Delhi’s Plan to Overcome Polluted Water Supplies

18 July 2018 Christopher Crellin, Research Assistant, Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme


Delhi, the land-locked capital of India, is facing acute water shortages that have sparked several protests in recent months. Delhi has little access to freshwater and gets its main supplies from a river controlled by neighbouring cities. This, in itself, poses several political, environmental and social risks. Delhi’s water supplies have been significantly reduced this year due to local political tensions between neighbouring cities, as well as increased levels of pollution from poorly monitored industrial activities.

Amid the current water crisis, Delhi’s government has decided to follow Singapore’s water policy, in an effort to reclaim waste water and increase the city’s water supply. The decision was made following a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Delhi and Singapore, signed in 2012. If the adoption of the Singaporean model is successful, the current water crisis will ease and the city’s water security will be improved.


The 20 million residents of Delhi require around 4,540 million litres of water per day, but only receive 3,300 million litres per day. The Yamuna River is the main source of freshwater, accounting for approximately 60 per cent of Delhi’s water needs. Groundwater sources also account for 230 million litres per day, but they are running dry due to the persistent water shortage.

A water-sharing pact was signed between the five basin states of Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh in 1994. The agreement allocated a share of the water from the Yamuna River to each of those states.

Since 1 January 2018, however, the Haryana Government has not released adequate water to Delhi, leading to a water crisis in large parts of the city. There are also concerns about the quality of the water being supplied to Delhi. High levels of ammonia have been recorded, making the water unfit to process in Delhi’s water treatment plants (WTPs). Ammonia levels were heightened due to the Haryana Government’s inability to prevent factories from polluting the Yamuna with industrial waste. The inability to process the water resulted in a 40 per cent reduction in water production at three WTPs.

Amid the water supply turmoil, Delhi initiated several projects that should increase water availability by 15 to 20 per cent in the next two years. It hopes to increase water availability by 50 per cent by 2023.

Delhi’s inspiration has come from the success of Singapore’s NEWater model. Delhi and Singapore signed a MoU in 2012 that enabled Delhi to study the feasibility of the project. The NEWater model recycles sewage water in three stages to produce drinkable water. The Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, reiterated this desire to follow Singapore’s water policy, whereby water from sewage treatment plants (STPs) will be treated to reach a high-quality level. The plan is for the water to be treated at Burari and sent to Palla, near the Delhi-Haryana border, before it is released into the water canal that services Delhi. Another two new WTPs have been approved and completion is planned for 2020.

The new WTPs are part of the Delhi Master Plan 2021. The plan was first drafted in 1962 and was revised in 1982, as the Master Plan for 2001. It was again revisited in 2007, as the Master Plan for 2021. The plan touches on various sustainable water provisions, including: dual pipe systems that separate potable and recycled water, rain water harvesting and enhanced groundwater abstraction regulations; in addition to the new WTPs.

As the WTP plan unfolds, it will inevitably increase water supply to the city and rejuvenate the Yamuna River. A by-product of the increased supply of water, is the replenishment of groundwater sources. According to Mr Kejriwal, there are plans to inject reclaimed water into the ground to maintain groundwater levels, as well as revive around 200 depleted water sources. These increased efforts will not only assist in Delhi’s continual development, but also secure much needed sources of water and increase the future water resilience of the city.

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