From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much.
Mains level : Paper 2- Jal Jeevan Mission, ensuring quality drinking water.
The competitive politics of Delhi election has brought the issue of drinking water to centre stage.
Controversy over BIS water status report
- Politicising of the report: The controversy started with the release of the BIS report for 21 major Indian cities, in keeping with the objectives of the ‘Jal Jeevan Mission’.
- The mission aims to provide safe piped water to all households by 2024.
- The fact that drinking water in Delhi was ranked the most unsafe, as the samples failed in 19 out of 28 parameters, was challenged by the Government of Delhi and the Delhi Jal Board (DJB).
- Compilation of information on the existing status: The study is scheduled to cover all districts in the country within a year. Supply of potable water obviously requires first compilation of information on the existing status
- Water as an urgent concern: The fact that water should be treated as an urgent concern for public health and the ecosystem of the country cannot be denied.
- Imperceptible threat: The threats to human health due to poor water quality, except when they appear as an epidemic, are largely imperceptible.
- This generally subjects the population to subtle health problems without its knowledge or consent.
Pollution and water crisis in India
- Pollution contributing to water crisis: India is on the throes of a severe water crisis, not only because of a gradual reduction in per capita availability of water due to a rising population but also because of rising and unchecked pollution in the country’s rivers and water bodies.
- It is a fact which is mostly overlooked in the deliberations on water resources management.
- Only 30% sewage treatment capacity in major cities: As per published estimates of the Central Pollution Control Board, the country has a treatment capacity of only about 30% of sewage generated in the major cities.
- Not to talk of other urban and rural areas where the sewage finds its way to local water bodies or rivers without treatment.
Impending water stress in the country
- NITI Aayog report: A 2018 Report of the NITI Aayog has observed that currently, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress.
- The report also states that about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.
- Demand twice the supply by 2030: The crisis is only going to get worse.
- By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people.
- High methane in Yamuna water in Delhi: For the water coming from the Yamuna released from Haryana, the DJB has to often stop the supply for a few days if the concentration of methane goes up beyond a certain level.
- This is because the tri-chloromethane that may be produced during the disinfection process is highly carcinogenic.
- The effect may surface on human health not immediately but over a period of time.
The capital’s high pollutant load and need for improvement in governance
- Contributing 50% pollutant: Delhi, which constitutes less than 1% of the total catchment of the Yamuna, contributes more than 50% of total pollutant load in the river.
- Delhi has 7,000 km of sewer line as on date, against a requirement of 24,000 km.
- The 17 sewage treatment plants being operated by the DJB are able to take care of not more than 30% of sewage treatment.
- There is no sewerage system at all for over 45% of the population in unauthorised and even regularised colonies and rural areas.
- As of now, there are 18 major drains carrying sewage, garbage and industrial effluents into the Yamuna.
- Solid waste dumping in Yamuna: It is not only the untreated sewage water and industrial effluents, but also the solid wastes and construction material discharged by individuals, companies and municipal bodies that have caused the suffocation of the Yamuna.
- Also, floodplains have been encroached upon by settlements.
- Challenge of supplying quality water: Ensuring the supply of quality drinking water is not only expensive, but it also needs improvement in governance.
- It needs technical knowledge on measurement and regulation of water quality.
- It is not the fault of the DJB or the Delhi government alone that they have not been able to ensure a 100% supply of quality water to the citizens of Delhi.
- Given the constraints they face, especially those concerning the water resources management and laws in the country.
The Jal Jeevan Mission, even if it has not been so far structured, conceptualised and funded adequately, has begun the important work of gathering information on the scale and scope of the problem and making it available in an open and transparent manner. The best outcome is that the competitive politics of the Delhi election has ensured a political debate on water quality.