Is Kejriwal's water promise a mirage? Or can he deliver?

New Delhi, Dec 27 : Is Arvind Kejriwal's promise of free daily supply of 700 litres of water to around 2.7 million households a tall promise or is it a pledge that he can deliver upon, given the ground situation about what is considered a scarce resource in a water-starved city of 18 million people?

AAP founder leader Arvind Kejriwal said Wednesday that within 24 hours of becoming the chief minister of Delhi Dec 28 "we are promising to make 700 litres of water free for each family for which only an executive order is needed".

But what is now abundantly clear is that the free water promise is only for that segment of population - 80 percent of Delhi - who are beneficiaries of piped water from Delhi Jal Board. But for millions of people who are beyond the pale of piped water supply - which is about 20 percent of Delhi - the promise of water may still have to wait.

This means that out of 3.3 million households in the capital, only 2.7 million families who get piped water will be benefited, according to Delhi Jal Board officials.

Delhi needs around 1,100 million gallons of water a day but DJB claims it can supply only 835 million gallons. So the shortfall of 265 million gallons is met through water tankers run by private contractors in collusion with influential people who Kejriwal has termed as "water mafia".

According to S.A. Naqvi, convenor of NGO Citizen's Front for Water Democracy, the promise is not at all that tall and can be implemented.

"Around 10 million people get piped water from Delhi Jal Board which has an estimate daily availability of 3.8 billion litres. If we calculate the above figure a family of five can get 2,000 litres of water," he told IANS.

Some have argued that the promise may hurt the body's revenues but Naqvi begged to differ.

"Despite only 45 percent of the DJB consumers paying their water bills, the body has an estimated annual profit in excess of Rs.400 crore," Naqvi explains quoting calculations made by the NGO from DJB statistics.

Water crisis in the capital reaches its peak every summer leaving millions of people thirsty -- and the government blames it on the 40 percent leakage of water through DJB pipelines.

Experts wonder that if this had been the case then the groundwater level of Delhi would not have gone down or the city would have been flooded.

"It is the water mafia which creates artificial scarcity of water and makes money by selling water through tankers at high prices. It cannot be done without somebody's patronage," a government official told IANS pleading anonymity.

Private water tankers, who are hand in glove with DJB officials, including engineers, illegally draw water from DJB pumping stations and sell at exorbitant price to areas that don't have piped water. Around 700,000 families have no access to piped water and 700 litres of water for them may be a distant dream but Kejriwal promises to supply water to them in a year.

"It may certainly be a problem but AAP says it is working on it. At least they have promised a grievance redressal mechanism which is absent today," Himanshu Thakkar, an expert on water issues, told IANS.

Thakkar points out that it is the uneven distribution of water which has created the problem. "Per capita supply in NDMC and other posh areas is 500 litres, which can easily be reduced for even distribution," he averred.

Some have argued that the promise may hurt the body's revenues but Naqvi begged to differ.

Experts say that DJB is plagued with 'inefficiency' and 'corruption' and even after the 700 litres free water scheme is implemented, the board will be able to easily earn its profits.

However, Thakkar does not agree with the idea of free water.

"I don't think that water should be free," Thakkar said.

--IANS (Posted on 27-12-2013)

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