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The water crisis
The water crisis

Demystifying Delhi’s Water Crisis

Part I: So, what is this water crisis everyone keeps talking about anyway?

Part II:Delhi Jal Board – the villain of the piece

At the conclusion of the last section, we promised you good news, albeit of the “glass-half-full” variety. True to our word, here it is…

While Delhi is certainly in the throes of a water crisis, it’s not so much the lack of raw water, as it is the Delhi Jal Board’s (DJB) mismanagement of the treatment and distribution of water that has made the problem so severe.

Street Children Enjoying Water, Thanks  To A Leaking Delhi Jal Board

Street Children Enjoying Water, Thanks To A Leaking Delhi Jal Board

Why is that good news? Because the answer to Delhi’s water problem does not involve appeasing the rain Gods or praying for divine intervention! Reform (sweeping we may add) and requisite investments at the DJB can dramatically alleviate the crisis!


Awkward silence.

Don’t believe it?

Pigs will fly before the DJB reforms itself?

We hear you, and don’t really blame you for your skepticism.

That said, for things to change at all, it is critical for residents to understand why and how the DJB and hence the Delhi government (the Chief Minister of Delhi is the de-facto chairman of the DJB) is failing them.

How else will they demand any meaningful deliverables from their government? How else will they engender change?With that in mind, fellow residents, read on to understand with painful clarity how your city’s water utility and government are failing you.

Public interest warning: Please keep a Disprin handy because your head is guaranteed to hurt once you are done reading. Some readers also reported a strong desire to punch someone/ something.

DJB report card: FAIL

In April 2013, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) released its audit report on the Social Sector (Non PSUs), Government of Delhi. Chapter 3 of this report lays out the deficiencies of the DJB in managing the city’s water crisis quite comprehensively. Here are some highlights:

  • What a waste!

The production of potable water at the Water Treatment Plants (WTP) supplying water to Delhi was found to be below design capacity.

Also, given the absence of proper measurement systems, it was hard to assess if water wasted during treatment was within the permissible range of 8-10% (how convenient for the DJB).

Wastage was also found in the transportation of water from the filter beds of the treatment plants to Underground Reservoirs (UGRs) thanks to leaky valves. It was the same story with the Waste Water Recycling Plants that were also operating below capacity due to damaged wastewater pipelines.

  • …. Not a drop to drink

Based on 2011 census figures, the audit estimated that 25% of households in Delhi were not receiving piped, treated water. Further, a population of 3.25 million with no access to potable piped water was supplied 1000 MG (Million Gallons) of water by tankers in 2011.

This implies that 19% of Delhi residents received an average supply of 4 LPCD (Litres Per Capita per Day) vs. the prescribed norm of 172 LPCD for domestic use – a gap so huge that that one could drive a battalion of water tankers through it!
  • Laugh or cry? You decide

Upon analyzing the water trail from the Nangloi WTP where the average production of potable water was 40 MGD (Million Gallons Daily), it was found that against an average availability of 77 LPCD, the average supply to different areas ranged from 3 LPCD to 225 LPCD.

We don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  • Where have all the meters gone?  

Based on information provided by the DJB in August 2012, there were around 2 million registered connections, of which 0.7 million (35%) were unmetered or without functional meters.    

  • Sloth: DJB’s deadly sin

Non-Revenue Water (NRW) denotes the amount of potable water produced by a utility that does not earn any revenue, as a percent of total water produced.

Revenue may be lost due to a variety of reasons including illegal connections, water theft, meter inaccuracies, authorized consumption that is not billed e.g. public taps, and losses through leakage in transmission and distribution networks.For 2011, DJB’s NRW level was 63%, over 3 times the prescribed limed of 20%.

In plain words – Not only is the DJB grossly inadequate in providing piped, treated water to Delhi-ites, it is also too lazy to ensure that those of us who do manage to get portable water courtesy some cosmic miracle (may the Lords be praised!), pay for the water we consume.
  • A classic case of “no guilty conscience”

The DJB’s responses to the many concerns raised by the CAG audit betrayed a casual attitude towards the systemic dysfunction in their organization. They exhibited little sense of accountability and offered no comprehensive plan or deadlines within which improvements would be made.

Separately, in a random search on Google performed for purpose of this piece, we instantaneously found thousands of consumer complaints against the DJB. What we did not find however, was a single response from the DJB to the countless messages from harassed, exasperated and often pleading customers.

Our two cents

Since the DJB customer care department appears to be at loss at how to handle these complaints, may we suggest a few one-line responses? If nothing else, they’ll be appreciated for their honesty.

Here goes.

“I am on vacation………….for the last five decades.”

“I am incompetent, and I don’t care.”

“My PR team has told me not to respond to any messages. I could do a TOI and make things worse. ”

“I am playing Solitaire, please call later.”

“What’re you gonna do? Get me fired? All the best.”

What next?

Now that we know that the DJB is a big part of the problem, the next step is to figure out what needs to be done in order to make the utility function efficiently. Improving financial performance is an important part of that challenge.

The DJB is financed by taxpayer money i.e. your and my money. We are literally paying for their incompetence. It is not just our right, but our duty to know how our money is being spent (or misspent as the case may be).

In the next section “Part III: It’s all about the money, honey!” we explain the current status of DJB’s finances.

For those feeling intimidated by all this finance talk, fear not! We do nothing more that some elementary addition and subtraction in the next section. All we ask of you is a little concentration and a tiny bit of faith – we promise that you will emerge smarter from reading this section. So sit back, relax and unleash your inner nerd (we know he’s in there)!

Part III: It’s all about the money, honey!

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