City Waterfalls: Depleting Water Tables of New Delhi

Qazi Zaid

New Delhi, Oct 18: Delhi’s ground water is rapidly depleting and water tables falling to extreme lows. This important resource is being drained to exhaustion and things are only getting worse with passing time.  Delhi and National Capital Region (NCR) extract almost double the amount of groundwater than is recharged every year. This should ring the alarm bells loud for cities which largely depend on groundwater.

South and West Delhi and some adjoining areas are the worst hit, where the water tables have dropped as much as 10 meters to 20 meters in the past 10 years only. This badly hit area totals up to 264 square kilometers.

The falling water table is not the only bad news for Delhi. The quality of groundwater is also worsening. Fresh groundwater is available at depths ranging from 30m to 70m, below which water is brackish or saline.In a little better position than this, there are also some areas where division between fresh and saline water is at shallower depths of 20m to 25m.

Syed Azher, 32, a resident of Lajpat Nagar said, “I have been living here since 12 years. I use ground water in my house and its turning more and more saline each year. Two years back we had an extreme condition where the water started burning our eyes when we washed. It formed salt depositions in the overhead tank, so we bored the well deeper by 20 feet, now even at a depth of 120 feet we are getting saline water.”

Data compiled by the Central Groundwater Board of the Ministry of Water Resources shows there is no let-up. In 1983, fresh groundwater was available at a depth of 10m. By 2011 it had fallen to 40 meters, with the period between 2002 and 2011 registering the most precipitous drop of 8.75 meters.

Graphic: Designed by Qazi Zaid

“Water tables in urban areas are declining because of the reduction in recharge areas as a result of the construction of roads, buildings and pavements. The quality of water is deteriorating due to the mixing of sewerage water through unlined open drains, leakage from cesspits and septic drainage tanks, and contamination from industrial wastes,” said Sushil Gupta, chairman of CGWB, in a public dialogue held in Delhi in February

Delhi’s immediate neighbors are facing a similar situation. In the neighboring city of Faridabad, ground water fell at an average of 15 meters (approx) in the past decade. But, the situation in other cities is not as bad as the Delhi region. While the fall in Greater Mumbai was 6.77m during the same period water tables went up marginally in Chennai, Bangalore, Agra and Ahmedabad,

Recent studies by Dr Soni of Jamia Millia Islamia have shown that floodplains aquifer recharges even in absence of rain recharge and monsoon flows. It was found that recharge takes place from the river in response to pumping and from redistribution from river banks. This means that even large-scale withdrawal of water from floodplains may not be ecologically damaging provided it is scientifically managed.

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Sewage Issues of Batla House go Unresolved: Residents Claim Neglect

A Local Resident Walks past an open sewer in Batla House - Photo by Qazi Zaid, New Delhi,13 Aug 2013

A Local Resident Walks past an open sewer in Batla House – Photo by Qazi Zaid, New Delhi,13 Aug 2013

For the second time this month, Akhtari Beghum, a resident of Batla House, had to go to the nearby Abidin Medical Center after her son Rehaan complained of stomach ache. The doctor prescribed medicines for stomach infection. Only a week back the same medicines had been prescribed. The infection had barely gone away before it came back much fiercer. There are many more Akhtari Beghum’s and Rehaan’s in the Batla House area of New Delhi.

According to Dr. Maroof who is a general practitioner in the area, many cases of patients, with diseases which are water borne, are reported on a regular basis. “We do not have the capability to treat people with serious diseases here, we refer them to the holy family hospital” Dr. Maroof said. The problem of contamination of drinking water is arising due to bad sewerage in the area. The water from the sewage pipes overflows due to high load and regular blockage in these pipes. Water starts oozing out into the roads and often gets mixed with the drinking water as both pipes are often laid close to each other.

Leaking Sewage Water On the Roads - Photo by Qazi Zaid, New Delhi,13 Aug 2013

Leaking Sewage Water On the Roads – Photo by Qazi Zaid, New Delhi,13 Aug 2013

Rafi Khan, a resident of the area and a member of the Khalilullah Residents Welfare Association (KRWA) says that the pipes have been laid out more than ten years back, according to the requirements of that time, today the population of the area has greatly increased and the pipes do not have the capacity to drain out all the water. In the times of rain the troubles are only multiplied. [ Nayeem Sahab jo KRWA ke president hain, unhone bohat complaints darj kii hain lekin koi kuch nahi karta ] “Nayeem sahab who is the president of KRWA has filed many complaints but no one does anything about it”, said Rafi Khan. He added that the problem cannot be solved by the residents by contributing money, but should be resolved by the authorities whose job is to provide basic facilities to the people.

Apart from mixing of the sewage and drinking water, at many places the Drainage pipes lay open and are a breeding ground for mosquitoes and diseases, adding to the woes of the residents. At many places the water seeps into underground electric pipes and poses a threat of electrocution to anyone who steps into the water. The local Congress Councillor Shoaeb Danish said that problem was not with the administration as Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and Delhi Jal board were well aware of the problem, but cannot act since parts of the area are not fully authorized yet.

In 2010, Archeological Survey of India (ASI) informed the ministry of Urban Development, Government of Delhi about its decision to provide a No Objection certificate (NOC) to 13 adjacent colonies. But the area of Batla House could not get an NOC because land survey of this colony was found impossible by the concerned authorities. A “Total Station Method” which is a way of aerial survey had been ordered. The survey is now complete and funds allocated but the development work still remains halted.