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Leaky pipes compound Delhi's water crisis
As Delhi and Haryana exchange heated words over water scarcity in the states, the solution to the crisis might lie in better water management by the states.
Delhi has blamed Haryana for its water crisis, accusing it of supplying less water from the Yamuna than what is mandatory to keep its water treatment plants running. Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the Chief Minister of Haryana, claims that his state is releasing more water than what Delhi requires. Caught in this fight of figures are nearly half of Delhi’s residents who are grappling with water scarcity and are paying exorbitant price to buy it. People from unauthorised colonies with hardly any government water connections are feeling the pinch more than others and are reaching police station every other day over water disputes. “The city might see water wars in next 5-10 years if the problems are not solved,” warns Dr V Chariar, an Associate Professor at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.
So, where does the water disappear? Or is it that one of the two states is playing political games to save itself from the anger of its citizens?
Delhi requires close to 4200 Million Liters (ML) every day, while it gets supplied only 3200 ML from all the sources. Notwithstanding the quantity unavailable due to dispute with Haryana over the water saved through Munak canal, experts claim that Delhi loses more than 40 percent of the its water due to leakages from its network of water supply pipelines. Thus, the city effectively ends up with just 1900 ML of water every day for a population of more than 160 lakhs, providing just 120 liters of water on an average for a person.
However, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and other conservative estimates say that a person in the city consumes more than 250 liters per day. This, therefore, leaves a huge deficit of 130 liters between the water consumed and the water supplied by the Delhi government. This gap is reduced through supply from bore-wells and tankers. And when even most of the one lakh registered and close to three lakh unregistered bore-wells dry up in summer, the city is left with no other option but to either rely exclusively on expensive tankers or remain thirsty. Vinod Jain of NGO Tapas and a resident of Mehrauli cries foul about the low quantity of water supplied to his area and question the equitable distribution of water in the city. “People in New Delhi Municipal Corporation area get 489 liters per person every day, Cantonment area gets 515 liters, then why does Mehrauli gets just 29 liters,” he asks. Ravi Agarwal of NGO Toxics Link supports Jain and says, “We are not a water scarce city. It is the way water is being distributed and used which makes it scarce and giving way to water mafia. It is a political, governance and administrative issue.”
People of Sangam Vihar, the largest unauthorised colony in South Delhi, get water from the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) owned bore-wells once in a week and that too for not more than an hour. Anil Kumar, a resident of A Block there says, “We have laid parallel pipelines which are connected to private bore-wells supplying water once for 6-7 hours every fortnight. For this we pay 700 rupees and also simultaneously buy water from tankers when needed.” Water experts are unanimous that to improve the situation, more than 10,000 km of underground water supply pipelines, which are quite old and in decrepit condition, need a major overhaul. However, repairing these pipelines might take decades as the Delhi government had been, on an average, able to fix approximately 200 kms of pipeline every year since 2008. “Only if the task (of replacing the pipelines) is taken at a war footing, like the way it was done for metro, some of the problems might be solved”, says Vinod Jain.
Debashree Mukherjee, Chief Executive Officer of Delhi Jal Board clarifies saying, “Leakages are hard to quantify”. She cites a scientific District Area Metering Exercise carried out in areas as diverse as Nangloi, Vasant Vihar and Mehrauli, where the physical losses due to leakages were found to be just 22 to 25 percent. “When experts talk about losses, they talk about non-revenue water which actually is the difference between what DJB produces and what it bills for. That is the water somebody is using through free supply to the tankers, public stand-posts and also includes the water that gets stolen. It also includes the extra water used by people who are billed on an average basis,” she says.
The city’s effort to get more water, by building Renuka dam over Giri River in Himachal Pradesh, also hasn’t tasted success yet. However, water activists feel that Delhi does not require any more dams as it is already overprovided. “By hook or crook, Delhi has managed to get the water it needs. Therefore, it hasn’t thought of recycling and reusing it. However, DJB is slowly realizing that they are not going to get any more water,” says Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan.
It is generally understood that 80 percent of the total water supplied to the houses is discharged as sewage and can be treated and reused for purposes other than drinking. Delhi, which has spent quite a fortune under the Yamuna Action Plan to build its waste treatment plants, is able to handle only just around 40 percent of the sewage it generates. So, even if the capital city is able to treat and utilize a quarter of the total 3200 MLPD waste water it generates, its water woes can lessen.
Delhi Jal Board says that it is already making efforts to utilise waste water. “About 450 MLPD of 1300 MLPD waster generated is already being used for various purposes,” says Debashree Mukerjee.
But treating sewage costs almost as much money as is required to supply clean water. Therefore, to reduce the expenses, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is trying to demonstrate an inexpensive non-mechanical waste water treatment technology called bio-remediation, which uses bacteria to clean water directly in the drains. No separate infrastructure is required for that and it is believed to be a much cheaper and environment friendly technology. “Mechanical treatment facilities would cost Rs 5000 crores and will consume lot of power for pumping sewage to treatment plants, while bio-remediation will cost just 800 crores and can treat sewage as it flows,” says Commander Sureshwar Sinha of Pani Bachao Morcha, who is also involved in the project with the INTACH. The Delhi Jal Board is unaware of such a technique being used, but said it would welcome any such proposal. Recently, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit accepted that the rainwater harvesting has failed in the city despite it being mandatory. Manu Bhatnagar of INTACH says, “In my personal opinion, rainwater harvesting at household level is a waste of effort. Floor Area Ratio is being raised all the time hinting to the fact that there is very less soft space left for rainwater harvesting. It makes sense at colony and larger level.” He feels that the assistance of Rs 1 lakh given to Resident Welfare Associations by the government to install rainwater harvesting equipment is too less and should be increased.
Bharat Seth of Centre for Science and Environment points to another important solution. “The answer to most of the leakage loss through pipelines is decentralized waste water management,” he says. By that he means that the Resident Welfare Associations should treat and use their waste water locally so as to reduce their dependence on the municipal water. “Somewhere a ceiling (on the quantity of water used by Delhi), will have to be fixed. No sewage system should go beyond 5 km and should not be allowed to mix with the fresh water system,” adds Rakesh Kumar, a journalist turned ecologist, who is widely known in the city as Pani Baba. He laments the fact that people realize the dangers of dirty nullahs only when they affect our air-conditioners and that of the metro. “Imagine, how much harmful they must be for the human body,” he says.
Manoj Mishra concurs and says, “Dual pipe recycling system (which keeps black water, containing fecal matter, separate from grey water discharged from kitchen and bathroom) needs to be put in place. In 1990s, DDA had also decided on that, but all its policies and good intentions aren’t being implemented.” He gives example of Tokyo, Paris and New York where treated water is supplied for use in hotels, while in Singapore it water is cleaned to the extent of being reused as drinking water.
Delhi Jal Board says it is in fact signing an agreement with Singapore to treat 40 MGD water to drinking water quality. Apart from that it has made mandatory for all institutions to install dual piping system and set up their own sewage treatment plants. The board is also reviewing its rainwater harvesting provisions and is expected to announce some changes in next few days. Some people see increasing the price of water as one of the solutions and feel that the rates are still not high enough to make everyone realize the value of it. However, there is also a fear that they would be accused of treating water as a commodity. Ravi Agarwal of Toxics Link says, “If you don’t want to treat water as a commodity, then its proper and equitable distribution must be ensured.”
Ultimately, everyone feels that the key to preserve water is by keeping check on individual consumption. “When cities use more resources, people in areas from where resources are transported feel the pinch and therefore they migrate to cities. This will ultimately lead to more pressure on cities”, says Manu Bhatnagar. Delhi has felt this pressure in the shape of several illegal colonies which have sprung up all across the city.
Debashree Mukherjee agrees and says, “An ideal solution would be that out tier II cities do better and we have fewer people coming in to Delhi. This is not within our control. All we can do is to improve our water management and try to improve the utilization of our recycled water and we are doing all of this. But beyond a point, the population overtakes you.” She also says that there is work required to done in demand management and the DJB is geared up for the task. “Tariff rationalization had happened last year. We have lifetime tariffs upto 20 kilo liters of consumption. After that, depending on usage we have slabs and it is already beginning to pinch. We are doing major work on metering because if we keep billing at averages, then our tariff slabs are not effective. We know that fresh water is limited and we are not going to get beyond this,” she says.