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30 litres for some, 1,600 for others: Inequities in Delhi's water supply

By Arun Kumar Singh

An average room in a five-star hotel in Delhi consumes 1,600 litres of water every day. VIP residences consume over 30,000 litres per day. But 78% of Delhi's citizens, who live in sub-standard settlements, struggle to collect or buy 30-90 litres per capita per day

According to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), the average water requirement of a Delhi citizen is 160 litres per capita daily (lpcd). The Planning Commission has estimated the average requirement for different income groups -- 130 lpcd for lower-income groups, 150 lpcd for middle-income groups, and 200 lpcd for higher-income groups. The average comes to 160 lpcd. Let us now look at the water availability in Delhi.

Delhi, as a city, ranks highest in per capita availability of water -- about 280-300 lpcd. But the distribution of this water is extremely inequitable. According to officials, different quantities of water are provided to different settlements since their standard uses differ, and certain standards have been established in this regard. The standard for planned colonies is 225 lpcd, for resettlement colonies and urban villages it is 155 lpcd and for jhuggi-jhopdi (JJ) clusters it is only 50 lpcd.

According to a recent report, the average water consumption in a five-star hotel room is above 1,000 litres. For instance, the average consumption of water in a Hotel Taj Man Singh room is 2,000 litres a day, while at the Oberoi it is 1,120 litres per day per room. The average consumption at the Taj Hotel is 1,400 litres per room, while Janpath Hotel, including its banquet halls and restaurants, consumes around 67,000 litres per day. On an average, each room in a five-star hotel consumes 1,600 litres of water every day.

VIP residences do not lag far behind in guzzling water. For instance, the prime minister’s house at 1 Race Course Road accounts for around 73,300 litres of water per day, and the presidential residence, Rashtrapati Bhavan, consumes about 67,000 litres per day. Similarly, ministers’ residences consume 30,000-45,000 litres per day.       

The hutment clusters of southwest Delhi, on the other hand, are in a state of perpetual water crisis (see ‘The price people pay’). In 1999, Delhi had 1,100 slum clusters with an estimated population of 3.2 million. In addition, there were 1,500 unauthorised colonies with an estimated population of 3.5 million, 52 resettlement colonies with a population of 2 million and 216 urban villages with an estimated population of 0.6 million. Thus, in 1999, more than 10.3 million people -- 78% of the city’s population -- were living in sub-standard settlements. In 2001, this dropped marginally to 76%. It is this population that is worst hit as far as water supply is concerned. 

East Delhi district is home to one-third of the city’s population. This district has the highest concentration of multi-storeyed housing complexes in Delhi. Consequently, those who can afford it have installed high-powered booster pumps directly on the main transportation water lines, for personal use. The government has done virtually nothing to rectify this uneven distribution or check malpractice.

The problem in Delhi is not related to inequitable distribution alone: according to official sources, about 40% of the total water supplied in Delhi is put to wasteful use. Most important among these is water usage in industrial units: there are hardly any existing or operational mechanisms for the recovery of secondary and tertiary water, so, once water becomes industrial waste it is put out of use permanently.

There are a number of wasteful household activities too, such as washing cars, bathing dogs, etc. The upkeep and maintenance of civic water taps is pathetic practically throughout the city, resulting in substantial water loss.

The solution is not to augment water, as is being advocated by politicians, but to manage and conserve it better by increasing awareness and involving society in public-private partnerships. For example, although the per capita availability of water in the city of Copenhagen (Denmark) is 200 lpcd, the city council has fixed a target of reducing it to 110 lpcd through better management of water utilisation.

(Dr Arun Kumar Singh writes on water, globalisation and regional South Asian issues. He is the author of ‘Interlinking of Rivers in India: A Preliminary Assessment’ and ‘Privatisation of Rivers in India’. This is an excerpt from a draft paper titled ‘Delhi’s Watery Woes: A Cross-sectoral Analysis of the Multi-faceted Water Crisis in Delhi’, submitted to the Centre for Trade & Development, Delhi)

InfoChange News & Features, October 2005