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Watering Delhi’s New Year hopes

Within days of being sworn in, the Arvind Kerjiwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government has managed to keep one of its poll-time promises, announcing 700 litres of free water per day to every metered domestic connection in the national capital. This is indeed a brave step, particularly since water is a fundamental right and must be made available to the citizens as a matter of state-funded civic amenity. Hiking the water tariff by 10 per cent for consumers who do not fall in the waive-off category, Kejriwal has, in a way, effected a major shift in how we approach basic utilities, such as water and electricity, emphasising that it would cost the government Rs 40 crore for the last three months of the financial year and Rs 160 crore a year thereafter. However, what must be kept in mind is that while distributing free water up to 700 litres per day is a wonderful idea on paper, Kejriwal and his team has major hurdles in their way of implementing that. For example, the national capital, which has a population of about 150 crore, cannot make do with just 19.48 lakh water connections, of which only 15.9 lakh are metered. In large swathes of area within the NCT, particularly its affluent suburbs, people tend to use ground water instead of installing domestic meters and paying for the water. For Kejriwal, the challenge ahead is not just a complete overhaul of the incompetent Delhi Jal Board, which is responsible for water distribution in the Capital, but also ensuring that proper meters are installed across the belt, so that the government and the public knows exactly what it is dealing with. Moreover, there are a number of metered water connections which are attributed to housing societies and tend to have over hundreds of individual family units availing water from the same registered connection. The 700 litre per day facility will fail to serve the purpose in this case unless more clauses and nuances are bought in to ensure more equitable distribution of the resource.

Another big concern is water connections for the 1,642 unauthorised colonies in Delhi, which rely on ad hoc mechanisms to gain access to water, mostly expensive private tankers. Given that over a quarter of the Capital’s population doesn’t have valid water connections and of them, a big chunk tends to steal water from other registered connections, or tamper with the meter, what Kejriwal must do is bring every household under public scrutiny. Redressing water supply woes and laying down pipelines to areas which suffer from lack of supply, or those without enough ground water to draw from, is therefore also an essential aspect of what the CM should do to go about executing his potentially egalitarian new rule. Moreover, water recycling and harvesting, as Kejriwal has already mentioned, should also get adequate attention from the new government, since clean water meant for drinking should be distinguished from water that would be used for toilets and flushing down sewage from households. Moreover, the new Delhi government should also ensure that the rich, who could easily afford to pay, must pay for the facility through metered connections, and dry up the ground beneath our feet.
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