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Issue 10

Delhi’s Water Crisis: Not Just a Water Shortage Issue

Recently, the shortage of water in Delhi prompted the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to approach the Supreme Court against the Haryana government. Raghav Chadha, Vice-Chairman of the DJB, cited the rising ammonia levels in Yamuna and its falling water levels when there is a necessity for higher water supply in the upcoming summer months, as reasons for the shortage in Delhi’s water supply. Chadha claimed that despite notifying officers concerned of the Haryana government on a daily basis, no concrete action had been taken and there had been no improvement towards restoring any normalcy, pushing him to take up the inter-state matter with the apex court. While the Supreme Court has decided to hear the DJB’s plea against Haryana over the looming water crisis on March 25, the Delhi-Haryana water dispute is an age-old tale that needs immediate resolution.

Haryana supplies water to Delhi through the Carrier-Lined Channel (CLC), Delhi Sub-Branch (DSB) and the Yamuna. There is a regular fall in the level of Yamuna, especially during summers, affecting the quantity of water received at Wazirabad Pond. The normal level of the Yamuna near Wazirabad Pond should be 674.50 feet but it has dropped to 670.90 feet, failing to observe the Supreme Court order of February 1996, which stated that the pond level in Wazirabad has to be kept full. 

The drastic fall in the water level at Wazirabad pond has affected water production at Wazirabad, Okhla and Chandrawal water treatment plants which supply drinking water to central, north, west and south Delhi. To add to these problems, Haryana through CLC canal is supplying only 549.16 cusecs against 683 cusecs and Delhi Sub-Branch canal is supplying 306.63 cusecs against 330 cusecs. While the quantity of water supplied to Delhi by Haryana is diminishing, the quality of the water has not met the necessary standards either. This is a recurring issue that is still seeking addressal as the rising level of ammonia and other industrial waste in Yamuna has made it unsuitable for water treatment.

At the surface level, the Delhi-Haryana water dispute might seem like a problem with a straightforward solution, but in reality it is riddled with legal and political baggage that pose a serious threat to the availability of water for Delhi in the future. 

LEGAL HISTORY: Punjab, Haryana and Delhi

The reorganisation of the state of Punjab in 1966 set the ball rolling for a series of legal interventions that would dictate the water-sharing agreements between Punjab and Haryana. Considering the fact that Haryana is not a riparian state that is largely dependent on water due to 70 percent of the population being involved in agriculture, it was important for Haryana to claim a water supply channel from Punjab. However, by 1976, the failure to reach any mutual agreement on water-sharing led to the central government passing an order for the construction of the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal, which would divide the Ravi-Beas surplus water in favour of Haryana, at 3.78 : 3.26 Million Acre Feet (MAF). 

Even though the matter should have been resolved here, Punjab’s non-cooperation led to the slowing down of the construction of the canal. Through repeated interventions, such as the 1981 agreement which stated that the construction be finished in two years, the 1990 SC order which stated that the construction be finished in a year, and the 2004 SC order which stated the same, the state of Punjab failed to live up to its obligations. In turn, the Punjab government passed The Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, which rid them of all these aforementioned obligations. 

It is no surprise, therefore, that Punjab’s non-cooperation with Haryana on water-sharing agreements have resulted in repercussions for Delhi. In a report for the Firstpost in June 2018, Pranav Jain reports, “Even though the Delhi government paid for concrete lining of the Munak Canal in order to avail benefit of water saved from wasteful leakages, the Haryana government often plays truant, and routinely diverts water from the Munak to multiple off-shoot regular canals downstream, a little before the Delhi-Haryana border”, indicating how the Haryana government is forced to play foul with regard to its water supply to Delhi.

While legal tensions are responsible for elevating the water sharing disputes between the three states, the growing political differences between the Centre and State governments in Delhi are making matters worse.

POLITICAL TURMOIL: BJP vs AAP

Raghav Chadha’s move to take the dispute to the top court is not the first time in the recent past when an AAP party member has made an attempt to resolve the inter-state issue through legal means. In May 2018 as well, the DJB chaired by Arvind Kejriwal had moved the Supreme Court, Delhi high court and the NGT regarding the reduced quantity and quality of water supplied from Haryana. What followed was a war of words between lieutenant governor (L-G) Anil Baijal and Kejriwal regarding how the issue was handled, with the LG citing that attempts should have been made to resolve the water dispute through negotiations and dialogue rather than through confrontation in court. As reported by Pranav Jain, it is no secret how the BJP has constantly made use of the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) office in crippling the efforts of the AAP government in Delhi.

However, in response on May 31, the BJP-led Haryana government assured supply of water until the monsoon season, but under the condition that the DJB and Delhi government withdraw all the cases filed. The AAP government responded to these demands swiftly, succumbing to the political pressure that was evidently overruling these decisions. Dinesh Mohaniya, then vice-chairman of the DJB, claimed on June 01, that the Supreme Court case had been withdrawn as the court directed them to approach Upper Yamuna River Board (UYRB). Similarly, the NGT case on pollution and excess ammonia flowing in raw water, was withdrawn as it “was no longer the case”. Given the additional bureaucratic procedures that the Delhi government is forced to take in shifting the case from the SC to the UYRB, and the regulations that need to be put in place by the Haryana government to resolve the release of industrial waste into the Yamuna, it is surprising how these issues were deemed as resolved within a day’s time. 

Clearly, there is a growing misrepresentation between what is happening at the ground level in comparison to what is being agreed upon in these water-sharing disputes. The AAP government’s decision to withdraw all cases momentarily in 2018 indicates the lack of foresight that was present when dealing with the grave circumstances of water shortage. This has hampered the progress that could have been made in resolving this issue, but the crisis continues to loom over Delhi’s future even today. If the Centre and State government do not work in tandem to resolve these legal and political disputes, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab could be facing a water crisis in the near future with no immediate answer. Environmental concerns can only be addressed once these internal disputes are overcome, and it is the need of the hour for elected representatives to avert any emergencies in the foreseeable future when it comes to the provision of a basic necessity such as water.

Picture Credits: Tribune India

Rohan Pai is a Politics, Philosophy and Economics major at Ashoka University. In his free time, you’ll find him singing for a band, producing music and video content.

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