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Drinking, bathing becomes luxury in Chennai as water crisis grips city

A deficit rainfall during the 2017 and failed monsoon in 2018 has resulted in depletion of ground water and near drying up of major waterbodies, and has pushed residents at the mercy of water-tankers.


Water crisis. Photo: Bloomberg

Press Trust of India Chennai
A row of vessels line a street corner where a water-tanker is parked; a gaggle of women quibble as they await their turn to get the pots filled-- this has become a daily affair in several parts of Chennai with the city staring at an acute water crisis.
Many denizens have even started considering daily bath a luxury and finding adequate water for doing laundry and dishwashing has become a nightmare.
A central Chennai resident Kumar B Das said he is spending around Rs 2,500 on water tankers per month, apart from the money that goes for purchasing bottled drinking water.
"I have started reusing utensils by wiping them with a cloth or tissue after first use. That saves much water. Body sprays have become dear to me," the IT professional said.
Raveendranath, a member of a residential association said they had to depend on private tankers for supply as the government metro water tankers take 2 to 3 weeks to turn up.
Private operators have hiked the rates and are demanding Rs 3,000 to 5,000 per truck load of water, he claimed.
A deficit rainfall during the 2017 northeast monsoon and failed monsoon in 2018 has resulted in depletion of ground water and near drying up of major waterbodies, and has pushed residents at the mercy of water-tanker operators.
Amid the shortage, Chief Minister K Palaniswami, his deputy O Panneerselvam, ministers and officials took part in a meeting to review water supply Wednesday.
Officials, however, declined to divulge what transpired at the meeting.
Residents and activists allege that the efforts of the state government in water conservation have proven to be a damp squib.
A senior official in Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) that supplies water to the city told PTI that compared to other metropolitan cities Chennai is in a disadvantaged location because of lack of any perennial rivers.
"We are doing our best and focusing on water distribution, supply and finding alternative sources to meet the growing demand of Chennai.
Plan to set up two desalination plants-capacity of 150 million litres of water per day (mld) and 400 mld - is in the pipeline," the official said.
"We can manage till November and hope for good northeast monsoon at least this year," the official added.
Presently, the city has two desalination plants with a capacity of 100 mld each.
Meghala, a maid and a resident of a slum in south Chennai, said the state of those in the low income groups is distressing.
"My income is around Rs 6,000 a month. The water I require every other day is 20 pots, each costing Rs 10. Easily Rs 3,000 is gone for a month," Meghala said.
Apart from money, the time spent on fetching water is another big issue. We spend hours filling water in chaotic environment," she added.
Early this year, 24 districts, including Chennai, were declared drought-affected by the state government.
CMWSSB has around 900 water tankers, each taking 10 trips, to supply water to the city.
As on May 29, the combined water storage in four major lakes of Chembarambakkam, Poondi, Redhills and Cholavaram that supply water to the city is 76 million cubic feet as against 2,964 mcft last year, according to the CMWSSB.
The per day supply to Chennai is 525 mld (both through pipes and tankers), a number reduced from 800 mld, the official said.
Calling the crisis human-induced, Jayaram Venkatesan, convener of Arappor Iyakkam, a city-based NGO fighting against corruption, said this would not have been the situation if at least 20 water bodies were maintained properly.
"These water bodies are not desilted, garbage is thrown, construction waste is dumped, sewage is let in, encroachments is another big issue," Venkatesan said.
Proper maintenance would help in groundwater recharge as well as water-storage capacity during rains, he said.
Chennai and its neighbouring Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts have over 3,000 large and small water bodies.
Activist L N Maikandan said the situation is worse in resettlement colonies such as Kannagi Nagar, where 23,000 families are wholly dependent on hand-pumps through which water is supplied once in five to 10 days.
The metropolitan city needs 11 tmcft of water every year, which is 880 million litres of water (mld) per day.
To fight the crisis, the Chennai Metro Rail Limited has reportedly begun turning off its air-conditioning to reduce water consumption.
The government's Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR and CE), which administers over 44,000 temples in the state, has asked officials of important shrines to conduct special 'yagas' among other rituals for propitiating Lord Varuna, the God of rains.
Last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General said the 2015 floods here were a result of failure of Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, the city development authority, to check large-scale construction along waterways and illegal conversion of agricultural land and water bodies.
Officials said water managers have been instructed to drill more borewells and rejuvenate defunct ones.

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First Published: May 30 2019 | 10:30 AM IST

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