Springs of hope
With persistent water problems, it is natural for people to fight with neighbours to get ahead in water supply queues and for the states to fight with each other over sharing river water. But who will fight for the quality of water of the local water bodies, which serve as important habitats for various aquatic and terrestrial species, preserve bio–diversity, purify contaminated water and provide distinct herbs with medicinal qualities? What many fail to realise is that reviving and maintaining local water bodies like the ponds of a locality can increase the underground water levels and partially take away the water woes of an area.
In 2011–12, an NGO which aims at utilizing the Right to Information Act 2005, in a voluntary effort, conducted a survey of South–west Delhi water bodies in which they took up 50 villages. It was found that the conditions in South–west Delhi were deplorable– out of 183 water bodies that were surveyed, 93 were dry, 63 had dirty water in them, 24 of them had tube–well water and 26 water bodies were not even in the revenue record and hence they were under no protection from depletion by the government authorities. Looking at such appalling figures, residents of Dwarka sector–23 and an NGO, led by Diwan Singh, decided to take up the revival of water bodies to motivate the government for further action.
Diwan Singh from Natural Heritage First said, “In the beginning, we took up the revival work of Pochanpur water body, locally known as ‘NayaJohad’, in sector–23, Dwarka. Earlier, it was just two old trees with their roots exposed and covered with earth. The residents pooled money and undertook the work of de–silting the water body, created rainwater–carrying channels and looked after the area around the water body to preserve it from any invasive activity. This gradually resulted in the migration of various birds around the area. Our efforts paid off because luckily at that time, we had a former Deputy Director from Horticulture Department to support us in our endeavour to replenish this water body but after his transfer to another place we faced complete resistance from Delhi Development Authority (DDA).”
In 2013, the NGO which had led the residents’ movement towards the revival of water bodies reached out to the then Lieutenant–Governor Tejendra Khanna. A committee– with the NGO as its members– for rejuvenation of the water bodies was formed due to orders issued by Tejendra Khanna to the DDA. Due to arduous work done by the residents, there was visible improvement in the condition of the water body and bird watchers could spot as many as 40 varieties of species of birds around the water body. But as soon as the authority to work on the water body was given to DDA, the area was turned into a dumping ground– with tons of soil being dumped into the pond. DDA’s unconcerned behaviour did not change even after thousands of suggestions from the committee for 2–3 years consistently.
The residents of the locality blame DDA for the shriveled condition of ‘NayaJohad’ which could have turned out to be a nature lover’s delight with frequent winged visitors and lush green trees. 3 meetings with Chief Engineer (DDA), 3 –4 meetings with Deputy Director, Horticulture, 1 meeting with SD Singh, CEO, DPGS and nodal Officer for water bodies and 1 meeting with Member (Engineer), DDA on May 23, 2013 amounted to nothing for the revival work of a single water body i.e. ‘NayaJohad’. If the hopes for the replenishment of a single water body are nil, then one can imagine what’s in store for the remaining water bodies, which according to a survey by Natural Heritage First are 33– including ‘NayaJohad’.
“The government is responsible for the condition of Delhi water bodies. Till the time government did not intervene, they were all maintained by the villagers. But as soon as the authority passed on to the government, all the water bodies degraded, ruined and depleted with time. Earlier, we were very optimistic that Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will take up the cause. Kapil Mishra even visited the sector–23 water body but did nothing except passing orders on paper. Then came the BJP government, but sadly, even BJP does not have any interests in environmental issues,” said Diwan Singh who has actively participated in the revival work of water bodies in Dwarka and Delhi.
A water body tracks and collects water from nearby catchment area during monsoons, which in turn, recharge and increase the underground water level of an area and can solve at least 50% current urban water supply demand, if maintained properly. But due to negligence by DDA and the Delhi government, levels in water bodies fall down by 5–6 feet in a period of 10 days, during the gap between monsoon rains. According to Diwan Singh, “the water which is wasted during monsoons in the drains and on roads could be used to recharge the water bodies as the soil around it is permeable which will ultimately increase the underground water levels. Storm water drainage system is a technique used to carry all the storm water in the rainy season to the drains. This rain water, which is usually wasted, is a unique source to fill up water bodies. The storm water gone waste every year could fill up at least 4 water bodies.” This water, collected by the water bodies in an area is purified water ie, free from any harmful pesticides and fertilisers that are used in parks and green areas.
When asked, water bodies or rainwater harvesting, which is more feasible to a city like Delhi, Diwan Singh said, “Rain water harvesting is a complicated process, with a lot of risk of contamination and limited capacity, whereas, water bodies have plenty capacity to hold and recharge water. Water bodies are easy to maintain, have no complicated processes, provides pure filtered water, beautifies the eco–system, regulates temperature and also helps to control air pollution– which is extremely important for urban cities now.”
It is not just the sub–city Dwarka that is fed up with years of water shortage and hit the streets several times in protest; this can be seen in many other parts of the national capital. People are fed up with consistent water problems but no one is talking about the solution. The residents of Dwarka sector–23 tried to revive water bodies for many years, invested their money and time but the end results made them give up on their hopes. “It is such an easy job to revive and maintain a water body– you just need to increase its capacity and divert flowing water towards it. But DDA and its members could not do it in even 3 years. The reasons are best known to them even though their job is extremely simple. We even approached National Green Tribunal (NGT), which in turn reached out to courts and the courts gave an order to the Delhi government to revive water bodies but even the Delhi government was not able to do anything about it.”
“We don’t understand why the authorities are not able to do such a simple task of revival. I am sure these authorities would have done something if this was a 100 crore project. In 1 or 2 years all of these water bodies will be depleted and parched; the court’s orders don’t work, the government is not interested, NGT is only interested in paperwork. With abundant resources, the government has failed to maintain a single water body but the villagers and Dwarka residents with only a few thousand were able to revive and maintain these bodies for years,” said Diwan Singh from Natural Heritage First.
Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Nobel Prize Winner for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons, mentioned in her paper ‘revisiting the commons’, that natural resources are more abused and degraded under the government control rather than under the management of common people because the government has no stake in it. The lines mentioned in her work are proving to be true.