Unplanned urbanisation and spiralling population have resulted in severe water crisis in Delhi. The state-run water utility, DJB, is fighting a losing battle to plug the gap between demand and supply. Majority of the citizens depend primarily on groundwater to meet their daily requirements, as DJB’s service is inadequate and erratic. A large portion of the city is not even connected to the Boards’ supply network.
The groundwater levels in most parts of Delhi have dipped precariously. Over dependence on groundwater has also led to fluoride and nitrate contamination in many blocks. To add to this crisis, over 40 per cent of the treated water transported through DJB’s distribution system is wasted due to leaking pipes and pilferage.
The government, meanwhile, announced its plans to undertake rainwater harvesting projects to mitigate the water crisis. On June 7, 2000, the DJB and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) unveiled its programme to construct at least 150 new ponds to store rainwater.
On June 22, 2000 Vinod Kumar Jain, founder and chair of TAPAS, a New Delhi based non governmental organisation, filed a writ petition (WP) in the High Court of Delhi (HC) under the Article 226 of the Constitution of India against the Government of Delhi and the state-run water utility, Delhi Jal Board (DJB). The state authorities have failed to provide safe drinking water to all its citizens, said the litigant.
The case WP 3502 of 2000 is continuing in the court. The following are the highlights of court proceedings along with government actions.
TAPAS filed the public interest litigation (PIL) to ensure that the schemes are implemented and the people of Delhi are no longer deprived of their basis rights to receive safe and adequate supply of drinking water.
In November, the court made TAPAS and DJB jointly responsible for conducting these tests.
The court examined quality test reports based on the samples collected from various parts of Delhi and found that water is fit for drinking purposes. And thus, the matter of safe drinking water was settled.
During this hearing, the court also asked DJB to produce details of the rainwater harvesting projects that it planned to take up during 2000-2001. To ensure effective implementation of these projects, the HC sought information from MCD regarding the provisions in the building byelaws that require the owner or occupant of a building to undertake rainwater harvesting.
While responding to the court’s query, MCD clarified that no such provision existed. Although it had presented a proposal to the Ministry of Urban Development on this issue in 1999, no action was taken.
The HC issued notices to the ministry asking an explanation for delaying the process of amending the bye-laws. The HC also issued notices with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) to file an affidavit stating whether they are planning to take up rooftop water harvesting in their respective buildings. The court also asked DJB, to carry out a survey of the areas for locating the leakage in water pipes and to submit a report of the same.
The judges expressed their dissatisfaction over the inability of the Ministry of Urban Development to specify the time frame for amending the buildings by laws. DJB was fined Rs 2,500 for not submitting the report on the leaking water pipes.
The HC took up the issue of protecting the natural lakes of Delhi during this hearing. The bench observed, “We understand that natural water bodies that exist in Vasant Kunj and Prasad Nagar areas would vanish if not taken care.” The MCD was directed to submit an affidavit with regard to steps taken to protect these water bodies. As a prelude the court directed the DJB, MCD and the NDMC to collect information on the water bodies in Delhi.
The court again directed the Ministry of Urban Development to carry out the amendment in the building bye-laws expeditiously and to pro-actively publicise these bye-laws, in a bid to spread awareness among the people.
In May, the court gave directions to form a joint survey committee to assess the number of natural water bodies in Delhi. As these water bodies came under the jurisdiction of authorities such as the MCD, DDA, Railways, government of Uttar Pradesh, government of Haryana, flood control and tourism departments of the government of National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi, representatives of these bodies formed the committee. INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), a New Delhi based NGO, and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) were also included in the team. Besides, the court issued a deadline of October 31, 2001 to
the concerned authorities to relocate the slums existing near these water bodies to protect them from unregulated discharge of pollutants.
During this period, Tapas filed two rejoinders to compel the ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation to widen the scope of building bye-laws, incorporating all the buildings constructed on an area of 100-sq m. The ministry finally announced these amendments on July 28, 2001.
In August, the HC sought explanation from the concerned authorities for not conducting the joint survey of the water bodies despite of the repeated orders issued on May 31 and July 27, 2001. While clarifying their stand on the issue of rainwater harvesting, the HC observed that the buildings bye- laws have been amended and as a similar case is being heard in the Supreme Court of India, they will not issue any further directions in this matter.
Later, the joint survey committee submitted its report, identifying 508 water bodies in Delhi.
The responsibility of protecting the water bodies was delegated to the specific land owning agencies. During this hearing, court reiterated the need for protecting the water bodies. It issued orders to the union ministry of Tourism, and ASI to conserve three ponds that were identified by the petitioner, as being part of city’s historical heritage.
The joint survey committee recommended that only water bodies with an area of about 4,000-sq m should be protected based on the survey conducted during October 2001- January 2002. The committee observed that smaller water bodies do not contribute much to recharging groundwater and are difficult to maintain and hence should be ‘killed’. They recommended that water bodies, twice the size of the destroyed one, should be developed at suitable sites. TAPAS contested this report by filing a rejoinder - on the ground that it is relatively easy to recharge smaller water bodies.
In August, the court asked the land owning agencies to file a report on the feasibility of developing forty water bodies for tourism purposes with the help of INTACH. It also issued a show cause notice to PWD as to why the water body at Jahangirpuri was filled up. The bench also asked the land owning agencies as well as the MCD to prepare the map of water bodies through satellite imagery.
The HC ordered the land owning agencies to protect water bodies irrespective of their sizes. The court observed that, “Costs should not be a consideration while protecting resources like lakes.” While citing the examples from Singapore, it observed that many lakes could be protected for tourism purposes. Thus, INTACH was directed to provide a list of water bodies that can be preserved for the tourism purposes.
In December, the HC issued four directives. Firstly, the Archaeological Survey of India was asked to revive 11 water bodies that come under their jurisdiction. Secondly, while restraining the Public Works Department, the court asked it to find ways of restoring the marshes that they have filed up with flying ash. Thirdly, the concerned state authorities were asked to develop ways to revitalize Neela Kunj, a water body in Vasant Kunj. Fourthly, the court inquired about the status of the 40 ponds to be developed for tourism. The Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India, has directed the Central Ground Water Authority to prepare a report on the potential of restoring and recharging the baolis of Delhi to mitigate persisting water crisis.
In December, the RWA of Naveen Shahdara Delhi filed a PIL to restore Seelampur depression. The HC asks MCD to submit the revival plan by August 2003.
In May, DDA allotted the same wetland of a water body for the construction of Police Flats.
Concerned over the depleting ground water level in the Capital, the court had on March 31 directed the Centre, the Delhi Government, the MCD and the DDA to remove all encroachments in and around the lakes, ponds and reservoirs here and maintain them as water bodies. While issuing the direction on March 31, the court had directed the Centre, the DDA, the MCD and the Delhi Government to maintain all water bodies as lakes and ponds and see that there was no encroachment around them.
Meanwhile, the MCD filed a report before the court enlisting the actions taken by it in compliance with the court order, particularly regarding the Seelampur depression (Lake) in East Delhi. The court had also directed the MCD to draw the plan of the Seelampur depression as well as the adjoining park in consultation with the DDA and police authorities.
The Delhi High Court asked a city-based NGO to prepare a detailed action plan on how to revive the water bodies in the Capital and sought a report within three months. During the hearing of a PIL by TAPAS on the issue, a Division Bench comprising Chief Justice B. C. Patel and Mr Justice A. K. Sikri requested Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) representative Manu Bhatnagar to submit a report.
In December, an affidavit filed before the Delhi High Court, DDA had stated that while the Delhi Government had stated before the court that only 580 water bodies could be identified by it as against 794 submitted by the petitioner, Vinod Kumar Jain, the remaining 189 were non-existent and also did not find a mention in the records of various land owning agencies.
The Delhi High Court directed the government to identify 794 water bodies in the city, as contended by an NGO, Tapas, in a PIL.
So far, authorities have identified 623 water bodies. Now the court, which has appointed a committee for the task, wants the remaining 171 water bodies to be identified.
Delhi government submitted an affidavit. The Delhi government informed the Court that 103 water bodies were being maintained, 72 were in the process of getting administrative clearance and works was going on in 31.
DDA, contrary to its earlier submission made in 2000, claimed today that the 37 water bodies, which were allegedly encroached by vested interests, were never in existence and also submitted that 39 others were beyond retrieval.
The Delhi High Court directed the authority to file a fresh affidavit on the “disappearance” of more than 37 water bodies in the Capital.
A Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Vijender Jain and Mr Justice S. N. Agarwal also asked the DDA to file a reply as to why 39 other water bodies were converted into public parks or encroached upon by vested interests.
In December, the HC directed a court appointed three member committee to visit Jahangirpuri where this water body had been allotted to Delhi police by the DDA for the construction of a colony.
The Delhi HC said it would put in place a permanent mechanism by setting up a committee by a retired high court judge to take care of the water bodies and rainwater harvesting in the capital.
The Delhi government approves two housing projects in Jahangirpuri marshland.
In September, V K Jain received a RTI reply from the PWD, which denied the existence of the Mayapuri Lake and claimed that the water body was never under its jurisdiction.
In February, Jain files a PIL for the protection of the water bodies at Mayapuri and Jahangirpuri, which, the petition claims, are now under threat after the administration altered their ‘land use’.
The Delhi High Court issued notices to the Delhi Government demanding the status of the marsh areas of Jahangirpuri in North Delhi and the Mayapuri Lake. A division bench of the High Court comprising Chief Justice K P Shah and Justice Sanjeev Khanna had asked Mehta to find ways to develop the Sanjay Lake in east Delhi, which has now been completely covered with mud. The next hearing was on March 10.
In March, the Delhi High Court prohibited the State government from carrying on any further construction on two water bodies (namely Mayapuri and Jahangirpuri) in the capital.
Taking stock of the status of the marsh areas of Jahangirpuri in North Delhi and the Mayapuri Lake, a division bench comprising Justice Mukul Mudgal and Justice V S Sanghi directed a status quo be maintained by the government. On its part the government took two weeks time to place its stand before HC.
In April, the applicant sought quashing of the two orders issued by the Chief Secretary of the Delhi Government and the Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department with respect to the two water bodies.
Justices Mukul Mudgal and Vipin Sanghi stayed the order of Chief Secretary Rakesh Mehta that said ‘the marshland in Jahangirpuri cannot be termed as a water body and the same shall be considered as per the land use plan of Master Plan Delhi 2021′. The HC has given the PWD and DJB two weeks time to file an affidavit about the status of the two water bodies.
In August, the Chief Justice court refers the case to the old bench.
The judges went through the affidavit filed by DJB on the status of Jahangirpuri and Mayapuri lakes. The judges directed the petitioner lawyer and the government lawyers to again go through the INTACH report and find a solution, which can be applied to other water bodies also.
The petitioner's advocate pleaded for some more time.
In May, restoration of Neela Hauz Lake in Vasant Kunj started.
In July, Municipal Corporation of Delhi removed encroachment from a water body in Khirki village in Malviya Nagar as per court's order.
The encroachment removal drive from this water body was completed by November, 2010.
The government plans to set up “Water body Authority “to monitor the revival and restoration of the water bodies in the city.