Himachal's U-Turn On Providing Water To Parched Delhi Draws Top Court Rap

Delhi Water Crisis: The court is hearing Delhi government's petition that seeks a direction to Haryana to release surplus water provided by Himachal

In a twist in the Supreme Court battle over Delhi's spiralling water crisis, Himachal Pradesh has said it does not have surplus water to send to the national capital, a day after the hill state said it had released water for Delhi and the supply needs to go through Haryana.

As Delhi residents reel under the double blow of a heatwave and water crisis, the Supreme Court had directed the Himachal Pradesh government to release 137 cusecs of surplus water to the national capital and told Haryana to facilitate its flow. The court had said the drinking water shortage has become an "existential problem" in Delhi.

Speaking to the media yesterday, Himachal Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu said the state has released water. "We have released water. We have asked advocates to inform the Supreme Court about this. The water we have released, we are ready to give that water. There are no ifs and buts."

In a U-turn today, Himachal government's counsel told the court today that the 137 cusecs water was "unutilised after use of irrigation and part of natural course of river flow". "We could not convey it properly earlier. Our correct statement may come on record. Maybe we made a mistake earlier, but I have been briefed. I will correct and withdraw the earlier statement that flow was obstructed," he said.

This drew a warning from the court. "We can haul you up for contempt and summon your Chief Secretary," it said. The Himachal government counsel apologised and said they will submit an affidavit and withdraw their earlier response.

The court has asked the Upper River Yamuna Board to find a resolution to the problem. Earlier, the board had said Himachal Pradesh should prove it has been releasing 137 cusecs of unutilised water for Delhi after the court's June 6 ruling.

In an affidavit filed before the court, the board referred to a letter sent to Haryana by Himachal Pradesh in which the hill state has said its share of unutilised water was already flowing uninterruptedly to the Hathnikund barrage and that Haryana should release it to Delhi.

"As per above letter, the 137 cusec of unutilised water is already flowing uninterruptedly from the territory of Himachal Pradesh to Tajewala (in Haryana). It therefore emerges that Himachal Pradesh is not releasing any additional water subsequent to the order of the Supreme Court dated 06.06.2024 which could be measured by Upper Yamuna River Board," the board said.

Residents of several areas in Delhi are suffering due to the shortage of drinking water that has made the heatwave unbearable. Amid the crisis, the activities of tanker mafia have compounded residents' problems. The court has pulled up the Aam Aadmi Party government over wastage of water and tanker mafia and questioned what steps it has taken to counter these problems.

"There are visuals on every channel that the tanker mafia is working in Delhi. What measures have you taken in this regard? What measures have you taken to control water waste coming through the two barrages if this is a recurring problem? Please show us what action or FIR have you lodged against tanker mafias," the bench said.

Delhi's water minister Atishi has accused government officials of reducing the number of Delhi Jal Board water tankers without her knowledge and said this aided the tanker mafia. She has also written to Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena and sought an inquiry into the alleged tie-up between senior officials and tanker mafia.

The court is hearing the Delhi government's petition that seeks a direction to Haryana to release surplus water provided by Himachal to the national capital.

The Haryana government has rejected the Delhi government's charge. "Haryana is diligently fulfilling its commitment to provide water to Delhi. Haryana not only meets but exceeds its obligations in this regard," Minister of State for Irrigation and Water Resources Abhe Singh Yadav has said.