Chennai water crisis: Charges for tankers, borewells skyrocket; DMK seeks municipal administration minister's resignation

Restaurants downed shutters, schools suspended operations and employees of IT companies in Chennai were asked to work from home as the water crisis intensified.

The crisis, however, was not limited to the state capital. Around 400 Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) workers were arrested on Wednesday in Coimbatore for trying to stage a protest outside the municipal corporation office demanding Rural and Municipal Administration Minister SP Velumani’s resignation over his failure to resolve the water crisis in the state. Nearly 100 women carrying empty pots and holding placards saying 'provide drinking water' raised slogans seeking regular water supply, reported PTI.

Residents queuing up with pots to collect water from tankers or community wells have become a common sight in Chennai. According to a CNN-News18 report, the waiting period for water tankers has increased to as high as 25 days. While a Metro Water tanker costs Rs 700-Rs 800 for 9,000 litres, private operators have pegged the prices at Rs 4,000-Rs 5,000.

 Chennai water crisis: Charges for tankers, borewells skyrocket; DMK seeks municipal administration ministers resignation

Residents stand in queues to fill vessels filled with water from a water tanker in Chennai. AP

The water crisis has also adversely impacted the operation of guest houses and hostels in Chennai. Around 100 hostels in the city’s busiest neighbourhoods have stalled operations, according to an Indian Express report. Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu Hostel Owners’ Welfare Association, said at least 15 among the 200-odd ladies hostels affiliated to their association too have stopped operations in Chennai.

As the crisis intensifies, some private schools are reducing their working hours too. According to a report in The Times Of India, Christ King Girls’ Higher Secondary School in East Tambaram has given a two-day break to students from Classes VI to VIII, with the six borewells on the school’s premises running dry. The school procures 24,000 litres of waters in two tankers every day.

A school in Chrompet has sent text messages to parents informing them that the school will function only for half-a-day. Many schools have temporarily shut down kindergarten sections saying that children will not be able to handle the severe heat prevailing in Chennai. On Tuesday, school education minister KA Sengottaiyan said providing water to students is the responsibility of the school managements.

Hospitals have also been trying to conserve water by postponing non-essential surgeries. Several hotels in the city have decided to not serve meals for lunch to reduce the use of water, according to The Hindu.

Some residents have decided to dig deeper borewells – going down to 1,000 feet. The New Indian Express reported that there has been a 150 percent rise in borewell installation costs in the last two months. “Contractors used to charge Rs 350-400 per foot for drilling through the shallow aquifer and Rs 75-80 for hard rock layer. Now they are charging Rs 400 per feet for both layers combined,” hydrologist J Saravannan said.

According to a report in NDTV, piped water supply in Chennai has been cut by 40 percent even as four of the city’s reservoirs, including the significant Chembarambakkam lake, have dried up. The city which requires 800 million litres of water every day now gets a daily supply of 525 million litres daily, leaving residents to turn to private water tankers. The shortage of water has also severely hit five-star hotels and high-rise residential buildings.

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Five lakes, namely Puzhal, Sholavaram, Kaliveli, Pulicat and Maduranthakam, replenish the groundwater supplies in Chennai. The Porur Lake in Chennai, which is considered one of the main sources of water for the city, is almost at its lowest-ever level and the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board is now banking on water from desalination plants and stone quarries in Kanchipuram district, India Today reported.

Over 200 motors installed to draw groundwater illegally have been seized by the Chennai Metrowater department in a span of 15 days, according to ANI.

The crisis in the state capital has revealed lapses on the part of the state government. While an old plan to build a new reservoir outside Chennai is yet to take off, the plan for an extra desalination plant is still to be fast tracked.

Experts have also said that the state did not learn from its mistakes during the 2015 Chennai floods. While all lakes and reservoirs overflowed at that time, no steps were taken to ensure that the water did not flow into the sea. Manohar Khushalani, former director of the National Water Academy, told NDTV, "In 2015, Chennai had floods. The same reason that caused the floods is causing the drought. Reservoirs and canals have to be restored and encroachment should stop."

Velumani said on Wednesday that the drought follows a 62 percent shortfall in monsoon rains last year compared to 2017. However, two days earlier, he was quoted as saying by The News Minute that problems related to the water crisis are being "manufactured", and that the government is ensuring water supply throughout Chennai and also addressing shortages.

In view of the crisis, the state government has decided to set up a monitoring committee to take up issues related to water supply. After a review meeting with senior officials on Monday, Velumani said he has directed officials to form a monitoring committee led by a senior officer who will visit every street in each zone and ensure water supply.

On Tuesday, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had played down the issue, urging the media to not create an illusion of scarcity. Blaming the drought and deficient monsoon for the depletion in ground water levels, Palaniswami said that the state will remain dependent on ground water only till the onset of the northeast monsoon in October. "The media should not create an illusion of water scarcity using some stray incidents," he had said.

Confirming the development that lakes providing water to Chennai have gone dry, he listed efforts that are being made to remedy the situation. He said drinking water is being provided through tankers, while efforts are being made to augment water supply from Veeranam lake in Cuddalore district. He added that water is also being supplied from desalination plants. Palaniswami added that water from Krishna river from the Kandaleru dam in Andhra Pradesh is not being released in full capacity.

On Tuesday, the Madras High Court blamed the state government for not taking adequate measures to tackle the water crisis. The court lashed out at the AIADMK government for serious mismanagement of water resources and waiting till the last minute to spread awareness about rainwater harvesting. The reaction came after the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) submitted a detailed report which said that the water supply to Chennai had reduced from 830 MLD to 525 MLD from 1 June, 2017, due to less rainfall that year.

The court was hearing a petition seeking the removal of encroachments in the feeding channel from Palar river to Udayendram lake in Vellore. The high court then ordered Public Works Department to submit a state-wide comprehensive report on the number of reservoirs in the state, steps taken for desilting, amount sanctioned, and status of those works.. The next hearing will be held on 27 June.

In its forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday (18-19 June), the India Meteorological Department said heat wave condition is likely to prevail at isolated pockets over Tamil Nadu — including Chennai, Tiruvallur, Vellore, Madurai, Tiruvannamalai, Kanchipuram, Cuddalore, Villupuram, Nagapattinam, Ariyalur, Perambalur, Karu and Tiruchirapalli districts — and Puducherry.

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Updated Date: Jun 19, 2019 21:08:38 IST