India caste unrest: Water supply 'partially restored' in Delhi

  • 23 February 2016
  • From the section India
Indian people fill up canisters and containers with water from a tanker in New Delhi, India, 22 February 2016. Image copyright EPA

Water supply has been partially restored in the Indian capital, Delhi, where up to 10 million were affected after protesters sabotaged a key canal.

The army took control of the Munak canal in neighbouring Haryana state on Monday after Jat community members, angry at caste job quotas, damaged it.

Delhi Water Minister Kapil Mishra said the "crisis was still not over" and urged people to use water carefully.

The city's schools, which were closed because of the crisis, have reopened.

Sixteen million people live in Delhi, and around three-fifths of the city's water is supplied by the Munak canal, which runs through Haryana.

The anger of the farming communities

Mr Mishra tweeted on Tuesday morning that "some water has been released" from the canal. This had led to the restoration of partial supplies in north and central Delhi, he said.

Officials said water tankers had made 1,205 trips to West Delhi by 13:00 local time, and that that should rise to 2,000 by the end of the day.

They say partial supplies will "hopefully" be restored to West Delhi by Tuesday evening.

"The supply will be limited till the time the Munak [canal] is totally repaired. The crisis is not yet over. People should use water carefully," he said.

The cutting of the canal will not directly affect those in the capital who live in homes without piped, running water - a large number of Delhi's residents live in slums and other housing and rely on water tankers and other sources such as bore wells.

But the reduction in supply is having an affect across the city.

Senior water board official Neeraj Semwal told the AFP news agency that four of Delhi's nine water treatment plants were operating, forcing rationing of supplies to many areas.

"We are hoping to restore partial services in the next two to three days and 100% supply within the next 15 days," Mr Semwal said.

Severe shortage

It is not clear how many households are still without water.

Prior warnings meant that people had managed to save water, and tankers had been despatched to affected areas of the city, but that this has not been enough to make up for the shortfall.

"My son works as a manager in a hotel so he leaves an hour early to take bath in his office," Nikhat Parveen told Hindustan Times newspaper.

"For cooking and drinking purposes, I am buying packed water bottles."

Vinod Kumar Sharma told the newspaper that his family rented a hotel room to bathe after going without a bath for two days.

The army took control of parts of the canal on Monday morning, but repairs are expected to take time. Eighteen people have been killed and hundreds injured in three days of riots.

Protesters went on the rampage despite a curfew and the deployment of the army, which is reported to have opened fire on them, in the districts of Rohtak and Jhajjar.

Why are the Jats angry?

Media captionSanjoy Majumder said protesters had created road blocks "effectively encircling Delhi"
  • The land-owning Jat community is relatively affluent and has traditionally been seen as upper caste.
  • They are mainly based in Haryana and seven other states in northern India.
  • Comprising 27% of the voters in Haryana and dominating a third of the 90 state assembly seats, they are a politically influential community. Seven of the 10 chief ministers in Haryana have been Jats.
  • The Jats are currently listed as upper caste but the demonstrators have been demanding inclusion in caste quotas for jobs and education opportunities that have been available to lower castes since 1991.
  • In March 2014 the Congress-led national government said it would re-categorise Jats as Other Backward Castes (OBC), opening the way to government job quotas.
  • But India's Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the Jats were not a backward community.
  • As jobs have dried up in the private sector and farming incomes have declined, the community has demanded the reinstatement of their backward caste status to enable them to secure government jobs.

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