Water scarcity in Delhi – Soaring demand or mismanagement – Panel discussion organized by Toxics Link and IIC, Delhi, August 7, 2012

The panelists included Himanshu Thakkar (South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People), Manu Bhatnagar (Head, Natural Heritage Division, INTACH) and A K Bajaj (Former Chairman, Central Water Commission) while Satish, Toxics Link moderated the discussion. A short film by TERI - “Water ignites life and hope” was also shown.

Lecture by Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP

The key point arising from the floor included the concern that the Delhi Jal Board’s decision to introduce reform in the water supply sector rather than get to the bottom of the water crisis being faced in the city is more likely to help private players make gains. There was a call to put the privatization of water on hold in the absence of better regulatory mechanisms to monitor the operation of the private players. The speakers also argued about the need to work towards reversing the profligate use of water by people in the city and reduce the inequities in water supply across the city, and thereby set better examples in water management.

Soaring demand or mismanagement

The city is experiencing increasing pressure to meet demand for its water resources due to growing urbanization and improvements in living standards. The debate led to an overall consensus on the fact that there is an artificial scarcity of water shaped by its mismanagement in Delhi. Manu Bhatnagar pointed that the population in Delhi is stabilizing and has in fact not grown at the expected pace. The city spread over 1484 sq kms has registered its lowest population growth rate since 1931, at 21 per cent in the past decade. While planning was done considering that in 2011 its population would be 19-20 million, in fact it was only 16.7 million.

The satellite towns around Delhi have absorbed a lot of the growth impulses emanating from it and metro has contributed to this. Migration from Bihar and other states have reduced due to better governance and MGNREGA. Regulations on industries have pushed people out of the city.  Conservative estimates indicate that by 2031 Delhi’s population will stabilize at 25 million.

The average water demand of Delhi comes to 1000 MGD for a projected population of 25 million in 2031 (@ 172 lpcd). As indicated by Delhi Jal Board (DJB) data, Delhi gets around 830 MGD now from surface (Yamuna - 210 MGD, Bhakra Storage - 240 MGD and Ganga - 100 MGD) and groundwater (Public tubewells - 90 MGD, rest private tubewells) sources. After the lining of the parallel carrier canal that brings Yamuna water from Tajewala to Delhi, its water supply would stand at 930 MGD. Evidently, the city already has enough water to meets its needs for the years to come. There is a need at the same time to overhaul the network of the city’s underground water supply system which at places dates back to the 1930s and is in a decrepit condition.

Lecture by Manu Bhatnagar, INTACH

Water supply reforms without any public debate

The water sector reforms are being introduced with the idea of increasing the ‘efficiency’ of the city’s water utility, DJB. Earlier in 2002, attempts to privatize the water supply in the city was shelved back following massive uproar from citizens groups who exposed the project’s design flaws as well as World Bank’s tactics in favouring consultants. The current project to introduce service delivery and achieve 24X7 water supply system on Public Private Partnership in Vasant Vihar, Malviya Nagar and Mehrauli has many similarities with the earlier one. This would entail “outsourcing of meter reading and billing, privatization of tanker water supply and the appointment of three special magistrates to deal with cases of “unauthorized” use of water [Sujith Koonan and Preeti Sampat, EPW, 2012].

In the absence of any credible regulatory mechanism, the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model in the water sector will help private players make profit rather than solve Delhi’s water crisis, Himanshu noted. His concern was that more water would be supplied to those who consume water in large quantities; as per the slabs the more you consume, the more you pay. The focus will be on hotels and other commercial entities rather than households.

Water losses within DJB’s network are an enormous source of wastage

DJB figures indicate that sixty five per cent of the city’s water supplies qualify as non revenue water (NRW), while forty per cent of the water is physically lost due to leakages from its network of water supply pipelines, according to Himanshu Thakker. Non revenue water refers to the amount of water that is billed for of the total water produced by DJB. Manu Bhatnagar emphasized the need for “optimal utilization of the available water. These include measures like reducing the norm of water supply to 140 or even 100 lpcd and reduce leakages in the system drastically”. Countries like Cambodia, France and Singapore have achieved leakage levels as low as five per cent. The National Water Policy 2012 has set a target of around 15 per cent for NRW.

Over-exploitation of ground water resources has resulted in decline in water levels

Though Delhi Jal Board may claim that the water supply is 930 MGD but actual supply reaching the end of the pipe is about 600 MGD with the result that people have to take recourse to pumping of groundwater in order to supplement the water available. About 85-90 MGD of groundwater is pumped by DJB through ranney wells and tubewells, while there are one lakh registered and three lakh unregistered borewells that are privately owned. The groundwater table is Delhi is said to be falling at 10 feet per year on an average. The water quality from underground sources is also worsening and has been found to be unfit for human consumption at several places.

Bajaj felt that transferring water from outside Delhi will help conserve this groundwater buffer. Delhi is actually losing out by depleting its aquifers which are its only internal source and which will be its buffer in any crisis. If the water leakages are prevented this water would build up very fast.

Lecture by A K Bajaj, retired from Central Water Commission

Delhi, a spolit child

Himanshu noted that “Delhi is a spoilt child as all its demands are met immediately. It has enough water to supply to the residents but still it wants water from Renuka Dam project in Himachal Pradesh which has several discrepancies. The Delhi Jal Board has reached a sorry state of affairs and needs be more transparent, democratic and accountable.” Delhi is already overprovided as regards water supply and does not need dams such as Renuka (on Giri river in Himachal Pradesh), Lakhwar Vyasi (on Yamuna river in Uttarakhand) and Kishau dam (on Tons river in Uttarakhand).

Bhatnagar put across his worry over the profligate use of water by people in Delhi. We cannot blame the authorities alone for this mismanagement. He gave details of how fifteen million gallons per day of water is wasted on washing cars in the city.

Delhi’s effort has been to augment its water supply by pushing for more dams, instead of recycling and reusing its water. Delhi is close to using its final share of waters under the Upper Yamuna Board Agreement and coming up of more dams is unlikely to make a radical difference to its water availability, noted Bajaj. What we need is to “make the functioning of DJB more transparent, accountable, participatory and democratic. We need to make the Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) function, reduce the inequities and ensure that people get at least 100 lpcd of good quality water”, Himanshu said.

Inequitable distribution of water in Delhi

Delhi Jal Board estimates suggest the per capita per day consumption of water in Delhi is of the order of 250 lpcd, the highest in the country and way above the official norm of 140 lpcd, according to Satish, Toxics Link. People in New Delhi Municipal Corporation area get 489 liters per person per day, Delhi Cantonment Board area gets 515 liters, while people in Mehrauli get just 29 liters.

Over forty per cent of the city’s population does not have access to piped water supply. Many areas of the city are left with no other option but to either rely exclusively on expensive tankers or groundwater during scarce summer months, according to A K Bajaj.  Himanshu Thakker noted that nearly fifty per cent of the city’s residents, particularly the poor people from unauthorized colonies are grappling with water scarcity (supply less than 50 lpcd) and are paying steep price to buy tanker water. “There are many issues related to the politics and economics in distribution through water tankers” according to Manu Bhatnagar.

Need for a comprehensive plan for National Capital Region

A K Jain, former Commissioner (Planning) with Delhi Development Authority said that “the solution cannot be found in the confines of Delhi and that all planning should focus on central National Capital Region that covers about 2300 sqkms apart from 1483 sqkm of Delhi. The National Capital Region Act empowers the Delhi government in conjunction with surrounding states to prepare a comprehensive (functional) sub-regional plan (water supply, power, drainage etc.,) which needs to be taken up. Water supply cannot be seen in isolation and is linked very intimately with the pollution of river Yamuna, sewerage system, landscape, environmental degradation, solid waste management etc.”

Rainwater harvesting not a panacea, but a part of the overall solution

There is compulsory notification in Delhi that all plots greater than 100 sq metres have to build a rainwater harvesting system. According to Bajaj, people should be made aware and they should as a matter of civic liability put in these systems. Rainwater harvesting at colony or campus level is more effective as compared to the household level, according to Manu Bhatnagar. He noted that the raising of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is resulting in very less soft space being left for rainwater harvesting. Himanshu was of the view that there should be a time bound action plan to ensure that every government building, institution building, commercial building etc., adopt rainwater harvesting methods.

Recycling wastewater can boost the city’s water supply

DJB’s current capacity for treating sewage stands at 400 MGD of the total 650 MGD of sewage generated. Delhi, which has spent thousands of crores on Yamuna Action Plan to build its waste treatment plants is able to handle only just around 40 percent of the sewage it generates. This has been a major issue between Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh as farmers are not able to use the water effectively.

DJB has recently turned to Singapore for its treated wastewater (NEWater) technology to recycle its water. In sewage treatment, INTACH’s attempts to pilot an inexpensive non-mechanical waste water treatment technology called bio-remediation that uses bacteria to clean water directly in the drains is noteworthy.

The lecture in various parts can be viewed at Youtube here –

India Water Portal is grateful to Toxics Link and the India International Centre for allowing it to record the lecture and share the videos online. 

Post By: Amita Bhaduri