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The water crisis
The water crisis

Demystifying Delhi’s Water Crisis

Part IV: Whipping the Delhi Jal Board into shape

Part V: The multi-pronged solution…

In the previous section Part IV: Whipping the Delhi Jal Board into shape, we talked about the first component of our multi-pronged strategy to resolve the water crisis in Delhi – achieving DJB’s true revenue potential through sweeping reform.  Daunting as this may sound, it is very much achievable. A critical pre-requisite though, is…..

 Political will: the not-so-secret sauce

…. political will – that virtue witnessed in India about as frequently as the Hailey’s comet!

Since the lack of interest in transforming the DJB, is the one thing that all preceding Delhi governments have been united in, this “will” will have to be engendered by the residents of Delhi.

How? By relentlessly, doggedly and vehemently demanding the water utility that they deserve from their government.

Now, if you are not entirely stoked by the idea of having to chase down your local MLA for water, we don’t blame you. Having to hound and/or stalk elected representatives for adequate water supply isn’t exactly what the founders had in mind either when they dreamt of the future of our great nation. That said, this is where we are.

Cynicism is natural, but unfortunately it never got anything done. We’d be a shockingly productive nation if it did!

There is reason to be optimistic. The Delhi Jal Board is already under the scanner given all the negative attention it attracted during the last election cycle.

At the centre, after decades we have a Prime Minister with a supermajority who appears to be genuinely interested in good governance. Technically, he has no sway in the capital unless his party wins and forms the Delhi government. Still, this is as hopeful a time in the history of the nation and of the capital, as we can remember.

In the spirit of that hope and sense of possibility, let us all of step up and get involved. Let us partake in that beautiful spectacle of democracy flexing its muscle to bend government to its will.

Sensible pricing that balances economic prudence with affordable, equitable access (translation: No free water)

Let’s talk now about our third prong, shall we?

Prudent, affordable and equitable pricing.

Instead of taking about what this means, lets talk about what it does NOT. What it does NOT mean is free water – that aqueous utopia we were all obsessed with last December.

For those of you who fell off the edge of the earth last winter, here’s some background.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), born out of the “India Against Corruption” campaign and led by former bureaucrat Arvind Kejriwal, won an unexpected victory in the Delhi elections to form the Delhi government on Dec 28, 2013 with outside support from the Congress party (as blatant a case of sleeping with the enemy as we’ve ever seen).

AAP was in power for 49 days during which they made good on their promise to provide 700 litres of water free per day to every household in Delhi with a registered water meter.

However noble AAPs’ intent, this was NOT the way to deal with Delhi’s water woes.

Why AAP–style free water is not the answer

  • Not so “Aam” after all

A free water policy does not provide any relief to the 25% of Delhi households who do not receive piped, treated water.

A majority of these families live in unauthorized colonies, mainly JJ clusters, and are amongst the city’s most impoverished sections of society. They meet their daily water requirements through tankers and bore wells, often paying hundreds of rupees per month for their water needs.

  • Isn’t it ironic?  

Under such a policy, close to half of Delhi’s households (many belonging to affluent sections of society, and almost all having the ability to pay for their water usage) would pay nothing to the DJB for their water consumption.

With a smaller mean family size vs. the city average, most of these families would be able satisfy their daily water requirement within the 700-litre mark, thus benefiting from a subsidy they were never intended to enjoy!

  • Lack of incentive for conservation

Pricing a substantial amount (700 litres/ day) of household water consumption at zero goes against the most fundamental laws of economics.

It removes the cost side of the equation and allows consumers to be wasteful (within the 700 litres limit) without consequence.
  • What about issues of supply and distribution?

If you’ve read our previous sections, you’ll know all about what this means and more. (This is our tiny attempt to penalize those of you who did what we used to do in school – skip to the end of the chapter. *Nerdy chuckle*)

Jokes apart;

A prudent water pricing policy must take into count the imperatives of affordability and access to the poor while balancing these against the need for the price of water to reflect as closely as possible its true economic cost.

Bottom-line, water pricing is serious stuff – it is NOT to be messed around with.

Conservation at individual and state levels

We’re finally at the last prong. YAAY!! We made it! You managed to suffer us for 5 whole sections, and we managed to sound smart the entire time! (Please be gentle incase of disagreement). Before any formal celebrations though, lets wrap this up.

Given the gap between Delhi’s raw water supply and the water requirements of its rapidly growing population, the capital city will always face some degree of water shortage. Even in the best-case scenario, the importance of water conservation cannot be overemphasized.

All that stuff you hopefully learnt at school (or that your kids hopefully learn today) about not leaving the tap on when you brush your teeth or water-logging your garden when you water your plants or inundating your block when your tank overflows etc. etc. is important. It all adds up no matter what you tell yourself when you’re being bad.

Conservation needs to become a way of life for the residents of Delhi.

The Delhi government for its part needs to develop and implement a comprehensive water conservation plan for the city that actively involves its neighborhoods and residents.

Combined conservatory efforts of the government and residents are critical to securing Delhi’s water future.


Go to the beginning of the series – Demystifying Delhi’s Water Crisis

About The Author

Roop Brar is a psychologist and former career counselor who has been actively involved in environmental projects in her community since the late 1990s. Her key area of interest is water management and conservation. She resides in New Delhi.

About The Author

Simran Brar is a finance professional and a freelance writer. She is interested in a wide range of non-fiction genres including social critique, narrative, humor, history, economics and business. She resides in New Delhi.

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