Delhi High Court: A PIL was filed pressing concerns of water conservation in the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi, specifically focusing on the implementation of rainwater harvesting initiatives and outlining a series of remedies aimed at fostering a comprehensive approach to address the issue of rainwater harvesting. Sanjeev Narula, J., concluded that rainwater harvesting should be seamlessly integrated into the city’s climate resilience planning and to achieve this, the authorities must continually explore innovative strategies, adapt to evolving conditions, and proactively confront emerging challenges.
The petitioner contended that there is a critical need to institute water conservation measures, pertinently, rainwater harvesting, to replenish the depleting natural aquifers given that Delhi experiences an average annual rainfall of approximately 611 mm, with a significant 80% of this precipitation occurring within a short span of three months (July to September). Rapid urbanization and a burgeoning population have led to the accelerated exhaustion of Delhi’s existing water reservoirs. As far back as 2000, the city faced a demand for 3,324 million litres of water per day (MLD), while only an estimated 2,034 MLD was available. Today, this demand-supply gap has exponentially widened, underscoring the urgency of the situation and spurring the extensive extraction of groundwater, further compounding the water crisis.
The petitioner emphasized the necessity of making rainwater harvesting mandatory for all new construction projects as a crucial step towards water conservation. As per a Status Report filed by Delhi Jal Board, efforts have been made to advance the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems. Affidavits filed by various Municipal Corporations highlighted the “Green Building” norms applicable to plots larger than 105 sq.m. as prescribed in Chapter 10 of the Unified Building Bye Laws for Delhi 2016, notified by the DDA. These norms encompass various measures, including rainwater harvesting, waste water recycling, solar energy utilization, and waste management. The Central Ground Water Authority’s affidavit emphasized that while DJB remained the central water management authority in Delhi, directions had been issued to all states to adopt measures for artificial groundwater recharge, promote rainwater harvesting, and implement schemes for groundwater recharge from rainfall runoff. As per New Delhi Municipal Council, rainwater harvesting pits were recognized and employed with the CGWB-recommended ‘modular-type rainwater harvesting system.
The Court vide order dated 14-03-2018 further directed all Municipal Corporations to issue notices to all properties listed, which had not adhered to the established norms for implementing rainwater harvesting measures. A status report from the Public Works Department (PWD) comprehensively outlines the implementation status of rainwater harvesting systems in various buildings maintained by PWD in Delhi. DJB’s affidavit stated that its sewage network is not intended to discharge into storm water drains, and collaborative efforts are being made to enhance sewage management in areas under the jurisdiction of various agencies.
The Petitioner emphasized the need to establish rainwater harvesting systems as a mandatory practice in all schools and government buildings throughout Delhi. Responding to this, counsel for GNCTD highlighted that the building bye-laws mandate rainwater harvesting for all new constructions on plots measuring 100 sq.m. or more. Additionally, it was pointed out that due to the relatively limited duration of rainfall in Delhi, occurring over approximately 45-days a year, some individuals are hesitant to invest substantial amounts in a system that would yield benefits for only a brief period. The counsel for the New Delhi Municipal Council also drew attention to the uneven withdrawal of groundwater across different localities in Delhi.
DJB and the respondents provided a comprehensive update on the substantial measures taken to address the concerns raised in this PIL. The Court noted that the combined efforts of DJB and GNCTD, marked by the installation of rainwater harvesting systems across both private and public structures, along with the reinvigoration of water bodies are appreciable. The development of manuals by CGWB and CPWD, offering guidance on artificial groundwater recharge structures and enabling individuals to seek necessary approvals, also represents a valuable step-forward. The inclusion of rainwater harvesting mandates within building bye-laws further underscores the commitment to water conservation. DJB’s introduction of water tariff rebates as incentives for rainwater harvesting and wastewater recycling systems serves as a demonstration of their commitment to the cause. Importantly, the civic agencies and municipal corporations responsible for approving building plans have taken on the role of ensuring adherence to these mandatory provisions. This comprehensive framework, establishing the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems as a standard practice throughout Delhi, underscores the keenness of the State and Central Government to mandate the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems, wherever feasible.
The Court further noted that the urgency of water conservation has never been more paramount than in the dynamic urban landscapes of the present era. Urbanization, characterized by sprawling constructions, impermeable surfaces, and increased water consumption, strains existing water sources, leading to concerns about scarcity and depletion. By harnessing rainwater, which would otherwise go underutilized or contribute to flooding, cities can augment their water supply, alleviate stress on conventional sources, and mitigate the environmental repercussions of urban expansion. The challenge now lies in harnessing the potential of rainwater harvesting systems and aligning sewer, drainage, and water storage systems to maximize the efficiency of rainwater utilization, regardless of the nature of the precipitation—be it excessive or intermittent. This integrated approach is indispensable to bolstering water conservation efforts.
The Court concluded that the challenge lies in harnessing the potential of rainwater harvesting systems and aligning sewer, drainage, and water storage systems to maximize the efficiency of rainwater utilization, regardless of the nature of the precipitation—be it excessive or intermittent. This integrated approach is indispensable to bolstering water conservation efforts. Thus, while substantial progress has undoubtedly been made, the evolving landscape of Delhi, where urbanization and climate change intersect, amplifies the urgency of water conservation. The unwavering commitment of concerned authorities to this cause is thus imperative.
Thus, the Court held that the authorities must continually explore innovative strategies, adapt to evolving conditions, and proactively confront emerging challenges. A persistent focus on educating the public and resident welfare associations about the advantages of rainwater harvesting, coupled with practical implementation guidance, can catalyze a cultural shift towards sustainable water practices. The Court directed the respondents to periodically review empirical data on the implementation of rainwater harvesting measures to ascertain whether their efforts are producing tangible results and take corrective measures if so required.
[RK Kapoor v. Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 4984, decided on 18-08-2023]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Petitioner in person;
Ms. Hetu Arora Sethi, ASC with Ms. Saumya Tandon, Advocate for R-1. Mr. Siddhant Nath and Mr. Akshay Pratap, Advocates for DDA. Mr. Ajay Vikram Singh, Advocate for Delhi Jal Board. Ms. Puja Kalra, Standing Counsel for MCD/ NDMC. Ms. Beenashaw Soni, Standing Counsel with Ms. Mansi Jain and Ms. Aun Joseph, Advocates for SDMC.