SOUTH DELHI: Walking through the unauthorised lanes of Deoli (pronounced Devli) the first thing that catches one’s eye is the empty water drums of different sizes at every doorstep, and the many water tankers making the rounds of these narrow lanes.

Prakash who is a shopkeeper in his late fifties and a permanent resident here tells us, “For five days continuously the water tanker would not come. They’d take our phone number and other information but would not turn up. Most of the drums in front of the houses are empty. For one month now, the government tubewells have been blocked by the water mafia. Even the engineers from Jal Board are connected with the mafia. Often these tankers would overcharge.”

Prakash laments that a huge strain is put on their monthly budget. Other residents of the area tell us that the houses in the narrower lanes, where poorer people live, do not receive water from the tanks. Only the better-off who know the water dealers receive water in time.

Another shopkeeper who owns a small shop on the street says, “The problem of water scarcity here is hard to discount. We are troubled every single day for running water through our homes. And there’s often so little of it. Today I had to bathe with four mugs of water and clean my undergarments with one.”

As the tankers have become irregular visitors to many of the lanes, people have assigned themselves different government borewells by consensus. Those living in proximity to a canal gathered money and installed taps to access water from it, but even this water stopped coming and taps were stolen too.

The promise made by area MLA Prakash Jarwal and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal that water would be provided by Diwali, has yet to be fulfilled.

We ask two middle-aged women Amita and Nilakshi and 16-year-old Pranamika whether the residents have approached anyone for help. “There is no association or union as such. Only the MLA and mayor (South Delhi Municipal Corporation Mayor Sunita Kangra) can do something about it but they only talk rich and cater to the rich.”

They add that though their lane has a government borewell that could cater to 250 homes, the tankers fill water from these borewells and distribute it among 1000. So instead of water coming to their homes within three four days, it takes two weeks. Sometimes they have had to leave for work without taking a bath.

A few other women residents tell us there have been tussles over whose complaint resulted in the Jal Board tanker arriving. Those people get to fill more water than the others. Moreover they have to keep going to the Jal Board office and waiting for hours to make a complaint. For ten years now they have been dependent on the private and government tankers.

One of the women says “Today one tanker came at 9am and now it is 3pm but I'm still waiting for the other round.” Earlier, tankers would give them only 500-600 litres of water but now after complaints they are being given 1000 litres.

According to her this problem has persisted for 10-15 years with no improvement, and it is only during elections that the MLA comes and makes false promises to take away votes.

Residents complain they can’t even reach the distant authorities. They say they will need to take a considerable number of signatures on a petition and follow several procedures just to have their complaint reach the government.

In Deoli most of the residents must manage with packaged water bottles that cost around Rs.10-20 each. In addition they rely on government tankers that charge Rs.100-150 for 500 litres of water, which lasts no more than six days if used frugally by a family of four. The private tankers charge Rs.800-1200 for 2000 litres of water, pushing their monthly expenditure beyond Rs.5000.

They recall that government representatives had promised 700 litres of water free every day. And emphasise the discrimination whereby the tankers do not go into the interior lanes.

The biggest challenge for the people of Devli, especially the low-income families, is that a major part of their earnings is spent on water. Some areas have water supply lines but most do not.

Fourteen-year-old Priya reveals the hurdles she faces. “At school, we do not receive drinking water from the authorities. The water cooler is reserved for teachers and so the students have to fend for themselves. We manage through six hours of classes with the bottle of water we carry from home, and if that gets over we just have to bear it.”

Most women and girls here can wash their hair just once in ten days. The water they use to wash clothes is reused to clean the bathroom. Still, they can wash their clothes only once a fortnight.

Family events are managed by buying water from tankers, as the borewells in the lanes cannot handle such big arrangements. The few pipelines that are there supply water of such poor quality that it’s unusable for washing and bathing.

One resident tells us, “There is corruption involved in this Jal Board tankers supply system. Some Jal Board tankers are even labelled ‘Jal Matlab Free Sewa’ (Water Means Free Service) but they do charge us. Even after complaining about it nothing has been done so far.”

Talking with The Citizen, Deoli MLA Prakash Jarwal described the difficulties faced and the AAP government’s strategy for dealing with Deoli’s water crisis. “The residents on the lower side of the canal overuse the water, leaving little for those on the upper side.”

He said that the AAP government is searching for alternatives, as the promise of 60 borewells seems unlikely to materialise. Two of four borewells recently failed due to the very low level of groundwater here.

Jarwal added that “the government plans to instal public pipelines to provide up to 20,000 litres of water free per household per month from the Okhla Water Plant.”

These public pipelines will help to reduce water wastage as residents will be charged if they use more than this, said Jarwal. Asked about the long distances residents must travel to the Delhi Jal Board office to have a water tanker sent, Jarwal said proposals are being considered to introduce new points for water distribution that would cater to a smaller cluster of households.

But residents remain sceptical of the government's efforts to resolve the crisis. For Jyoti Sharma, president of the Delhi NGO Force, the problem is only getting worse. “When Kejriwal banned private water tankers in Delhi, it further increased the problems of the people of Devli.”

Sharma also highlighted the manner in which a lot of water gets wasted during distribution. “If local people are given the responsibility of distribution they will tend to take it seriously. This will lead to less wastage and it needs to be ensured by the government.”

She added that government borewells are a good solution but the groundwater level is inadequate for this, and sinking fast. “So, the government should build more constructed wetlands that can help in wastewater treatment and recharging groundwater.”

While the government has started creating constructed wetlands in some areas, Devli has yet to see one. Chief Minister Kejriwal has reportedly promised to resolve the issue within four months by setting up water pipelines that will get water from the Sonia Vihar water treatment plant.

Meanwhile, back in Devli the residents say they have little hope. For them, only governments, promises and declared policies have changed. For years they have been waiting for a proper supply of water.

Prakash tells The Citizen he will be forced to move out of Delhi if the water scarcity continues. “I’m not sure where I’ll move to, but I’ll go wherever there is water.”

(#TheCitizenHasRights is a series of around the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Through field reports, interviews, photo essays, histories and analysis, we discover these rights of strength and its shortcomings. The Supreme Court ruled that clean drinking water is a fundamental right of all citizens, under Article 21 of the Constitution guaranteeing right to life)