Author : Rumi Aijaz

Occasional PapersPublished on Jun 08, 2020
ballistic missiles,Defense,Doctrine,North Korea,Nuclear,PLA,SLBM,Submarines

Water supply in Delhi: Five key issues

  • Rumi Aijaz

    Massive populations in many parts of the world, including in India, continue to grapple with lack of access to clean and safe water. This paper studies the case of Delhi. It describes the conditions under which water is produced and supplied to domestic consumers in Delhi and explains the capacity of the water and sewerage agency to discharge its duties. The analysis finds challenges in five aspects related to water supply in Delhi: quantity; quality; coverage; use; and disposal. It offers recommendations for collaborative efforts and sustainable solutions to ensure that the people of Delhi are provided adequate supply of safe and clean water.


Rumi Aijaz, “Water Supply in Delhi: Five Key Issues,” ORF Occasional Paper No. 252, June 2020, Observer Research Foundation.


In Indian cities where populations are dense and resources are scarce, a gap exists between the demand and supply of essential needs, including safe and clean water. The problem is aggravated by a governance deficit.

This paper assesses and provides an overview of the state of the water production and distribution system for domestic consumers in Delhi, India’s capital city. Its scope includes understanding the ability of the concerned government agency in arranging water for the people of Delhi, and the issues related to this. Table 1 provides details of the five aspects reviewed and analysed for this study. In addition, government reform measures with respect to each of these aspects have been reviewed. The main objective of writing this paper is to flag some of the most significant challenges to ensuring adequate water supply in India’s capital city, and offer recommendations for improvement.

Table 1: Scope of Study and Data Analysed

S. No. Aspects studied Data / Information analysed
1. Quantity of raw water available

•        Demand

•        Production

•        Sources of raw water (surface sources, groundwater)

•        Groundwater depth and extraction

•        Potential raw water sources

2. Quality of water

•        Sources of contamination

•        Type of pollutants

3. Population covered by water supply

•        Method of distribution (pipelines, tankers)

•        Number of water connections and households covered

•        Frequency of supply and pressure

4. Water consumed and tariffs

•        Distribution losses and reasons

•        Accounting methods (meters)

•        Number of unmetered and non-functional connections

•        Water tariffs and tariff principles

5. Disposal of wastewater/sewage

•        Estimated wastewater generation

•        Installed capacity of wastewater treatment plants

•        Quantity of wastewater treated

•        Population covered by sewerage network

 Source: Author’s own.

Delhi’s infrastructure and services are overburdened by an increasing population. The city is surrounded by populous cities (i.e., Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Gurugram, and Noida) that have strong functional linkages with Delhi, and there is massive movement of population on a daily basis for work and other purposes. Thus, in addition to the residents of Delhi, a large daily floating population requires essential services. Population projections by the United Nations (UN) indicate that the Delhi region will surpass Tokyo region to be the world’s most populous urban agglomeration, with a population of over 37.2 million by the year 2028.[1]

Yet, the city government is lagging behind in supplying drinkable water to the citizens as well as in proper reuse of wastewater. There are several areas in the city that continue to be outside the coverage of piped water and sewerage services. Areas where services are available also exhibit problems pertaining to frequency of supply and quality. Considering these trends and challenges, it is necessary to examine the present water supply and disposal situation in Delhi, and the available options for ensuring water sufficiency in the future.

Some important sources of data and information for this study are the following: (i) Delhi Jal Board (DJB) website—; (ii) DJB Budget, 2019-20; (iii) Economic Survey of Delhi, 2018-19 and 2019-20; (iv) DJB Act, 1998; and (v) Master Plan for Delhi, 2021.

Water Situation in Delhi: An Overview

Delhi’s daily water requirement is determined taking into account the needs of the city’s permanent and floating populations, and is calculated based on people’s consumption of water for various purposes. According to the Delhi Jal[2] Board (DJB),[3] the city’s water production and supply agency, Delhi requires 172 litres per capita daily (lpcd) of water for meeting the needs of its domestic consumers (i.e., households), and another 102 lpcd for non-domestic consumers, such as industries, commercial establishments, hotels, and fire stations. Thus, the city needs a total of 274 lpcd of water every day (see Figure 1).[4] This quantity of 274 lpcd is fixed in accordance with the water supply norms[5] developed by the Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation (CPHEEO)[6] for metropolitan and mega cities.

Figure 1: Per Capita Water Requirement in Delhi

Source: Planning Department, Economic Survey of Delhi 2019-20, 230.
Notes:    (i) Figures mentioned above are in lpcd and include up to 15 percent unaccounted for water (UFW) in the case of water for domestic consumption. UFW is water produced but lost in transmission due to leakages, theft, or metering inaccuracies.
(ii) The CPHEEO manual provides that where water is supplied through public stand posts, 40 lpcd should be the norm.

Based on a per capita daily consumer requirement of 274 lpcd, Delhi’s estimated total daily water demand in 2019, for a population of about 21 million, was 1,260 million gallons per day (mgd).[7] It is projected that the demand will further increase to 1,380 mgd by 2021, for a population size of 23 million.[8]

Of the projected demand of 1,260 mgd for the year 2019, the DJB produced 937 mgd of water.[9] Thus, about 74 percent of the total demand was produced. Meanwhile, up to 66 percent of the estimated total wastewater generated was treated. The data confirms gaps in water demand and production as well as in wastewater generation and treatment (See Figure 2).

Figure 2: Gaps in Water Production and Wastewater Treatment, 2019

Source: Planning Department, Economic Survey of Delhi 2019-20, 232, 247.

The DJB obtains raw water for the production of potable water from various sources. According to available data, 91 percent of raw water is obtained from surface sources (i.e., rivers and canals) and nine percent from underground sources (See Figure 3). For production of clean water, which is safe for human consumption, water treatment and recycling plants have been established in various parts of the city.

Figure 3. Sources of Raw Water, 2019

Source: Planning Department, Economic Survey of Delhi 2019-20, 232.

The river Yamuna, a major raw water source, enters Delhi from the adjoining state of Haryana; five riparian states—Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh—have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for sharing its water, on 12 May 1994. Delhi’s other surface water sources—i.e., Bhakra storage (Himachal Pradesh), upper Ganga canal (Uttar Pradesh), and Munak canal (Haryana)—are also situated outside the city’s administrative limits. MoUs have been signed with these states, too, and pipelines have been laid to bring raw water from these sources to the treatment plants in Delhi. Thus, it is noted that Delhi relies on surrounding states for meeting much of its raw water needs.

Delhi’s Water: Key Issues

While some settlements within Delhi are designated as rural, the city is mostly urban. As per the 2011 Census of India, Delhi had a total population of 16.79 million. Of this, 97.5 percent was classified as urban, and the remaining 2.5 percent as rural. It is projected that Delhi’s population will increase to 23 million by the year 2021.[10] Delhi is however experiencing a declining trend in the decadal change in population, as its ability to absorb more growth is nearing saturation. The urban centres in adjoining states have now become the new growth centres. Moreover, with the expansion of Delhi metro rail services in neighbouring cities, and the implementation of rural employment programmes in various Indian states, it is expected that Delhi’s absolute population will grow at a slower pace.[11]

Delhi’s planning and development has been guided by various master plans, with the first one laid out in 1962. While the city’s development has mostly occurred in a planned manner, as per the Master Plan provisions, certain irregularities in development, such as extensive informal growth of built structures, have not been controlled. Thus, people are found living in different types of areas—planned colonies, resettlement colonies, unplanned colonies built without authorisation, urban villages, slums in inhabitable areas, colonies in fringe/peri-urban areas, and villages. Meeting the water and sewerage needs of a populous city like Delhi, which is complicated by the diverse settings in which people live, is a challenge for service-delivery agencies (See Figure 4 for the typical stages involved in water supply). The DJB claims that about 93 percent of Delhi’s population is covered by a 14,697 km-long piped network, and the remaining households, by water tankers.[12]

The DJB charges its domestic, industrial, and commercial consumers for the water it supplies. Domestic consumers who have installed functional water meters are not required to pay any charge for consumption up to 20 kilo litre (kl) per month. Any consumption beyond this limit is chargeable, as shown in Table 2. In case of unmetered connections, water charges are recovered on an assumed average consumption of 10 kl per month from unauthorised colonies and 25 kl per month from villages. For sewage collection and treatment, a monthly sewerage maintenance charge is levied, which is 60 percent of the charges of volumetric water consumption. An online revenue management system is in use to make the billing and payment mechanism consumer friendly and to improve collection efficiency.

Table 2: Water Tariff for Domestic Consumers

Monthly Consumption

(in kl)

Service Charge

(in INR)

Volumetric Charge*

(in INR per kl)

Up to 20 kl 146.41** 5.27
20 to 30 kl 219.62 26.36
Above 30 kl 292.82 43.93

Source: Planning Department, Economic Survey of Delhi 2019-20, 240.

Note: (i) * Volumetric charge is levied for volumetric quantity of water consumed in kl as recorded by meter, or as fixed by competent authority in case of non-functional meter; (ii) ** While consumption up to 20 kl per month is free, a fixed monthly service charge is levied for maintaining services in the locality, even if no water is consumed.

The overall projected revenue budget of DJB (comprising income—generated from water and sewerage maintenance charges, the sale of packaged water, and development charges—and operating expenditure incurred on establishment costs, electricity costs) for 2018-19 (R.E.- revised estimates) shows an income of INR 25.87 billion and an expenditure of INR 27.64 billion, implying a budgetary deficit of INR 1.77 billion. The DJB acknowledges that due to paucity of funds it will “neither be able to cover the future operating costs nor pay interest liability.”[13] The capital budget (comprising receipts—from loans, grants-in-aid, funding from central government schemes and externally aided projects—and expenditure on construction of water and sewerage infrastructure) shows that of the total capital outlay of INR 26.26 billion for the year 2018-19 (R.E.), INR 12.71 billion is allocated for the development of water sector and INR 13.55 billion for sewerage sector.

The following paragraphs analyse the most crucial hurdles to Delhi’s goals of providing adequate and safe water for its citizens.

Insufficient raw water

As per available data, the water demand-supply gap in Delhi is 323 mgd. Delhi does not receive a sufficient amount of raw surface water from its neighbouring states, and during the summer season, these states often curtail supply, as they have their own requirements to meet. To augment supply, the Delhi government has signed an agreement with some river-basin states for constructing three upstream storage dams—i.e., Renuka in Himachal Pradesh, and Kishau and Lakhwar Vyasi in Uttarakhand—on the river Yamuna.

The availability of raw water for Delhi is also impacted by the depletion of its water table due to unrestricted and unregulated extraction.[14] In farm houses, for instance, which are situated in peri-urban[a] and other parts of the city, groundwater is used to water lawns. The extraction in farm houses and at other places by private companies is causing groundwater to decline by about 20-30 metres in several parts of Delhi. The water table is also affected by the unauthorised construction of built structures. These encroachments at inappropriate places obstruct the natural flow of rainwater to the natural depressions on the land surface and thus prevent groundwater from being adequately recharged. To prevent exploitation, the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) is looking into the matter of regulating the number of tube wells commissioned in Delhi. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has also proposed levying an environmental compensation charge, ranging between INR 10,000 and INR 100,000, on households, institutions, and commercial and industrial units engaged in illegal extraction.[15] The DJB is also taking steps to redevelop tube wells, rejuvenate existing water bodies and create new ones, deepen lakes, and construct a check dam at Asola. Potential sources within Delhi for extraction of groundwater are the Yamuna floodplains downstream of Wazirabad and the area near Najafgarh lake. Thus, reservoirs have been created—in the stretch lying between Yamuna riverbank and the bunds—for storing seasonal precipitation.

Efforts are also being made to recycle wastewater and harvest rainwater. However, presently, the contribution from these two sources is insignificant due to less number of wastewater treatment and rainwater harvesting plants, and inadequate infrastructure required for this purpose. Rainwater harvesting (RWH) from rooftop of all Delhi government buildings and private buildings over an area of 100 sq m and above has been made mandatory. About 368 installations of the DJB and 3,595 schools/colleges,[16] and a few private housing societies in the city have installed RWH systems. Such building premises are granted a 10 percent rebate in the total bill amount, while a penalty of enhanced tariff by 1.5 times is applicable on consumers not complying with this provision. DJB has also installed RWH systems in many of its premises.

Poor Quality

All water agencies treat raw water at water treatment plants (WTPs) before supplying water to consumers. To ensure quality, samples of this treated water are regularly checked in government laboratories as well as through independent agencies. The DJB has constituted a quality control wing and established nine plant laboratories and eight zonal laboratories for this purpose. Additionally, at the level of planned private colonies, water chlorination method is used in underground/overhead water tanks to kill bacteria and other microbes in water. Despite these efforts, and though the Delhi government claims to provide 100-percent safe tap water, there are concerns over the quality.[17]

The decline in quality of raw water sources plays a part in these assessments. In the case of surface sources (such as rivers and canals), many industrial units in Haryana have been found releasing untreated effluents in the river Yamuna.[18] Such violations are a worry for the Delhi government as the same water then flows to Delhi. In Delhi, too, several drains discharge untreated sewage in the Yamuna. This issue is being addressed by laying interceptor sewers below the bed level of drains, which will transfer sewage to existing sewage treatment plants and thus prevent untreated sewage from flowing into drains. Pollution caused by high levels of ammonia in raw water is being prevented by creating a separate connection from western Yamuna canal to the Wazirabad WTP. The dumping of garbage in the river, a common practice by households in slums and unauthorised colonies situated along the river course, also has numerous adverse impacts on the quality of raw water.

With regard to groundwater sources, it is noted that groundwater salinity is increasing, and the fluoride, nitrate and arsenic levels are found to be higher than the limits prescribed by the Bureau of Indian Standards.[19] According to data presented in parliament by the Union Minister for Jal Shakti, Shri Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, salinity (measured by electrical conductivity), was above the prescribed limit of 3,000 micro mhos per centimeter; fluoride, nitrate and arsenic above 1.5, 45, and 0.01 milligrams per litre, respectively.[20] Consumption of water with toxic substances in excessive amounts has adverse effects on teeth, bones, skin, digestion, and blood flow.[21] The penetration of contaminants during the water production and supply process is also a common problem; treated water is often contaminated due to leakages in pipelines, especially where the lines run in parallel to the sewer lines that have also lost their integrity. At such places, old pipelines are being replaced with new ones. In view of above-mentioned quality concerns, a very high number of people living in Indian cities including Delhi use some type of water purifying system. The health of poor people, who use the polluted river water for various purposes, is the worst impacted.

Inequitable distribution

Delhi is far from meeting the DJB’s goal of providing round-the-clock water supply to all consumers. Not all households in three planned colonies—i.e., Westend in Vasant Vihar, and Geetanjali and Nav Jeevan Vihar in Malviya Nagar—receive 24 hours of piped water supply under a public-private partnership  pilot project launched in 2013.[22],[23] The remaining areas receive about two to four hours of water supply, once or twice a day.[24] In the summer season, when the demand for water goes higher and more water is consumed, the situation worsens as the supply becomes intermittent and pressure with which water is received in the pipeline falls considerably. This leads to other issues: according to the CPHEEO, an irregular supply of water is susceptible to contamination. Additionally, due to low water pressure, residents are forced to use electric pumps to pull water directly from the pipeline and to lift water from the ground floor to the storage tanks on the top floor. This causes additional electricity costs, and it would be interesting to study the impact on Delhi residents of such additional expense. At times, people also forget to switch off the pumps, which results in overflowing water storage tanks and water wastage.

The situation is the worst in areas without piped supply (such as in several unauthorised colonies and slums), where it is an everyday struggle to collect water, which adversely impacts the livelihood of poor households. The haphazard growth of built structures and dense construction in unauthorised colonies and slums creates problems in laying down water infrastructure in these areas, and water is provided by tankers. Although the DJB had provided over 2.6 million water connections as of 1 April 2018,[25] almost 17 percent of households had no access to tap water within their premises in 2018.[26] The DJB is taking several steps to improve distribution. (See Box 1)

Box 1: DJB initiatives to improve water distribution
  • Construction of new WTPs and rehabilitating some of the older plants, with support from Japan International Cooperation Agency and Asian Development Bank;
  • Construction of new underground reservoirs (UGR) with booster pumping stations;
  • Laying down of new pipelines (355 km);
  • Laying down of new pipelines in 140 unauthorised colonies (water supply network has been laid in a total of 1,565 unauthorised colonies);
  • Replacement of old pipelines with new ones (108 km);
  • Provision of water ATMs in metro stations, public amenities centres, and other public places (at 60 different locations);
  • Provision of packaged drinking water through the newly launched ‘JAL’ project;
  • Increase in the number of water tankers and improving efficiency in their movement by monitoring through GPS; and
  • Collaboration with private companies and international experts

Source: Planning Department, Economic Survey of Delhi 2019-20; Delhi Jal Board, Budget 2019-20. 


Despite concerns over inadequate availability of raw water, wastage continues to occur in a variety of ways. The DJB has estimated water distribution losses of up to 40 percent of total water supplied.[27] A proportion of the treated water is lost during transmission due to leakages in pipelines. At some places, illegal tapping from pipelines is an issue. Misuse of water by the tanker mafia is yet another problem. In the summer season, adequate water from pipelines is not received. Besides, many households in unauthorised colonies are not yet provided a piped supply of water by the DJB. In such situations, people are left with no option but to resort to alternative measures to obtain water, such as from government and private water tankers. The experience of collecting water from tankers has not been good for many people, as the tanker operators demand high charges for supplying water. In this process, many poor households are left out because they are unable to afford such payments.[28],[29]

Further, due to non-availability of non-potable water, many households/institutions use treated water for purposes other than drinking such as watering plants/horticulture, washing cars, buses and driveways, filling of water coolers, flushing of toilets, and cooling power plants; it is estimated that about 40 percent of the water supplied to households (domestic) is used for non-potable purposes.[30] In addition, people waste a lot of water during use. According to a DJB estimate, the use of RO systems for water purification causes wastage of 40-60 percent of water used.[31] In the RO water purification process, the water with impurities is filtered out. The rejected water is not considered fit for drinking or bathing. According to an estimate, “an average RO purifier wastes approximately 3 litres of water for every 1 litre of purified water.”[32]

The problem of leakages is being addressed by replacing old pipelines with new ones as well as by fixing leakages. According to the DJB, problems of illegal tapping and tanker mafia have been controlled. Water accounting and auditing measures—which help in determining the occurrence of water loss during production and transmission—are being strengthened to keep record of the quantity of raw water available, produced/treated, stored, and supplied. To reduce water losses in the network, number of metered connections are being increased, meters are being installed at various points in the production and distribution process, flow water meters from source raw water inlets (such as WTPs, UGRs) are being installed, and district metering technique (i.e., partitioning a distribution network into smaller portions) is being used.

The major deficiency in this regard is that a sizeable number of unmetered connections still exist, and many meters are defective or non-functional. Of the total 2.6 million connections sanctioned up to April 1, 2018, 13 percent do not have functional meters, and 3.5 percent active connections are unmetered. The agency is also promoting the use of treated effluents for meeting non-potable water needs. Financial reforms have played an important role in preventing water wastage. The most significant measure in this regard is the rationalisation of water tariff, which is based on the principle of “use more pay more.” While 20 kl per month of free water supply has been allowed to consumers having functional meters, the price of chargeable water has been increased by 10 percent.

Wastewater handling irregularities

Almost 80 percent (720 mgd) of water supplied to consumers goes down the drain after use, as wastewater. So that it does not cause harm to living beings and the environment, wastewater generated at various premises needs to be transferred safely through underground sewers, and then treated before it is reused for potable/non-potable purposes, disposed in surface water bodies, or used to recharge groundwater. In Delhi, there are many deficiencies in the handling of wastewater.

While the DJB has taken steps to introduce mechanised sewer cleaning machines, there have been cases of workers who died or sustained injuries after inhaling toxic fumes while cleaning sewer lines manually.[33] Moreover, there are many areas in the city that lack sewerage connections. The present sewerage network of Delhi (over 8,400 km long) covers all planned colonies, 557 unauthorised regularised colonies, 384 unauthorised colonies, 130 urban villages, 54 rural villages, and 44 resettlement colonies.[34] This still covers only about 78 percent of the city’s population, and therefore the DJB—which is also responsible for collecting, treating, and disposing wastewater and sewage—is attempting to extend the network to cover all areas.

Moreover, the 35 wastewater treatment plants in the city, situated at 20 different locations, have a total operational capacity of 607 mgd. It is noted (see Figure 2) that of the estimated 720 mgd wastewater generated, only 473 mgd (or 66 percent) is being treated (about 89 mgd of treated wastewater is supplied to various agencies, like the Central Public Works Department, the New Delhi Municipal Council, and the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, for non-potable purposes). Thus, there is a huge gap in the generation and treatment of wastewater, which results in the discharge of untreated wastewater into the Yamuna. This gap is due to blockages[35] in sewers, silting, low flow of sewage to Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs), disconnected trunk and peripheral lines, old and deteriorated sewers and un-sewered areas.  As mentioned above, interceptor sewers are being laid along major drains for trapping sewage. The agency is also rehabilitating old and damaged sewer lines and wastewater treatment plants, de-silting sewers, and setting up additional wastewater (sewage) treatment and recycling plants to cover the entire city, which will enhance the treatment capacity.

Towards Water for All: Recommendations

This section outlines the most important findings emerging from this analysis and offers specific recommendations to overcome the problems in Delhi’s water supply.

Figure 5: Water and Sanitation Issues in Delhi

Source: Author’s own.
  • The study of the water situation in Delhi reveals a shortage of raw water. To meet the future demand for water, the DJB needs to expedite the process of arranging more raw water for production. Delhi meets the majority of its raw water needs from surface water sources (i.e., rivers and canals) situated in surrounding states, and this dependence on external surface sources will continue as the city does not have sufficient surface/groundwater within its territory. Thus, the possibility needs to be explored for obtaining more raw water from the rivers flowing closest to Delhi (such as Yamuna, Ganga, Satluj, Beas, Ravi) in states—like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh—that have water in abundance. The quantities to be obtained from the states need to be worked out after considering future water demand and present deficiencies in the water supply system, such as water losses due to leakages.
  • More efforts need to be made to protect and improve the capacities of existing and potential sources of water within Delhi. Groundwater levels are low (up to 64 metres below the surface) in many parts of the city due to illegal/uncontrolled extraction[36] and the unauthorised construction of buildings, which hinders adequate recharge of groundwater levels. Furthermore, there are reports about contamination of groundwater in parts of Delhi.[37] Thus, appropriate steps—such as regulating the use of groundwater, granting licences to eligible consumers, registering tube wells and bore wells, demolishing illegally constructed buildings to improve surface runoff, and taking legal action against groundwater polluters—are needed to prevent the occurrence of such problems. In order to promote the natural recharge of groundwater, it is also necessary to conserve and rejuvenate lakes, natural depressions, and step-wells (or baolis). Such water storage bodies should be protected from silting, encroachments, and garbage disposal.
  • RWH can also help in recharging groundwater, besides being an effective method for collecting and storing rainwater for future use. Though Delhi receives over 600 mm of average rainfall in a year, very little is utilised and harvested. Despite RWH being made mandatory for private buildings and housing societies (having over 100 sq m area), only 1,254 establishments of the 15,706 such units registered with DJB have installed RWH systems.[38] This slow progress is due to weak enforcement of policy, coupled with the consumers’ lack of interest in such measures, as perhaps they remain largely unaffected. Further, structural deficiencies in some buildings, such as a lack of vacant space for building rainwater tanks or pits, and the high costs (over INR 100,000 for small units and the maintenance of pits) and time needed to install RWH systems deter implementation. Given these conditions, it is suggested that in addition to pursuing an increase in the number of RWH systems installed in private societies, the DJB could identify potential areas in the city where RWH structures could be installed to harvest rainwater falling on roads, flyovers, water-logged areas, and open spaces. This method has been in use since 2005 in Coimbatore, where groundwater levels have risen.[39] More studies are also needed to estimate the city’s full RWH potential, i.e., how much water can be stored during the monsoon season every year for use, particularly during the peak summer season when the demand is phenomenally high.
  • Waste/drain water treatment and recycling is an effective way to increase water availability and reduce dependence on surface and groundwater sources. This, however, requires laying down infrastructure such as dual piping network in buildings for separate supply of potable and non-potable water, sewer lines, and treatment plants. According to current data from Delhi, as much as 34 percent of waste/drain water generated by consumers remains untreated. Moreover, large quantities of untreated wastewater are discharged in drains that empty into river Yamuna and other surface water bodies. One reason for this is that the operational capacity of existing wastewater treatment plants fails to match the quantities of wastewater generated. Also, several areas of the city inhabited by low-income communities are un-sewered. Such sewerage-related deficiencies need to be urgently addressed. Mechanical cleaning of all sewer lines, expansion of sewerage networks, increasing the capacity of sewage treatment plants, recycling wastewater for other uses, and low-cost sanitation systems in un-sewered areas are urgent requirements. In this regard, in addition to the DJB work underway, an ongoing initiative is an Indo-Dutch collaborative project named Local Treatment of Urban Sewage Streams for Healthy Reuse (LOTUS-HR). Once the project is operational, it is anticipated that 10,000 litres of sewage will be treated every day for reuse.[40]
  • The penetration of contaminants into surface water bodies and groundwater as well as into treated water during the water production and supply process makes water toxic. As observed in the case of Delhi, the main reasons for contamination are deficiencies in sewage collection; improper disposal of untreated sewage, industrial effluents, and garbage in surface water bodies; and pipeline leakages. Contaminated water has serious negative effects on human health, such as diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera, dysentery, and skin infections. Thus, anti-pollution measures are needed, including increased sewage treatment and solid-waste collection services, repair of cracked water and sewer pipes, and legal action against polluters.
  • About 17 percent of the population do not have access to piped water supply, and most of the remaining population only receives two to four hours of supply every day. Households without piped supply in unauthorised colonies and slums struggle the most, having to collect water from water tankers and distant sources. Thus, a pressing need is to do away with the tanker service and urgently provide potable tap water to those communities that are yet to be covered by piped network. In the slums of Pune, for example, each household has a tap connection, which allows them to conveniently utilise water. Similar initiatives, with minimal investment and participatory micro-planning, have been undertaken in places such as Vijayawada and Jabalpur, where water connection charges have been reduced and procedures streamlined.[41]
  • As much as 40 percent of the total treated water supplied by the DJB is lost due to pipeline leakages, misuse of treated water, and unmetered connections. Thus, appropriate measures are needed to prevent the loss of potable water. First, improved technologies for leak detection must be used to identify defects in the pipes and get them fixed before they begin to leak—non-invasive, ultrasonic flow meters are available, which can be attached externally to the pipe to monitor the pipeline’s parameters (such as water flow); any abnormality in the readings is an indication of a rupture in the network.[42] In India, Kerala Water Authority uses sensor-based technologies such as SmartBall and Sahara to detect leakages in water distribution pipelines. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board use helium gas-based technology, while Vadodara Municipal Corporation is experimenting with sound-based technology.[43] The DJB’s efforts to install flow meters for audit—expanding from 350 units in 2015 to over 2,000 in 2019—have probably played a role in increasing its revenues and improving the efficacy of the water distribution system.[44] Other important measures to reduce water losses would be to keep records of water quantities at every stage (from production to distribution), install dual piping in new constructions for the separate supply of potable and non-potable water, implement 100 percent metering, and raise water conservation awareness among citizens.[45]
  • The projected revenue budget of the DJB for 2018-19 (R.E.) shows a budgetary deficit of INR 1.77 billion, while the overall tentative deficit is even higher and stands at INR 6.64 billion. Increasing operational costs, payment of higher salaries,[46] and repeated sops (such as free water, waiver of arrears) offered to consumers[47] are important reasons for the present deficit. Thus, the DJB needs to avoid the practice of giving free water to consumers and instead focus on finding ways to reduce non-revenue water, i.e, “water that is pumped and then lost or unaccounted for.”[48] Experts recommend four steps in this regard: (i) acoustic leak detection; (ii) district metering analysis; (iii) pressure management; and (iv) meter tamper analysis.[49]
  • Making reliable and up to date data, on various aspects of water and sewerage, available on the DJB website is important. The DJB has done well in this regard as a lot of information is provided on its website and in its publications, such as the DJB Budget 2019-20. A few data inconsistencies and gaps, however, do need to be addressed, such as data on the quantity of water produced, uses of treated wastewater, RWH potential and quantity harvested, and the number of functional RWH units in the city. It is suggested that a template for tabulating data is formulated to maintain the latest data, which will help the water agency as well as the research community in developing a better understanding of the situation and aspects that require attention. The sources for all data used in this analysis are provided in Table 3.

Table 3: Data on Water Supply and Sewerage in Delhi

S. No. Indicator Status Year Source
A. Water Supply
1. Population of Delhi in 2011 and population projections

•   2011: 16.79 million

•   2021: 23 million

•   2028: 37.2 million (Delhi urban agglomeration)

N.A. Economic Survey of Delhi, 2018-19, page 218; Master Plan for Delhi, 2021, page 218; UN World Urbanisation Prospects, 2018 revision
2. Daily water need per person

274 lpcd

•   Domestic: 172 lpcd (includes 15 % water losses)

•   Non-domestic: 102 lpcd

2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 230
3. Water demand (projected)

•   2019: 1,260 mgd

•   2021: 1,380 mgd

2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 230; Master Plan for Delhi – 2021, page 218
4. Water produced 937 mgd 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 232
5. Water demand – supply gap 1,260 – 937 = 323 mgd 2019 N.A.
6. Raw water sources

•  Surface sources (91 %)– Yamuna River, Bhakra storage, upper Ganga canal, Munak canal

•  Ground water (9 %)

2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 232
7. Number of WTPs Data Not Available
8. Installed capacity of WTPs 911 mgd 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 230-31
9. Method of water distribution to consumers

•  Pipeline

•  Water tankers

2020 DJB Website
10. Length of water pipelines 14,697 km 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 229
11. Water tariff (based on monthly consumption by domestic consumers with functional meters)

•  Upto 20 kl – free

•  Above 20 kl – chargeable INR 219 onwards)

2018 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 240
12. Water tariff (based on monthly consumption by domestic consumers without meters) Charges recovered on an assumed average of 10 kl 2018 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 240
13. Sewer charge 60 % of charge of volumetric water consumption 2018 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 240
14. Revenue budget of DJB

•  Income: INR 25.87 billion

•  Expense: INR 27.64 billion

•  Deficit: INR 1.77 billion

2018-19 (R.E.) DJB, Budget 2019-20, page 7
15. Capital budget of DJB

•  Outlay: INR 26.26 billion

o  Water= INR 12.71 billion

o  Sewer=INR 13.55 billion

2018-19 (R.E.) DJB, Budget 2019-20, page 8
16. Frequency of piped water supply per day

•  24 hrs: few HHs in 3 colonies

•  2-4 hrs: other colonies

2019 DJB, Budget 2019-20, page 12; DJB Website
17. Number of piped water connections

•  Sanctioned: 2,603,021

•  Active: 2,255,191 (87 %)

•  Active metered: 2,172,204

•  Active unmetered: 79,491

2018 DJB Website
18. Status of piped water connections

•   Defective: 13 %

•   Unmetered: 3.5 %

2018 DJB Website
19. Households with access to tap water 83.42 % (Balance: 17 %) 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 229
20. Number of unauthorised colonies covered by piped water supply 1,565 (Balance: 13 %) 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 228
21. Water distribution loss 40 % of total water supplied 2016 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2018-19, page 237
22. Proportion of domestic water supplied used for non-potable purposes (estimated) 40 % N.A. Master Plan for Delhi – 2021, page 230
B. Sewerage
1. Wastewater/sewage generated (estimated) 720 mgd 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 247
2. Number of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) 35 2019 DJB, Budget 2019-20, page 12
3. Operational capacity of WWTPs 607 mgd 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 247
4. Wastewater treated at WWTPs 473 mgd (66 % of generation) 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 247
5. Treated wastewater/effluent supplied to agencies for non-potable purposes 89 mgd 2018 DJB, Budget 2019-20, page 13
6. Wastewater generation-treatment gap 720  – 473  = 247 mgd 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 247
7. Length of sewerage network

•   Peripheral & branch: 8400 km

•   Trunk: 200 km

2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 248
8. Population connected to sewerage network 78 % (Balance: 22 %) 2018 DJB, Budget 2019-20, page 12
9. Unauthorised colonies connected to sewer systems 384 (out of 1,639 colonies) 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 252
10. Unauthorised regularised colonies connected to sewer systems 557 (out of 567 colonies) 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 252
11. Urban villages connected to sewer systems 130 (out of 135 urban villages) 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 252
12. Villages connected to sewer systems 54 (out of 219) 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 252
13. Resettlement colonies connected to sewer systems 44 (out of 44 colonies) 2019 Economic Survey of Delhi, 2019-20, page 252

 Note: Information highlighted in the table indicates aspects requiring urgent attention.


There are existing inequalities in service availability of water in Delhi. Piped water and sewerage services are available to a large proportion of the population living in planned colonies, which allows them to utilise treated water conveniently for various potable and non-potable purposes. This population does face problems such as insufficient water availability during summer months, only a few hours of daily supply throughout the year, and inferior water quality.

The communities living in unplanned, unauthorised, and resettlement colonies, slums and villages, however, suffer the most because of Delhi’s inability to ensure adequate supply and access to water. Although piped water and sewerage networks are being expanded by the DJB to cover these communities, many such areas are yet to be covered. There is thus a serious water and sanitation crisis in the areas not covered by piped networks, with poor people suffering the most. Not having adequate potable water within their premises, especially during health emergencies such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, will make it harder for the government to protect the health of its citizens.

The Delhi government has a difficult task to put the city’s water supply and disposal system in good order. The imperative is to work with non-state entities and citizens, and apply smart and sustainable solutions for solving the many problems besetting the sector. Better grievance-redressal mechanisms also need to be created. Offering free water and waivers to citizens might help in winning elections, but such populist measures will not be beneficial in the long run.


[a] Peri-urban areas are peripheral (or fringe) areas of cities or adjoining rural areas, which are intrinsically linked with the city economy, and are characterised by a mix of rural and urban activities.

[1] “Delhi projected to become world’s most populous city around 2028: UN report”, Economic Times, May 16, 2018.

[2] Jal is a Hindi word that means water.

[3] The DJB was established under the DJB Act of 1998 to discharge functions of water supply, and sewage treatment and disposal within the National Capital Territory of Delhi. In addition to MCD areas, the DJB supplies water in bulk to the NDMC and Cantonment Board areas, and it is also responsible for the disposal of sewage in these areas.

[4] Planning Department, Economic Survey of Delhi 2019-20, (Delhi: Government of NCT of Delhi), 230.

[5] CPHEEO, Manual on Water Supply and Treatment (New Delhi: Ministry of Urban Development, 1999), 11.

[6] CPHEEO is the technical wing of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and it supports the ministry, state, and local governments on matters related to water supply and sanitation.

[7] See note 4.

[8] Delhi Development Authority, Master Plan for Delhi – 2021 (New Delhi: DDA, 2010), 218.

[9] See note 4, 232.

[10]See note 8.

[11] During 1971-81, Delhi’s population grew by 53 percent. However, from 1981 onwards the growth rates show a declining trend. The most significant decline was observed during 2001-11, when growth rates fell from 47.02 percent to 21.20 percent (Census of India, Primary Census Abstract, Data Highlights, 2011).

[12] Delhi Jal Board, Budget 2019-20 (Delhi: Government of NCT of Delhi), 9.

[13] See note 12, 6.

[14] Akshita Nagpal, “Delhi is running out of water, and it is everybody’s problem,” The Wire, June 27, 2019,

[15] “Digging deep for drinking water? You may have to shell out Rs. 10,000 as fine,” The Times of India, July 5, 2019,

[16] See note 4, 244.

[17] “Is Delhi’s water safe? City clueless as netas fight,” India Today, November 20, 2019,

[18] Ritam Halder, “Close polluting units along Yamuna, orders CPCB,” The Times of India, April 12, 2019,

[19] Bureau of Indian Standards, “Amendment No. 1 June 2015 to IS 10500 : 2012 Drinking Water – Specification (Second Revision),” (New Delhi: BIS, 2015),

[20] “Nine Delhi districts had contaminated groundwater in 2019: Jal Shakti Minister,” The Hindu, March 3, 2020,

[21] “Inadequate or excess fluoride,” WHO,

[22] “Delhi’s ambitious 24X7 water supply scheme may turn out to be pipe dream as pilot project reveals challenges,” Firstpost, June 23, 2019,×7-water-supply-scheme-may-turn-out-to-be-pipe-dream-as-pilot-project-reveals-challenges-6867251.html.

[23] Non-revenue water has been reduced by 15-20 percent under the three projects.

[24] Timing of water supply in different zones is available on the DJB website.

[25] “Number of sanctioned water connections,” Delhi Jal Board, accessed March 24, 2020,

[26] See note 4, 229.

[27][27] See note 4, 253.

[28] Pooja Shali, “Delhi: City thirsts and tanker mafia rules as politicians play blame game,” India Today, June 8, 2019,

[29] Pallavi Rebbapragada, “Delhi water crisis: Water tanker mafia, high ammonia levels, and sewage treatment among key concerns,” Firstpost, July 2, 2019,

[30] See note 8, 230.

[31] See note 4, 253.

[32] “Top 6 innovative ways to re-use the waste water from RO water purifiers,” Best RO Water Purifier, March 2, 2020,,water%20comes%20out%20as%20waste.

[33] “Sanitation worker dies while cleaning sewer in Delhi,” The Week, February 3, 2020,

[34] See note 4, 252.

[35] Sewerage lines need to be cleaned regularly or de-silted, to prevent sewage from overflowing to the surface.

[36] Somrita Ghosh, “Government, DJB fight to save Delhi’s groundwater,” The New Indian Express, January 6, 2020,

[37] “Nine Delhi districts had contaminated groundwater in 2019: Jal Shakti Minister,” The Hindu, March 3, 2020,

[38] Paras Singh, “Losing ground: Just 1,200 rainwater harvesting units in a city of 2 crore,” The Times of India, March 23, 2019,

[39] “Artificial groundwater recharge through roadside and open space rain water harvesting structures in Coimbatore city: A narrative about the best practice of Siruthuli,”

[40]“India and Netherlands launched the second phase of the LOTUS-HR as a part of joint collaboration,” Press Information Bureau, October 14, 2019,

[41] Ministry of Urban Development, Compendium of Good Initiatives, National Urban Water Awards (New Delhi: Government of India, 2009),

[42] “Underground pipeline monitoring and leak detection,” Flexim, accessed April 18, 2020,

[43] “Plugging leakages: Utilities focusing on reducing non-revenue water,” Smart Utilities, March 2017,

[44]“DJB’s revenue increased by 50 pc during AAP rule,” Deccan Herald, August 27, 2019,

[45] Delhi Jal Board, Water Policy for Delhi (Draft), 2016 (Delhi: Government of NCT of Delhi).

[46] “Increasing expenses, stagnant revenue leave DJB with higher deficit,” The Hindu, October 21, 2019,

[47] Vishal Narayan, “Delhi Jal Board losses increase three fold in 5 years of AAP rule,” The Telegraph, February 20, 2020,

[48] Bill Kingdom, Gerard Soppe and Jemima SY, “What is non-revenue water? How can we reduce it for better water service?,” World Bank Blogs, August 31, 2016.

[49] Mark Patience, “Four steps to reducing non-revenue water,” Water & Wastes Digest, May 15, 2014,

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Rumi Aijaz

Rumi Aijaz

Rumi Aijaz is Senior Fellow at ORF where he is responsible for the conduct of the Urban Policy Research Initiative. He conceived and designed the ...

Read More +


Rumi Aijaz

Rumi Aijaz