SC slams Delhi government for inaction against water tanker mafia

The top court warned that it might direct the Delhi police to investigate the tanker mafia to lessen the water crisis in the city, if the Delhi government failed in its duty to take any effective action against them.
Residents fill water from a tanker amid water crisis, at the Vivekanand Camp, Chanakyapuri area, in New Delhi
Residents fill water from a tanker amid water crisis, at the Vivekanand Camp, Chanakyapuri area, in New DelhiPhoto | PTI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed its displeasure and pulled up the Delhi government for its failure to take action against the water tanker mafia, as it noted that the people of the city were facing an acute shortage of water.

A two-judge vacation bench of the top court led by Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra and Justice Prasanna Balachandra Varale asked Delhi's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government to apprise it on the steps it has taken so far to prevent wastage of water.

During the course of the hearing on Wednesday, the apex court observed that even a 10% reduction in water wastage would help mitigate the serious water shortage faced by the people in the national capital.

The top court warned that it might direct the Delhi police to investigate the tanker mafia to lessen the water crisis in the city, if the Delhi government failed in its duty to take any effective action against them.

The bench made it clear that just as transmission losses in electricity have been addressed, the wastage of water must be dealt with in a similar manner.

Asking the Delhi government to spell out in an affidavit the steps it has taken to rein in the water tanker mafia, the court posted the matter for further hearing on Thursday, June 13.

While delving the issue of water crisis of Delhi, the court asked if water is coming from Himachal Pradesh, then where is the water going in Delhi?

"Are there such significant transportation losses? There is a tanker mafia operating in Delhi, and you (Delhi government) are not taking any action. Have any FIRs been registered against the tanker mafias? Tanker mafias get water while pipelines are running dry,” the top court observed.

When senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Delhi government, said the tankers belong to the Delhi Jal Board, the bench said it had seen reports about the tanker mafia. He requested the court to see and if possible, take appropriate action, with respect to the wastage of water in Haryana and the national average against the elements which created a hindrance in water supply.

On the other hand, senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Haryana, agreeing with the bench's observation, submitting to the top court that there was more than 60% wastage of water in Delhi.

Water Minister of Delhi Atishi had filed the petition before the top court saying that the filing of “this petition has been necessitated by an acute heat wave and an issuance of a red alert in the NCT, with temperatures soaring to a record-breaking high of 52.9 degrees Celsius."

Residents fill water from a tanker amid water crisis, at the Vivekanand Camp, Chanakyapuri area, in New Delhi
Delhi water crisis: Water for them is brick fights, financial burden, daily battle

Earlier on June 1, the Supreme Court had asked the Upper Yamuna River Board to convene an emergency meeting of all the concerned stakeholder states to resolve the water crisis faced by the residents of Delhi, amidst a sweltering heatwave leading to water shortage in the National Capital.

The Delhi government's plea sought directions to the Haryana and Himachal Pradesh governments for supplying more water to the national capital keeping in view the severe water woes faced by it.

The Delhi government had made the Centre, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh as parties to the case filed by it in the top court. As per many reports, a lot of areas in Delhi including Chanakyapuri's Sanjay Camp, Geeta colony in East Delhi, Patel Nagar, various North and South Delhi parts, Mehrauli and Chhatarpur and others are facing acute water shortages. Many people in these areas failed to get even the minimum water, although they stood in queue to get at least a bucket of water. In its petition, the Delhi government said the need for water for the people of Delhi has increased amid sweltering heat and a severe heat wave.

"Delhi's need for water has increased in the scorching heat. It is everyone's responsibility to fulfil the needs of the country's capital," the petition said.

Even Delhi's AAP govt had ordered a fine of Rs 2,000 for wastage of water and formed 200 teams to enforce the penalty on those who allegedly waste water.

The temperatures in Delhi almost touched 50 degrees Celsius and people are unable to get any relief so far, as the South West monsoon is to hit Delhi not likely before June 20-25.

"Access to water is one of basic human rights; water essential for sustenance, access to water also forms essential component of guarantee of dignity and quality of life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution," the plea said.

Since Himachal Pradesh does not share a physical boundary with Delhi, this water needs to be released to national capital through Wazirabad barrage, which is located in Delhi, the AAP government said in its petition.

“Access to water is one of the basic human rights of an individual. Not only is water essential for sustenance, but access to water also forms an essential component of the guarantee of dignity and a quality of life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The current water crisis, which may only get worse given peak summers and ongoing water shortage, violates the right to a dignified and quality life of the people of the NCT of Delhi, who are unable to access even adequate clean drinking water,” the Delhi government said in its petition before the Supreme Court.

“This unprecedented surge in temperature, during the dry, arid summer, has triggered an extraordinary and excessive demand for water, which is not being met by supply from the neighboring states, thereby precipitating a full-fledged water and sanitation crisis,” the plea said.

The Kejriwal government further argued in its petition before the top court that “Due to this increased demand, which will continue till the end of June, which is when the monsoon begins in the NCT, the water levels of the Wazirabad barrage have been critically reduced, which has resulted in water shortage, putting the health and well-being of the 25 million residents of the NCT of Delhi at grave risk.”

The plea said, "The petitioner (Delhi) government has already devised a solution to meet the increased demand for water in the national capital — the State of Himachal Pradesh, Respondent No. 2, has agreed to share its surplus water with Delhi, as per a pre-existing MOU signed in 2019."

Residents fill water from a tanker amid water crisis, at the Vivekanand Camp, Chanakyapuri area, in New Delhi
Delhi water crisis: SC directs Himachal to release excess water, asks Haryana to facilitate flow

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