ByÂ Mahitha Kasireddi:
Revolutionary, reformatory or reactionary, call it whatever you want. From a civil society movement to a political party in power, AAP is a political-fiction-come-true story. Within 48 hours of coming into office, Arvind Kejriwal has successfully delivered on his pet issue. In just a few hours of discussion with the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) officials, the leader struck a deal for free water supply to all to be availed by those households who have metered connections. The benefit comes with a condition attached. Those using more than the subsidized quantity of 700 litres will have to pay for the entire quantity. This implies a 140 litres per day per person. This number is absolutely in compliance with the WHO norms which says at least 100 litres per capita per day is the optimum supply for each person. We should agree that AAP has done a commendable job.
In 2014, the population of Delhi is estimated at 17.8 million. A total requirement of 3900 MLD, i.e. 1050 million gallons per day (MGD), has to be met. The total demand by 2021 will increase to 5100 MLD (1,375 MGD) when the population of Delhi would be 23 million.
Youth Ki Awaaz based on data and analyses supplied by “AskHow” would like to ask a few questions to the leaders and politicians regarding the promise of supply of water to all citizens.
AskHow India is a group of Indian citizens that aims to raise the quality of debate before the 2014 elections. They believe that a simple way of improving public discussion is to ask the question ‘How’. They think that the citizens should ask political parties how their challenges would be tackled rather than request them to grant their wishes. For example, they think that “How can the next Prime Minister of India lower food prices?” is a superior question to “Can the next Prime Minister of India reduce food prices?
Where is the water?
There is a perception that Delhi gets more water than some European cities. We need to look at the following data. The current water sources of Delhi are Yamuna, Ganga and Bhakra-Beas surface water systems, ground water, and a small amount of recycled water, which total to 805 MGD. On deducting 323 MGD of UFW losses, the available water is only 483 MGD. The Munak canal may help with 80 MGD. Two dams are planned (Renuka and Kishau) which can potentially supply 647 MGD of water.
Theoretically, the above source augmentation could meet Delhi’s water supply requirements for 2021. However, several questions need to be asked to understand the practicality of realising these increases.
First, what are the timelines associated with the Munak canal, and the Renuka and Kishau dams? How will external dependencies — reliance on states such as Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, clearances from the Ministry of Environment & Forests, etc. — impact the realisation of these projects?
Secondly, have we devised any time stipulated effective plans as to how water losses can be avoided? Reuse and Recycle of waste water for industrial and irrigational purposes has always been taken up as an aftermath agenda. Has sewage treatment and waste management been taken into consideration while investing in water supply?
Thirdly, there are six water treatment plants in Delhi. Are these plants functioning to their fullest potential? Do we possess the infrastructure to direct the treated water for domestic or industrial purpose and create the demand for the same?
Finally, how to reduce UFW loss? Do we have a plan?
What is the financial plan to meet investment requirement and who will bear the subsidy cost?
The issue of water system is complex. It involves costs of infrastructure, electricity and treatment. Water sources (e.g., dams) have to be created, water has to be transported over long distances through canals and pipelines, and treatment and distribution infrastructure has to be created. The estimated investment required for Sourcing, Transmission canals, treatment plants, distribution network, Metering and Recycling is Rs. 19000 Cr (at 2013 prices). What is the financing plan for this infrastructure?
Looking at the pattern of consumption, only 13% is billed meter. Isn’t it scary to realize the cost of lost water that was never calculated?
Who shall bear the subsidy? A public sector company running on losses cannot survive for long and privatising a natural resource such as water would only lead to unimaginable amount of intra-city inequities.
How would water be supplied to people in the lowest quartile of the population?
How the poorest of Delhi can get adequate water is an unanswered question. The free water service can be availed only by those who have metered connections. Those who are already well off and live in registered land houses are further subsidised leaving behind the needy section who have no choice but to depend upon public stand posts for their water requirements. The scheme has been delivered with partial justice. Have there been any talks and action on how to supply water to those who live in unregistered, illegal areas or slums? What are the standards for water delivery for this segment of population?
The Delhi government could make significant modifications to its free water scheme. One suggestion is that the people living in pucca settlements should be charged full costs to ensure there is sufficient revenue generation to support those who lack the basic necessities of fresh water and sanitation services. Also the DJB should prepare a 20 year plan to optimize water resources of the city. The readings of the bulk meters should be made public. Leaders should chalk out a time bound plan and execute rain water harvesting and recharge systems in all government buildings and schools. Experts have also pointed out that 700 litres is far more than enough per household. The sufficient quantity would be 50 litres per capita per day.
We must congratulate the AAP government for focusing the nation on the very elemental problem of water. However, both the government and us citizens would do the nation a dis-service if we did not ask and answer some of the questions that have been raised in this article. Do we not aspire to be ruled by a party which concentrates on delivering sustainable solutions rather than just focusing on short-term freebies? Should people not be educated on judicious usage of a scarce natural resource? To our minds, AAP’s water policy falls short on these key areas. Hope this piece has invoked thoughts, please share your suggestions, opinions and further questions you would like to pose to the political parties.