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Water Crisis in Delhi

The article has been written as part of the Jal Se Jalshay, a community and youth-led campaign by Haiyya to address water crises in Delhi. Following the campaign on twitter @JalSeJalashay.

Accommodating a population close to 20 million and experiencing a perpetual growth in this population, Delhi embodies a huge water demand. However, the geographical positioning and environment of Delhi make it dependent on external sources to meet this water demand and subject it to a particularly acute water crisis. Erratic rainfall patterns supported by inadequate water-conserving infrastructure function as a suboptimal medium to support this rising demand for water. Consequently, there is a high dependence on groundwater resources. Reports suggest that water tables in the city were 40 meters below the ground in 2000. By 2018 the levels drastically dropped to 80 meters below the ground. However, the scope for further exploiting this avenue seems limited, especially when studies reveal that the groundwater levels in the city are already depleting at a rate of 10 cm every year. Such statistics reveal the immediate need for policy intervention and regulatory exercises to combat the problem of depleting groundwater levels in the region.

The problem is that paucity of data of existing water infrastructure, coverage, recharge of ground water levels of the city, often restricts the capacity of researchers and environmentalists to make ingenious policy recommendations. Composite Water Management Index Report (2019) by Niti Aayog suggests that the state of Delhi reports inadequate data-related key water indicators. In the absence of official data updates, policymakers are neither able to evaluate the performance of the on-going interventions nor are they able to suggest the future course of action. This can act as a huge constraint in addressing the problem of depleting water tables despite some potent efforts of the government to combat the crisis. Regular follow-ups and active reporting of water indicators would allow policy-makers and government officials to effectively collaborate and take appropriate steps in the right direction.

While there exists relevant gaps in the existing policy framework, it cannot be denied that the state’s transition to relying on newer and innovative water-conserving exercises have initiated a series of positive outcomes. The transformation of the Rajokri Pond into a decentralised sewage system is the biggest example of such practices. Using active bio digesters and artificial wetlands instead of conventional chemical treatment, the system facilitates treatment of raw sewage and at the same time also enables large scale cost-cutting for the authorities. On average, about 600 kilolitres of sewage is treated in the plant daily. With large availability of treated water, one can expect some degree of augmentation of the groundwater levels.

The Palla project is another such initiative that is targeted to recharge the groundwater levels in the city by building giant reservoirs to hold excessive rainwater collected in Yamuna floodplains during peak monsoon season. Even though the recent inception of the project makes an extensive evaluation difficult, reports suggest that there has been an improvement in the groundwater levels claiming that “spread over 18 acres, the ponds received floodwater from the Yamuna for 12 days.”

Rajkori Pond Transformation

It is apparent that the challenge of depleting groundwater levels can be adequately overcome by active interventions by the state. The current state government is conscious of the gravity of the situation and is incorporating the relevant measures in its action plan. The government plans to initiate the construction of 80 check dams in the Asola Bhati Wildlife Sanctuary to recharge the groundwater levels and control for soil erosion. Further plans to install modular underground rainwater harvesting tanks along road stretches and flyovers are underway in an attempt to replenish groundwater levels. In this light, one can conclude that a targeted investment by the state government accompanied with an effective record keeping, point towards potential improvement in water tables in the future.



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