New Delhi: A majority of government buildings in the heart of Delhi do not comply with the basic legal requirement for all buildings to install rainwater harvesting structures. The list of defaulters includes the NITI Aayog, which had itself recently put out a report warning that groundwater is likely to run out fast in as many as 21 cities.

Only 43% of federal office buildings in Delhi comply with the government mandate. The structures that do not comply include important government buildings such as the premier conference venue, Vigyan Bhawan, offices of the external affairs ministry and the Election Commission, and many of the bungalows reserved for ministers, according to right to information responses from the central public works department (CPWD), which maintains most of the central government structures in the national capital.

In a recent submission before the Supreme Court, the Central Ground Water Board had said groundwater levels beneath 90% of the capital’s geographic area was critical or semi-critical. This prompted the court to observe that Delhi may witness “water wars" if the situation does not improve.

Every year the capital’s residents draw roughly 27% more water than the total quantum of rain that seeps into the surface after brief spells of rain, said a senior NITI Aayog official who chose to remain unnamed. This has led to groundwater levels falling every year since 2000.

“This is essentially water mining as it is not getting replenished. One day, the city will finish the water. So, it is a good practice to create storage wherever possible. We should definitely take it up with CPWD as we are advising the whole country," the official said.

The central government has been pushing cities across the country to step up and do their part, with efforts underway to install more than 8.8 million rainwater harvesting structures across urban India. However, progress has been slow, in part, because the government is setting a bad example with the low level of compliance in its own office buildings, which is also a reflection of the seriousness of the intent, say activists.

“This is a classic case of a callous state machinery bothering little for water safety and security within Delhi," said Manoj Mishra, a water activist and convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan. “While in 2001 it was made mandatory for all new buildings above 100sq. m roof area to install RWH structures, it was but natural that all existing buildings would also resort to it," he said. That so many government buildings do not bother is “inexcusable", he added.

An administrative official in the NITI Aayog, on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the think tank’s premises do not currently harvest rainwater. “My understanding is that such installations are not done piecemeal. The government makes it mandatory and the CPWD will implement it in all buildings," the official said. “It’s also about how much it will cost," the official added.

NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said that the think tank does not “own" the building where its offices are based. “I’ll have to cross-check," he said.

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