Water Mafia of Delhi by Aman Sethi

Down by the sandy banks of the Yamuna River, the men must work quickly. At a little past 12 a.m. one humid night in May, they pull back the black plastic tarp covering three boreholes sunk deep in the ground along the waterway that traces Delhi’s eastern edge. From a shack a few feet away, they then drag thick hoses toward a queue of 20-odd tanker trucks idling quietly with their headlights turned off. The men work in a team: While one man fits a hose’s mouth over a borehole, another clambers atop a truck at the front of the line and shoves the tube’s opposite end into the empty steel cistern attached to the vehicle’s creaky frame.

“On kar!” someone shouts in Hinglish into the darkness; almost instantly, his orders to “switch it on” are obeyed. Diesel generators, housed in nearby sheds, begin to thrum. Submersible pumps, installed in the borehole’s shafts, drone as they disgorge thousands of gallons of groundwater from deep in the earth. The liquid gushes through the hoses and into the trucks’ tanks.

Within 15 minutes, the 2,642-gallon (10,000-liter) containers on the first three rigs are full. The pumps are switched off briefly as drivers move their now-heavy trucks forward and another trio takes their place. The routine is repeated again and again through the night until every tanker is brimming with water.

The full trucks don’t wait around. As the hose team continues its work, drivers nose down a rutted dirt path until they reach a nearby highway. There, they turn on their lights and pick up speed, rushing to sell their bounty. They go to factories and hospitals, malls and hotels, apartments and hutments across this city of 25 million.

Everything about this business is illegal: the boreholes dug without permission, the trucks operating without permits, the water sold without testing or treatment. “Water work is night work,” says a middle-aged neighbor who rents a house near the covert pumping station and requested anonymity. “Bosses arrange buyers, labor fills tankers, the police look the other way, and the muscle makes sure that no one says nothing to nobody.” Tonight, that muscle—burly, bearded, and in tight-fitting T-shirts—has little to do: Sitting near the trucks, the men are absorbed in a game of cards. At dawn, the crew switches off the generators, stows the hoses in the shack from which they came, and places the tarp back over the boreholes. Few traces of the night’s frenetic activity remain.

Teams like this one are ubiquitous in Delhi, where the official water supply falls short of the city’s needs by at least 207 million gallons each day, according to a 2013 audit by the office of the Indian comptroller and auditor general. A quarter of Delhi’s households live without a piped-water connection; most of the rest receive water for only a few hours each day. So residents have come to rely on private truck owners—the most visible strands of a dispersed web of city councilors, farmers, real estate agents, and fixers who source millions of gallons of water each day from illicit boreholes, as well as the city’s leaky pipe network, and sell the liquid for profit.


A man fills a tanker while another drills a borehole at an illegal water-filling point in Delhi.
The entrenched system has a local moniker: the water-tanker mafia. Although the exact number of boreholes created by this network is unknown, in 2001 the figure in Delhi stood at roughly 200,000, according to a government report, while the 2013 audit found that the city loses 60 percent of its water supply to leakages, theft, and a failure to collect revenue. The mafia defends its work as a community service, but there is a much darker picture of Delhi’s subversive water industry: one of a thriving black market populated by small-time freelance agents who are exploiting a fast-depleting common resource and in turn threatening India’s long-term water security.

Groundwater accounts for 85 percent of India’s drinking-water supply, according to a 2010 World Bank report. The country continues to urbanize, however, and a little more than half its territory is now severely water-stressed; more than 100 million Indians live in places with critically polluted water sources, according to India Water Tool 2.0, a local mapping platform. The tanker mafia is only worsening this problem. In 2014, the government reported that nearly three-fourths of Delhi’s underground aquifers were “over-exploited.” This means that boreholes must go deeper and deeper to find water, making it increasingly likely that hoses are sucking up liquid laced with dangerous contaminants. In 2012, the country’s Water Resources Ministry found excess fluoride, iron, and even arsenic in groundwater pockets.

Yet the mafia continues to thrive as the local demand balloons. When boreholes dry up and more drilling leads to nothing, pumping crews just look farther afield, toward or even past Delhi’s borders. This has created a vast extraction zone, where the thirsty metropolis gives way to a parched hinterland. And recognizing a business model that works, the mafia is putting down roots or spawning copycats in other cities and towns.

The government has made some efforts to stop illegal water pumping and sales, but to no avail. Despite what its name suggests, the mafia is not a unified, organized syndicate and thus cannot be eliminated by catching and punishing a few big players. Rather, it is loose, nimble, and adaptable; it routinely outsmarts the authorities whom it isn’t already bribing to allow it to do its work.

The real answer to the tanker mafia is better infrastructure: a correction to several decades’ worth of inequitable development in which public utilities were built for the benefit of the elite, leaving millions of poor to fend for themselves. But the city’s long-neglected and corrupted water system, managed by an agency known as the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), is near the point of collapse. Projections for needed improvements indicate a dauntingly long and expensive process.

It may be too late to cut the mafia off at the knees, much less provide millions of residents with the water they need to survive. Delhi thus offers a painful warning to other countries where water mafias have sprouted up: Bangladesh, Honduras, and Ecuador, to name just a few. “More than anyone else, the DJB and the Delhi government [have been] responsible for the rise of the water mafia,” says Dinesh Mohaniya, a member of the Delhi Legislative Assembly who represents Sangam Vihar, one of Delhi’s poorest neighborhoods, that is a hub for water tankers. “If they had supplied piped water to everyone, why would anyone pay the mafia?” more  

View all 14 comments Below 14 comments
Mammography of every female after 33 years of age should be done free of cost by all medical institutions regularly on year to year basis to detect and prevent / cure the cancer at the earliest possible. Likewise, ultrasound of every female should be done free of cost by all medical institutions after the age of 45 years to detect fibroids / risoli to avoid removal of breasts, uterus, ovary etc. and recurrence of the same as the delays can result in to developing cancer in chest, uterus and ovary etc. more  
I as District Chairman, Lions Club International, District 323 A3, have suggested to Modiji and Kejriwal Government to teach people Art & Science of Self Healing, uploaded over 100 videos on You Tube, or on our Club website www.lionsactiontv.com, so that people can treat themselves for various Health problems at practically no cost. Lets join hands to improve the living conditions in the country for our future generations. more  
I agree with Pradeep Singh Tandon. There are black sheeps in every Party. If like minded leaders work for the National welfare forgetting about party politics our Nation can shine out.
But every one has his EGO. more  
I fully support AAP. and hope Modi and Kejriwal can work together to make India a better place to live in. more  
DEAR MR ANANTHA RAMAN,
SIR I UNDERSTAND YR FRUSTRATION(MODI:2002,USA:NO VISA, DELHI LOVES MODI:00*3/70, & NOW NT A WORD 2 DEFEND BETI BACHAO SUSHMA-VASUDHARA/ROBERT VADRA2-SMRITI WITH ADDING BONUS POINT EVERY DAY 2 HIS CREDIT: SC-CBI PROBE MUST FOR VYAMPGATE CORRUPTION(OF HIGHEST MAGNITUDE SINCE INDEPENDENCE SURPASSING COALGATE, 2G, CWG & ALL) AGAINST MODI'S STRONG WISHES. WHICH THE WHOLE COUNTRY IS WITNESSING.
(Indian authorities have been called on by the head of a UN agency mandated to defend freedom of expression to investigate the mysterious death of TV reporter Akshay Singh while covering the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh, saying crimes against journalists must not go unpunished.


The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova has called on the Indian authorities to investigate thoroughly the death of reporter Akshay Singh in Madhya Pradesh on July 4.

“I express my condolences to Akshay Singh’s family, friends and colleagues and urge the authorities to investigate his death,” the Director-General said.

“It is essential for rule of law and for society’s right to be kept informed, that the authorities do all they can to clarify the cause of Singh's death. Reporters must be able to carry out their professional duties in a safe environment and crimes against them must not go unpunished”, Bokova concluded.)

BJP HAS NT THE GUTS 2 UTTER A SINGLE WORD 2 DEFEND THEIR CORRUPT LEADERS.

THE CORRUPT LG DID NOT ALLOW INVESTIGATION OF 200 CRORE SCAM IN RESPECT TO CNG BUSES IN SHEILA DIXIT'S TENURE, WHICH IS ON RECORD & LG DID NOT REBUT IT, WHEN AAP PARTY INITIATED TO OPEN THIS INVESTIGATION AGAIN.
SIR, U WANT AAP GOVT FOR TOTAL SELL OUT OF THE FAITH BESTOWED BY 1.25 CRORE PEOPLES(67/70) OF DELHI TO THIS CORRUPT LG REPRESENTING MODI.

EVEN NOW, SURVEY SHOWS FAITH TO AK/AAP HAS INCREASED FURTHER, ON THE CONTRARY MODI'S SUPPORT GRAPH DECLINING SHARPLY.
THE WHOLE COUNTRY IS APPRECIATING THE UNIQUE & HISTORICAL MAIDEN BUDGET & ON DELIVERIES OF AAP GOVT SO FAR, IN-SPITE OF MODI'S ALL OUT EFFORT TO FAIL/SABOTAGE FUNCTIONING OF AAP GOVT.
SIR, YR FRUSTRATION(67/70, 00*3/70 & 000*/70) CANNOT BE REVERSED & U HAVE 2 LIVE WITH IT 4 AT LEAST 4YRS 8 MONTHS IF NT MORE.
ONE MAN CANNOT CHANGE THE IMAGE OF AK/AAP BUILT WITH STRONG BONDS, IN HEARTS OF 1.25 CRORE OF DELHITIES, BY FINDING TO AK/AAP.

SIR I AM CITING ONE SOLITARY FACT ABOUT INCREASE OF AK POPULARITY OVER LAST 4 MONTHS 2 PROVE YR IMPRESSION OF AK/AAP TOTALLY WRONG & BIASED ....:


AAP gets donations of over Rs 6.5 lakh after Arvind Kejriwal’s public appeal
Kejriwal's public appeal had a visible impact if one were to go by the figures released by AAP, as donations crossed the one lakh barrier after nearly two months.


arvind kejriwal funds, arvind kejriwal, aap funds, aap donations, kejriwal donations, aam aadmi party, delhi news, india news, aap kejriwal The spat between the LG and the Delhi CM is unfortunate. Article 239AA of the Constitution gives the NCT government powers similar to those of other state governments, with some exceptions.
After nosediving over the past few months, donations to the Aam Aadmi Party sharply rose on a day the party fielded its chief Arvind Kejriwal to make an emotional pitch to the public, with around 540 contributors today chipping in with over Rs 6.50 lakh.
Kejriwal’s public appeal had a visible impact if one were to go by the figures released by AAP, as donations crossed the one lakh barrier after nearly two months.
“The amount reached Rs 6,75,783 with 537 contributors responding to the appeal by evening,” a party functionary said.
Till on Monday, the highest figure for this month stood at Rs 28,702 which was recorded on July 1. The month’s lowest was recorded on July 11 with a paltry donation amount of Rs 709.


BUT UNLIKE MODI, HE DID NT HAVE 17 CRORES 2 SPENT ON VANRASH RALLY , & GET WASHED AWAY. more  
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