About a km away from swanky corporate houses in Okhla Industrial area, the road turns towards a cluster of haphazardly constructed two-storey structures on one side. Heaps of garbage line the right side of the street. After every five steps, worn out plastic containers, mostly white, black and blue, are kept outside nearly every house. People living in this part of Harkesh Nagar struggle daily for water.
They fear this struggle is going to worsen in the coming months as temperature soars, groundwater level plummets and the demand-supply gap widens.
In another corner of southwest Delhi, 23-year-old Asha Devi, a resident of Sanjay Colony, a slum cluster, heads to her house, pushing a muddied 20 litre can of water with one foot. “For the last one month, we have been barely getting water supply. Water tankers are expected to come to the colony once or twice every day, in the morning and evening,” says Devi. Her 15-year-old sister stands guarding two other water containers on the main road, watching her neighbours use pipes to fill water from a Delhi Jal Board (DJB) tanker stationed in the market area.
Devi is among the few Sanjay Colony residents who managed to get water Saturday. Within 15 minutes, the tanker was nearly empty and residents returned home with empty water cans.
After the fight for water, Sunita, another resident of Sanjay Colony, says, “I could only manage to get half a can of water. I have three children, one of them is less than a year old. For four days, we have not received any water supply. Sanjay Colony does not have piped water supply, we get water only through tankers. The tankers have not been coming regularly. People are saying it is so because there is a water crisis in all parts of Delhi. We will now have to buy water again or borrow some from neighbours. But everyone needs water, and unless they have surplus supply, no one will give it to us.”
In Harkesh Nagar, it is a similar struggle for residents even though it has piped water connections. In the narrow lanes inside the colony, people gather near a tap late afternoon. “We get water once or twice in three days. People have installed taps in these lanes and we get water from here. These taps are connected directly to the pipeline, they are illegal. But what can one do?” says a resident who does not want to be named.
Some Harkesh Nagar residents complain the DJB water supply never reaches their house. “We have a water connection, but people have put booster pumps illegally and the supply does not even reach us. We have to stand near these taps every day to get water,” says Umesh Kumar. He adds that because his house is down a lane which slopes upwards, the problem is acute.
Residents claim their colony gets water for barely two hours a day, and even this supply becomes erratic in summer. “We are supposed to get water through DJB pipelines twice every day. But there has been no water supply in the last couple of days. As summers approach, the supply becomes more irregular. We will barely get water twice a week then,” says Kumar.
As a result, many Harkesh Nagar residents like Kumar make daily trips to a government institute a few km away, with cans tied to motorcycles to procure water. For drinking water, most are forced to buy bottled water. With most Harkesh Nagar residents working as contractual workers, water consumption burns holes in their pockets.
“For Rs 30 to 40, we get 20 litres of water, which we use for drinking. At times, the water that is supplied to us is of such poor quality that we cannot even use it to wash utensils or bathe. Several times a year, pipelines break and sewage gets mixed with potable water supply. We are forced to buy water for daily use,” says Shabnam, who lives in one-room house that costs Rs 3,000 per month. Her husband works as an electrician and barely makes Rs 7,000 per month. He is the sole breadwinner for the family.
Rattled by the shortage of water, residents of Okhla and Tughlaqabad areas, including Harkesh Nagar, had staged demonstrations last summer outside DJB offices, even providing samples of dirty water supplied to these areas.
In yet another part of the capital, fight for water is a perennial issue. Sangam Vihar, one of the largest colonies, faces a parched summer every year. “We do not have water to drink throughout the year. This is a colony where people have become millionaires in the past because they were part of the water tanker mafia which operates here,” says a local shop owner.
Referring to an incident last year when some residents, demanding water supply, vandalised the local Aam Aadmi Party MLA’s office, Sangam Vihar resident Mahesh Kumar says, “When summer comes, it is not just the temperature which rises; people’s tempers shoot up too. Scuffles break out on a daily basis. What can people like us do? No one can survive without water.”