Vinod Jain lives in a sprawling landscaped farmhouse on the outskirts of the city, an area that is an exclusive address; not far from this posh neighbourhood lives Amin Mohammad in a shanty amid rubble and refuse on land illegally occupied.

And the only thing common between the two households otherwise at the two ends of an economic spectrum is that with no source of municipal water in their neighbourhoods they have to buy water for drinking as well as non-potable uses.

There is no provision for piped drinking water at Jaunapur in South Delhi’s Mehrauli area where Mr. Jain lives; and with severely depleted groundwater levels, extraction is no longer an option. The Jain family and their neighbours have to spend upwards of Rs.5,000 every month to buy drinking water and ‘greywater’ (recycled wastewater not fit for consumption) for their lawns and other non-potable uses.

“We have no source of water here…the city’s water utility, the Delhi Jal Board, has not laid any piped network here because this is a rural, unplanned area. Bore wells are practically useless because excessive withdrawal has severely depleted the groundwater levels. In short, there is no water here,” he says.

Mr. Jain, who has been the crusader for water conservation campaigns through his non-government organisation ‘Tapas’ and behind several litigations that drew attention to the dying Yamuna and the disappearing water bodies in the city, feels a sense of helplessness. “I have rainwater harvesting structures and do my bit to conserve water, but when it comes to my own needs, I am dependent on water tankers.”

Mr. Jain needs at least 4,000 litres a day for the farm to keep the greens alive in addition to his drinking and washing needs. “We need a tanker almost on a daily basis. A 1,000 litre potable water tanker costs around Rs.400 and we pay Rs.150 for the greywater tankers. The DJB has laid out pipes for supply in the village nearby, but they are worried that farmhouse owners might use this water to fill their swimming pools, which means we will have to continue relying on tankers,” he says.

In the slum settlement in Vasant Kunj where Amin Mohammad lives, the DJB can only send a 1,000 litre water tanker once in a day. There can be no piped supply in illegally occupied colonies.

“Water is a fundamental right, every citizens needs water to sustain,” says B. M. Dhaul, a senior DJB official. It is on this premise that the Jal Board allows for water tanker delivery to slums and unauthorised colonies in the city. But is this enough?

“We get water from tankers, but most of the time we have to pay. The free water tankers from DJB are neither punctual nor enough. In our slum cluster there are 1,200 shanties so a 1,000 litres a day for all of us is just not enough,” says Mr. Mohammad.

Delhi’s water story is not limited to no-supply alone; there are issues like inequitable supply and quality of supply that the DJB has to contend with as well. There are hundreds of housing colonies in the recently created township Dwarka that have been waiting for water. New water treatment plants are lying idle, because Delhi has not been able to secure additional water.

“For years now we have been told that there will be an additional 80 million gallons a day of water supplied from Haryana and when that happens, Dwarka will have water. It’s a promise that has not been fulfilled,” says A. Pillai, a resident of a group housing society in Dwarka, where private tankers are called in routinely to make up for the deficient municipal supply.

The city’s unplanned and planned growth has never matched its water supply. “Even planned colonies in Vasant Kunj did not have our approval because of the topography, the hydrological pressure and the availability, but no one listens to the Jal Board,” points out a former senior functionary.

At the beginning of each summer, the DJB lays out an elaborate plan of taking water to the tail-ends, of rationalising supply from areas that have plenty and of petitioning and bargaining with neighbouring States for more; and each year the water scenario leaves people unhappy and wanting more.

Delhi gets about 560 million gallons a day from the Yamuna, 240 MGD from the Ganga, 100 MGD from groundwater sources and 30 MGD from recycling. The supply (835 MGD generated in the city’s treatment plants) however does not match the demand (1,080 MGD) and the city is short of nearly 200 MGD.

“We supply water to 81.3 per cent of the city. And we have been able to do this with no additional releases from any of our sources. We are trying to extend the piped supply to more areas so that our consumer base goes up from the current 19.65 lakh to 25 lakh in the coming years,” says DJB chief executive officer Debashree Mukherjee.

An exponential rise in population and a correlated demand for water is worrying the DJB. States like Haryana have steadfastly been refusing to release more water for the National Capital, which also serves as a working hub for people from the neighbouring States. This “floating population” that comes to work to the city needs water too. Dams, like the proposed Renuka Dam in Himachal Pradesh, are the city’s only hope for an augmented supply, but this option is being met with opposition.

Environment and water activists have been blaming the DJB for “poor management” and debunk their claims of limited water supply. “Delhi has enough water, what it does not have is a proper management system, there are leaks, there is pilferage and there is poor planning. Even if we get water from Renuka, that will not last forever,” says Manoj Misra of NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan.

He castigates the government for failing to tap its non-revenue leaks estimated to be nearly 40-50 per cent and also for failing to conserve water by harvesting.

“We are taking a lot of steps to ensure we provide water to everyone. As on date we are supplying about 250 litres per person per day in authorised colonies and around 50 litres per person per day in unauthorised and JJ clusters,” says Ms. Mukherjee, adding, a pilot public private partnership in three areas to stem leaks and improve services, stress on conservation, reuse and recycle — are some of the steps the Jal Board is taking to make every last drop count.

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