It has been 20 days since 50-year-old Bawarlal Jain booked a Metro Water Tanker for 6,000 litres. A resident of Royapettah, Bawarlal booked the tanker on May 10. He is one of the many residents who availed the metro waters scheme of booking a tanker online. Currently, he is on his fifth visit to the Chennai Metro Water Office counter in Valluvar Kottam to inquire about the inordinate delay. With a family of eight people, Bawarlal has rationed water supply at his residence. Despite the scorching heat, members are allowed to bathe only once a day with a half bucket of water. He is now mulling overbooking a private tanker to tide over the predicament.
Before you judge and blame the ineptitude of those in authority, we take you through a fact: there is a minimum waiting period of 15-20 days after booking the water tanker in Chennai.
The culprit? The acute water crisis in Chennai.
The metro water is currently supplying to those residents who have booked on May 8. Bawarlal Jain's booking is still in the queue.
All taps intact, but no water in them. Chennai residents queue up to get a pot of water to meet their needs. (Photo: PTI)
“I am tired of enquiring about the delay in the water supply. There is no proper response from metro water officials. Despite being in Chennai Corporation limits and in the heart of the city our piped water supply has been cut since April this year. Lack of a bore well has only made matters worse,” he rues.
The metro water office enquiry counter sees a steady stream of residents making a beeline to inquire about their booking.
However, residents like Akila Subramaniam — a homemaker — are not satisfied with the response from the authorities. She claims that she was made to wait in queue for half-an-hour only to be told that her apartment complex in Choolaimedu will receive water in two weeks. “Earlier, we have water supply once in two days for an hour in the morning through the hand pump — that we’d store and use judiciously. But the supply in hand pump was abruptly stopped 20 days ago,” said Akila. “We do not know how to manage this crisis. Water is a basic necessity. We feel helpless.”
If this was the plight of the middle-class, those in the economically weaker strata are worse off.
There is a mad rush to fill pots of water at the slums adjoining Greams Road in the city. Jothi, with two daughters in tow, is jostling her way to get her pots filled before the supply runs out. Due to the scanty water supply, each family gets just six pots of water. Jothi — a domestic help — complains that the water they get has a foul smell to it, and is barely enough for basic needs like washing and bathing. “We buy drinking water for Rs 35 per can. We spend Rs 3500 on water alone per month. It takes a toll on our monthly budget. But how can we drink water that smells so foul?” she laments.
Due to the lack of any perennial rivers, Chennai is entirely dependent on groundwater resources to meet its water needs. The groundwater is replenished by four sources — Red Hills Lake, Poondi reservoir, Sholavaram lake and Chembarambakkam tank, in addition to the water desalination plants at Nemelli and Minjur.
Most of these reservoirs and lakes, which act as the primary source of drinking water supply, have gone dry due to a deficit monsoon last year. The storage level of four reservoirs is less than 1% of their combined capacity.
According to officials, Chennai Metro Water is currently able to supply 550 million litres of water every day — as opposed to the required 800 million litres. The metro water has also cut down 40% of piped water supply in the city.
The dried up Chembarambakkam lake: Storage level of Chennai's four reservoirs is currently less than 1% of their combined capacity. (Photo: Daniel Kanagaraj)
The story is no different in the booming IT corridor that is 25 kilometres from the city.
The residents here are left at the mercy of private water tankers, as there is no piped-water supply in these areas. This is the sorry state of affairs for the residents despite paying the water tax.
The private water tankers draw water from agricultural fields in nearby Kancheepuram district and often face the wrath of authorities for overexploitation of the groundwater. A crackdown on these tankers leaves over one lakh families — and thousands of commercial establishments — high and dry along the IT corridor.
“We diligently pay our taxes every year, yet we end up with a very raw deal. This is only because we bought properties in certain pockets. The fault lies with the government. Why even give permission for the residential projects in these pockets without arranging for potable water supply first?” asks an indignant Satish — a resident of Navalur on the Old Mahabalipuram Road. He urges the government to find a lasting and permanent solution to deal with the crisis that affects them every other summer.
The government is not spared of the ire of the activists either, who blame consecutive state governments for chaotic water management and poor upkeep of water bodies. Activist Nithyanand Jayaram says that solution to tackle drought and flooding is the same — to prioritise water over everything else by creating enough infrastructure for water to stay.
“Unfortunately in Chennai, the developmental growth has trumped the water availability. Most places where the soil allows the water to either be stored or flow through or percolate now have concrete structures and buildings on them.There is no way that the groundwater is replenished. The planning authorities must ensure that the water is able to seep into the ground. We need more lakes, tanks and ponds — the city must prioritise fallow and open spaces over concrete establishments," he explains.