come through the Wazirabad barrage, located in Haryana, the plea rued that Haryana’s cooperation is not forthcoming.”

“Be that as it may, by way of the instant petition, the Petitioner-Government does not intend to shift the blame on the State of Haryana or any other state, and only prays for an immediate resolution of the ongoing water crisis in the national capital through the release of the surplus water — including but not limited to surplus water being provided by the State of Himachal Pradesh in the Wazirabad barrage, by the State of Haryana,” stated the plea.

The petition clarified that the Delhi government does not intend to set a precedent that would require any state government in the future to provide the nation’s capital with an increased volume of water by pleading for the release of excess water.

“The petitioner seeks this surplus release of water by the State of Haryana as a one-time solution to redress the present emergency and resolve the ongoing water crisis in the NCT of Delhi,” said the Arvind Kejriwal government in the top court.

Citing a 1996 Supreme Court order (Delhi Water Supply & Sewage Disposal Undertaking Vs State of Haryana), which directed Haryana to ensure water supply through the Yamuna River during a similar crisis, the Delhi government argued that the present situation is much more severe and urgent. The plea urged the Court to intervene in the public interest to prevent a severe health crisis.

The petition emphasised that access to water is a fundamental human right and essential for sustaining life. “Access to water forms an essential component of the guarantee of dignity and quality of life under Article 21 of the Constitution. The current water crisis violates this right, leaving the residents of the NCT of Delhi without adequate clean drinking water,” the Delhi government stated.

The Delhi government, in its petition, also informed the Court that it has cracked down on water wastage and illegal connections by imposing fines and deploying teams to enforce compliance. Despite these efforts, the crisis persists, necessitating the Supreme Court’s intervention, it added.

The AAP government emphasised that this request is a stop-gap measure to address the current crisis until the monsoon arrives and the situation normalises, underscoring the critical need for cooperation between states to ensure the fundamental rights of citizens are upheld, particularly during times of crisis.

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