Say Govt. must focus on making the most of available resources

As Delhi gets ready to implement public-private partnership models in the city to plug water and revenue leaks and ensure round-the-clock supply, water conservation experts want the Administration to look beyond dams and private companies and focus instead on water harvesting, recycling and off-channel reservoirs.

“Delhi has a very high per capita water supply, what it lacks is management,” pointed out Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, a network of individuals and organisations working on water-related issues.

Blaming the Delhi Jal Board, the utility that supplies water to the city, for failing to “democratise” its functioning, Mr. Thakkar said: “PPP projects have failed globally; it is shocking to see the Planning Commission push for a model which has not been successful anywhere.”

“No attempts have been made to address Delhi’s water problems -- poor quality, inequitable distribution, revenue and distribution losses. The Government instead is bringing in private companies that will only accentuate the existing problems,” he added.

Manoj Misra of non-government organisation Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan has drawn up an exhaustive list of suggestions that can alleviate the city’s water woes. “We have to consider revision of the Master Plan together with other water conservation ideas to ensure water security for the city. For instance, Zone P II is part of the original flood plain of the Yamuna in Delhi. Situated on the northern portions of Delhi, it is higher than the rest of the city, which makes it ideal for consideration as a suitable location for off-channel reservoirs to store river water during the monsoon months. Being a part of the floodplain of the river it is unsuitable for permanent and planned human settlements. Zones O (Yamuna floodplains) and P II should be taken together and preserved as a water sanctuary,” he said.

Mr. Misra also suggests “strict protection” of the Delhi Ridge and the Yamuna floodplains in the city and restoration of “lost rivers, Sahibi and Barapula” and other water bodies in the city. “There are 22 storm water drains in the city and these must be restored from their current status of sewage drains. Rainwater harvesting, the way it is done in Chennai, should be made mandatory and a part of the city culture for not just new buildings but all the existing buildings within a strict time-frame. Storm water drains that are part of the rainwater harvesting and natural drainage system in the city must not be ‘covered and converted’ under any circumstances,” he said.

Experts also stress on water recycling and re-use. “What is being done in the name of harvesting is lip service. There is no restraint on pollution despite the Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, enforced. No one is worried why the city’s 17 sewage treatment plants do not function to their full capacity. The whole focus seems to be on bringing in private players,” complained Mr. Thakkar.

Use of “grey water” can reduce the city’s dependence on raw water. “Imagine with almost 600 MGD of recycled grey water (of a total of around 850 MGD of available water) available for non-potable needs, would this city ever be short of adequate water?” questioned Mr. Misra.

On the issue of building new dams for ensuring more water for the city, Mr. Misra said the Government should consider exploring the option of raising off-channel reservoirs in Zone P II. “There are many cities (London in UK the most obvious example) in the world that today resorts to storing ‘storm time’ water from their rivers in such reservoirs. But before this option is considered it would be of utmost necessity to frame suitable payment (in perpetuity) arrangement for the affected people and farmers in form of payment for ecological/economic services (PES) that the city must be ready to pay to the adversely affected persons.

The advantage of this scheme will be that since Zone P II is at a higher elevation than the rest of the city, pumping costs from the reservoir will be minimal (gravity having taken care of most), if any,” he said.

Questioning the Government’s proposal to bring in private companies to improve the city’s water management, Mr. Misra said: “Delhi remains one of the better supplied cities in the world in terms of its water needs. At 50 gallons (220 litres) average supplies per person per day as the DJB itself claims, there is no reason for the city to ask for more.

But what is actually required is better management of the available water in the city.

And before anyone mistakes this for privatisation of water supplies in the city, we believe that water as an essential life sustaining entity should never be allowed to become a planned part of the market system. It is part of the State’s fundamental duties to provide wholesome and adequate water to its citizens and non-humans alike and this duty cannot and should not be outsourced.”

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