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Delhi’s Water Supply – Miracle Or Mirage?


On 16 November 2019 the Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan had called a press conference, announcing the results of tests done on piped water supply samples collected from different cities of India. Delhi was ranked the last, as all the samples failed to meet the standards for 19 parameters. Of course, this was vehemently protested by Arvind Kejriwal, who kept talking about the drinking water of Delhi meeting European standards.

Water quality was just one of the latest myths about the ‘water miracle of Delhi’ that got busted recently. The miracle of water for Delhi has turned out to be a mirage, that has managed to screen many inconveniences that Delhi’s residents are faced with when it comes to water supply.

Quality Of Water Remains Abysmal

Whatever be the claims, there have been numerous complaints about water quality. Praja Foundation’s 2019 Report on The State of Health in Delhi had pointed out that there were 36,426 water contamination complaints registered with Delhi Jal Board in 2018. This can also be seen in the sheer number of cases of water borne diseases reported in Delhi. Under the Chief Minister ship of Arvind Kejriwal, 1 out of every 29 people in Delhi contracted Diarrhoea, while one out of every 288 people suffer typhoid, a level that has refused to come down. Praja Foundation in fact noted that “there is not much change in occurrence of these diseases and no serious action has been taken by authorities to prevent these diseases to decrease their occurrences.”

Source: Praja Foundation 2019

Source: Praja Foundation 2019

Free Water For The Rich, The Poor Struggle For Drops

The Kejriwal government had announced free water up to 20,000 litres for all with a piped connection, and also made tall claims of ensuring water reached everyone, and the tanker mafia would end. Except for the free water, the claims turned out to be a perverse joke on the poor people of Delhi.

Sangam Vihar, often touted as the birthplace of the Aam Aadmi Party, suffers from serious water shortages. Residents of Sangam Vihar on average receive only 40 liters for each resident per day. This, when compared to the average water supply of more than 600 liters per person per day, is nothing short of a cruel joke on Delhi’s poor.  Despite tall claims of taking on the ‘tanker mafia’, come 2019 they are thriving more than ever. Boreholes have been taken over by private operators associated with criminal gangs and local politicians. These gangs also have a major role in providing private tankers, which are all illegal, making people liable to price gouging. Thanks to these shortages, scuffles over access to tankers and laying down of new water pipelines in Sangam Vihar are common, with dangerous consequences – in 2018, people were shot dead, arguing over the alignment of a Delhi Jal Board water connection.

Massive Leakages In System

To make matters worse, Delhi’s water supply system leakages continue to remain high. More than 40% of Delhi’s water supply released into the system by Delhi Jal Board is classified as Non-Revenue Water. What it implies is that of the 932 Million Gallons a Day (MGD) of water treated and put into the system by the Delhi Jal Board, more than 372 MGD cannot be traced. Compare this to Paris, which Mr Kejriwal promises to transform Delhi into, and there is a problem – water losses in the overall system are at a mere 5%. Where is this water going? While a portion may be going to unauthorized colonies, there is significant theft of water in Delhi on which action has been taken only belatedly. Only in August 2019 did the Delhi Jal Board announce steps to reduce water theft and illegal borewell use in Delhi. However, much damage had been done by then.

No Supply For Days

Even as all these issues plague Delhi, several residents complain also of lack of supply for days on a stretch. Parts of Delhi like Malaviya Nagar, Shivalik and Najafgarh receive water at 3-4 am, inconveniencing significant population areas Even this supply is often disrupted or mixed with sewage. Last year it got worse, as areas like Bharat Vihar, Sainik Nagar, Mansa Ram Park, Sevak Park and Dwarka suffered reduced supplies and low-pressure. This was nothing new – in 2016, residents of Mayur Vihar Phase II had protested angrily for not receiving water for seven days on a stretch.

Another common cause is the constantly bursting pipelines. In April 2018 a water pipeline burst near Sarai Kale Khan, leading to serious loss of drinking water while causing flooding on the roads. This relatively famous case had been preceded by a pipeline burst in 2017 near the busy ITO crossing. Even in November 2019, a pipeline near Pragati Maidan had burst, holding up traffic for hours while damaging the road too. While much can be made out of old pipelines, it speaks volumes that the necessary investment for upgrade is nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, Sorry Flows The Yamuna

While the city continues to rely on Yamuna for three fourths of its drinking water, the state of the river continues to attract apathy. In a status report to the National Green Tribunal’s Yamuna Monitoring Committee, the Committee had noted that Delhi Jal Board had repeatedly failed to even provide basic information about the number of colonies whose sewage flowed untreated into the Yamuna. Moreover, claims on 11 drains out of 23 major drains being diverted stood flat, as the Delhi Technological University status report showed. Further, other reports furnished to the Committee show Delhi Jal Board’s utter failure in preventing untreated sewage – neither has the proposed Interceptor Sewer Pipeline been constructed, nor were there any efforts of the Delhi government to prevent dumping of septage without treatment. Thanks to all of this, the quality of water in Yamuna continues to remain poor – as per research studies released last year, parameters of water quality were found to be at the highest concentration levels exceeding the permissible limits far beyond as prescribed by CPCB throughout the river segment. Extremely high pollution level is mainly associated with domestic and industrial sewage water draining into the river at short distances. It reached a point where no fishes were spotted in the Yamuna right after Diwali.

Mr. Kejriwal can continue to make tall claims. However, the ground reality tells us that Delhi’s water woes continue to go nowhere. Delhi’s purported water miracle is actually a mirage.