The agonising wait for water tankers has become a constant fixture in the lives of several thousands citizens of the Capital. In parts of Palam Colony in South-West Delhi, water just does not travel through painstakingly-laid DJB pipelines to their intended recipients. In other areas like thickly-populated Mahavir Enclave, pipelines have not been laid at all. While financially better-off houses in these colonies have submersible pumps, others procure water from neighbours owning such pumps. However, what beats all logic is the failure of the Delhi Jal Board in not installing public taps despite resorting to the more expensive, inefficient, irregular and anti-citizen system of water tankers.

At Kailashpuri in Palam Colony, there are many residents whose anger is in danger of spilling over. “Till five to six years ago we used to get water regularly. Then the pressure started falling. Now water comes till six lanes away. Why can’t the DJB ensure that water reaches us too? If not, at least set up public taps for us. If water is supplied for at least half-an-hour, that is a big relief for us. Water tankers come irregularly here. Every day begins on a negative note for our men who have to go to work and children who have to go to study. For the women who have the responsibility of getting the water, it is back-breaking work,” says Bindu Devi.

Large plastic cans and plastic buckets are a ubiquitous sight in every house here. The residents have now stopped paying their water bills. “Why should I pay when I don’t get water? It is a cruel joke to send us bills,” says Surjo Devi.

The submersible pumps can solve their problems only partly. “This water is of bad quality but we use it to bathe, wash clothes and dishes,” says Gobind Singh. The pumps cost Rs.70,000 to install. But that was before they were banned. Now policemen keep a strict vigil for those installing them. Not to stop their use; but to fleece the user. “Many people have paid Rs.30,000 to cops to look the other way. For people like me who do not have Rs.1 lakh to dish out, the submersible is not an option,” Ravinder Kumar alleges.

In many houses, the submersible pumps are sunk within the four walls of the house. For people whose houses are less than 250 square feet, this is not an option. The tankers also pose problems for those living in lanes too narrow for the tankers to reach. “Most people take 60 to 80 litres of water. But carrying the 15-20 litre water cans is a tough proposition even for an able-bodied man. Because we stay in smaller houses in narrower lanes we lose out,” Ravinder adds.

Because of the high stakes involved, as many members of a family as can be spared are tasked with holding vigil for tankers and then fetching the water home. So students take leave from schools and colleges and men-folk change their work hours to be present when water tankers come. Sometimes fights break out over someone collecting more water and another getting less.

The filling station behind Tihar Jail services a 10 km radius in South-West Delhi. Over 200 tankers of 3,000-litre capacity make 8-10 rounds daily. Before the tankers start, a phone call is made to the locality to which the tanker is headed so that residents line up on the streets well ahead of time. However, there was no one to meet the tanker that makes its stop before a row of houses at Mahavir Enclave this past Thursday. A woman peeked out from her window, disappeared, and then rushed out with three cans. “We did not get a call that you were coming,” she complained to the tanker driver.

“Many of the people staying here on rent have left for work thinking that the tanker is not coming. Now they will have to purchase water from other sources or borrow from us,” she rued.

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