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.

Data &


Hope in Hard Times: Women Surviving the System

Qazi Zaid

New Delhi, Sept 26: In the summer of 1990, the family of Akleema Begum was living on the railway tracks near Nizamuddin railway station, in New Delhi. Akleema begum’s husband was the sole breadwinner for the family. In an unfortunate accident along the railway tracks, he lost one arm and one leg. For survival, she and her children were forced by circumstances to beg from the tourists, visiting the nearby Humayun’s Tomb.

Refusing to give in to fate Akleema decided to take matters into her own hands. Today, Akleema not only takes care of her family, but also helps other women to do so. She manages an all-women-staff parking lot.

After the incident on the railway tracks that changed the family’s fate Akleema was convinced that she was on her own. At the merger of Mathura road and Lodhi road, the abandoned parking area around the Sabz Burj was seen as an opportunity by Akleema.

Previously used by the famed Kareem’s Restaurant the parking area was abandoned after one of the guards’ body was found floating in the nearby canal. Akleema started managing the parking on her own and asked for a small sum of money from the car owners in return.

While doing so, she delivered two children. India, with high numbers of infant mortality rate, the current rate at 47% (according to UNICEF), is one of the most unfavorable place for children. Akleema who belongs to the poor class of the society, is mother to 7 children.

The booming economy of India has changed the Delhi that Akleema came to 30 years back, from Agra. “Governments support businesses and efforts in entrepreneurship but that is for the rich, the government is for the rich. They won’t encourage us for setting up anything. When some rich and powerful people travel on this road we are forced to not get the cars parked by the police that day. Other days, they just take money.” said Akleema.

Now Akleema helps provide for 11 other women amongst which turf has been divided and affairs are smoothly managed. The women look after each other’s children and take turns for having lunch. Sometimes the women also work in shifts and cover up for each other in cases of need.

There are other women like Akleema. Many organizations work to help such women. Also run by a woman, ‘Arnimaal’ is a nonprofit organisation based in New Delhi and Srinagar. As one of its many goals, ‘Arnimaal’ works to empower women like Akleema through education, income generation and development of leadership training .

According to Kalpana Tikoo, head of the Arnimaal, the heightened sense that women are at risk is in part due to the increasing friction between old cultural norms and new economic realities. “It has been observed globally that whichever country or society has concentrated on women empowerment have developed much more quickly and have progressed manifold as compared to those who haven’t,” Kalpana said.

The economic boom  that has encompassed the country and changing times have brought more women out of their traditional roles in the home and into the workforce, particularly in urban areas.