SC notice to Punjab, Haryana govts and Bhakra board on water supply to Delhi
Noting that drinking water is a fundamental right, the Supreme Court on Thursday issued notices to the Punjab and Haryana governments and the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) on a petition by the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) that repair work on Nangal Hydel channel gates will lead to a severe water crisis in Delhi.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde noted that the matter was “serious”, and sought responses from Punjab, Haryana and BBMB within a day. “The respondents are directed to maintain status quo on supply of water to Delhi till tomorrow i.e. 26th March,” added the bench, which also comprised justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.
Delhi receives at least 232 MGD (million gallons per day) of water through the channel, which helps meet nearly 25% of the city’s daily water requirement, estimated to be around 935 MGD.
Anticipating a water scarcity, DJB rushed to the Supreme Court to seek a stay on repairs scheduled to be undertaken by BBMB in April and May.
“We have no problem with the repairs being carried out. But do not touch it in April when there is a peak demand of water in the city,” senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi submitted for DJB.
Over the past few months, DJB has written six letters to Punjab, Haryana and BBMB, citing postponement of repairs of the hydel channel to the monsoon months of July-August, but received no response, Singhvi. Top officers of DJB visited Punjab early this month over this issue.
The bench wanted to know the nature of repairs being carried out. “If repair is integral to the water channel, we won’t stop them,” the bench said. Singhvi assured the court that the repairs can be carried out later as well, and requested for a stay till the matter is taken up.
This is the second petition by DJB before the top court concerning the supply of water to the Capital. In January, it filed a petition accusing the Haryana government of releasing untreated water into the Yamuna, leading to high ammonia levels in the water that posed a health hazard to residents of the national capital.
The Haryana government claimed that the problem was at Delhi’s end. This second petition is still pending in the court and will be taken up on Friday along with the fresh petition filed by DJB.
On Thursday, the Delhi government again accused Haryana of limiting the water supply to Delhi. Senior advocate Vikas Singh, who appeared for Delhi, told the court that the water level at Wazirabad barrage, which supplies water to the Wazirabad, Okhla and Chandrawal water treatment plants, reduced by six feet. Singh did not specify the period over which the water level has declined.
For Haryana, senior advocate Shyam Divan contradicted the statement and claimed that “not even a single drop was being withheld from Delhi”. Singh then urged the apex court to consider sending a court commissioner for spot verification.
The bench said: “Since it’s a matter of fundamental right to water we will not entertain any technical objections and if required we may appoint a commissioner to visit the spot.”
The Delhi government could not be reached for a comment.
The spokesperson for BBMB rejected reports that water flow to Delhi will stop as hoax. He said that the board has given assurance to the Centre that the drinking water for Delhi will continue to flow from Nangal hydel channel. He said the normal water flow in the channel is 11,500 cusecs, which reduces to 8,000-9,000 cusecs during repair work.
“Delhi Jal Board is supplied 500 cusecs of water daily from the channel. The Haryana government has to ensure that the water flow to Delhi doesn’t reduce. The board had decided to a partial close of the channel for repairs by taking all partner states into confidence,” he said.
Spokespersons for the Punjab and Haryana government did not respond to queries till the time of going to print.