However, the Delhi Govt, too, must adopt global best practices to upgrade water treatment facilities
The Delhi Government plans to start round-the-clock water supply in the Capital very soon. However, this is more of a necessity than a luxury, as the rapidly urbanising Indian population is expected to reach 1.51 billion by 2030. The Capital alone is projected to have 39 million inhabitants by 2030, up from its current population of 29 million. In fact, according to the estimates of the United Nation's Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the city is slated to become the world's largest and most populous one as early as 2028. This will exert enormous pressure on natural resources and delivering potable water, clean air, housing infrastructure, drainage and sanitation facilities will be even more challenging than before. However, among these, supply of clean and pure drinking water seems to be the most difficult task as it is plagued by pollution and scarcity.
The Capital is supposed to be a model city for the entire nation. Be it infrastructure or maintenance of essential services like water supply, Delhi should set an example for State Capitals to follow. But unfortunately, the city is struggling hard to maintain its present water supply, courtesy, to the rising level of pollutants on one end and unexpected shortages at the other. Contamination that brought the water supply system in Delhi to a grinding halt recently was due to the excessive levels of ammonia which reached an alarming scale of 3.4 parts per million (PPM). This prompted the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), which is capable of treating only 0.9 PPM or below, to curtail the water supply for three days in a row and issue an advisory to the residents pertaining to judicious use of water. The worrying part is that ammonia levels frequently shoot up above acceptable limits in the Yamuna River.
Interestingly, this condition is no different from the recent power outage in Pakistan when our neighbour was plunged in darkness for quite a while before the supply was restored. Surely, after all these years of progress, India cannot be on a par with its failed neighbour. This is an unsettling aspect.
However, Delhi's battle with ammonia laced water is not new and the city has witnessed nearly 20 such water supply shortages in the last two years. Last year proved even worse on this account as the level of this pollutant remained above the permissible and treatable limits cumulatively for 33 days or more than a month, forcing the civic body to reduce or curtail water production at its plants at least five times.
Delhiites can blame it on Haryana, which dumps unreasonably large amounts of industrial waste in aquatic bodies that eventually cater to Delhi’s water needs. Due to the excessive untreated discharge from these industrial units, ammonia levels drastically went up to 3.4 PPM and chlorides to 112 PPM, whereas the turbidity levels, too, rose enormously. The technologically-challenged DJB, with its outdated water treatment plants, tried to remedy the situation by diluting this blackish water, but to no avail.
Consuming water polluted with ammonia can damage internal organs, lungs, the brain and cause anaemia, coughing fits, irritation in the eyes, a burning sensation and other health-related problems. The Wazirabad, Chandrawal and Okhla water treatment plants that cater to Delhi's needs are simply not equipped to treat the high level of ammonia and this means that nearly a third of the city's supply is impacted when these plants are not operating. Ironically, despite the problem not being new, no solution or remedial measures have been taken by the Delhi Government to ramp up the technical capabilities of the water treatment plants nor have there been any efforts by Haryana to bring down its ammonia effluent quotient. This problem is traceable to the cloth dyeing industries in Panipat which release industrial waste into the sewage canal. In Sonipat, this canal runs parallel with the canal carrying drinking water for Delhi. This means, even a minor break in the wall between these two canals or overflowing of the sewage canal causes the clean water to get contaminated. This has happened multiple times in the past. Despite the DJB and Delhi Government's umpteen requests to the Haryana Government to remedy the situation by concretising the wall, all pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
How long will Delhiites have to suffer due to the apathy of the neighbouring States is still unclear. Stubble burning in Punjab is adding to the city's air pollution woes while water contamination by Haryana is making life miserable for the residents of the Capital. There seems to be a lack of political will to solve these problems.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Government is left with the burden of having to clean up the water it receives. For this it must adopt the best of global practices to not only rejuvenate its natural resources but also upgrade the water treatment facilities. The Government can focus on cutting-edge technologies such as DynaSand filters that remove ammonia from water by creating favourable conditions for the bacteria in the sand filter. The Nitrification process is also a tried and tested method to remove ammonia from water.
The effects of elevated ammonia in drinking water can cause irreversible organ damage in humans. There are many measures available across the world to combat this problem, provided all Governments are determined enough to pursue these measures.
(The writer is an environmental journalist. The views expressed are personal.)
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)