Above: A bandh over the Yamuna/Photo: twitter/@msisodia
Delhi and Haryana have sparred over water for long, but with bitter rivals ruling in the two states now, matters have gone from bad to worse, requiring judicial intervention
By Vipin Pubby
With temperatures soaring in the northern parts of the country, there is a corresponding increase in the requirement of potable water—and the national capital, Delhi, which depends on the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for water—has again raised its pitch for getting its share of water.
The Delhi Jal Board (DJB) which had earlier approached the Supreme Court with the plea that the shortage of water was likely to affect VVIP areas, including the prime minister’s residence, has now alleged in a separate plea before the Delhi High Court that the Haryana government has put up bandhs in the Yamuna river which are leading to impediments in the flow of the river and causing high levels of pollution.
To check the facts on the ground, the High Court appointed an independent committee.
The committee, comprising, among others, former high court judge Justice Indermeet Kaur and amicus curiae Rakesh Khanna, submitted a report which stated that Haryana had put up at least 11 bandhs across the river. The committee said the bandhs “have definitely affected the flow of water in the river Yamuna”. The committee also pointed out that apart from the bandhs, largescale sand mining was taking place in the riverbed and some of its tributaries. It said that mining activity was causing “huge environmental damage to the flora and fauna” in and around the riverbed.
The report said that Haryana had “deliberately and intentionally kept back the information regarding the details of mining site permits along the river”. Recommending the immediate removal of all the bandhs as well as keeping a check on mining, the committee said “holding back of such information shows that the state was trying to provide a cover to the activities affecting not only the flow of water, but also causing environmental pollution…”
The committee recommended that the flow of water in the Yamuna should be monitored and suggested the installation of flow meters. The suggestion was opposed by the Haryana government which sought time to file its objections to the findings of the committee.
The committee was formed after the DJB had filed an application in the High Court alleging that Haryana was not allowing the passage of clean water into the Yamuna, making the water meant for the national capital more polluted. It had expressed the apprehension that it would lead to a massive water problem in central Delhi.
It had claimed that the channel which supplies additional water to the Yamuna to dilute its pollution levels “had been blocked by Haryana”, and that the water being received at Wazirabad was unusable for treatment as it had high levels of ammonia. The application had said the water treated at Wazirabad was supplied to central Delhi where all major government offices, bungalows, and the Supreme Court and the High Court are located. The Board had pleaded that if Haryana cannot control the pollutants being discharged into the river, then it should increase the clean water being supplied into the Yamuna to dilute the pollution.
It had alleged that Haryana had blocked the DD-8 channel and had pointed out that obstructing any water channel attracted provisions under Section 431 of the IPC, which lays down the punishment, a maximum jail term of five years, for making any road, bridge or river impassable or unnavigable. It also argued that blocking of the DD-8 channel violated the orders of the Supreme Court, to ensure the Wazirabad reservoir is always kept full of water.
The Delhi High Court bench, comprising Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice AJ Bhambhani, thereafter gave the Haryana government time till July 22 to file its objections to the report but directed the state to ensure that no bandhs “are created in the river”. It directed that the state government must ensure that water was supplied to Delhi “without any hindrance”. It asked Haryana to remove the bandhs immediately and also to take action against those responsible for putting up obstructions in the flow of the river.
The court took cognisance of the alleged precondition by the Haryana government that it would release water only if the DJB withdraws all its cases regarding the issue before the courts. It disapproved of the “conduct” of Haryana in placing preconditions for release of water. As per an earlier undertaking given by Haryana, it is supposed to release 719 cusecs of water every day into the Munak Canal and 300 cusecs of water per day in the Delhi Sub Branch Canal. The undertaking was given before the court in 2014.
Haryana had earlier said that out of the 1,000-million-gallons-per-day (MGD) water requirement of the capital, 500 MGD good quality raw water is supplied by it through canals and 440 MGD is sourced from the Ganga river and tubewells. It had contended that only the remaining 60 MGD water, which is sourced directly from the Yamuna, contained high levels of ammonia. Thus Delhi was the largest contributor of pollution in the Yamuna, it had contended.
It had recommended that Delhi should take urgent steps to reduce its losses which are alleged to be 10 percent during treatment and 30 percent post-treatment. It had contended that some losses during treatment are inevitable, “but losses to the extent as projected by the DJB are unpardonable and can even be termed as criminal wastage of precious raw water”.
The Delhi and Haryana governments have been crossing swords over the issue of sharing water for a long time. The issue was resolved amicably in the past due to same party governments in Haryana and Delhi over long periods. With the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi and its political rival the Bharatiya Janata Party in Haryana, the situation has worsened in the past four years.
Temperatures are likely to soar further until the monsoon arrives and matters cool down on their own.