Water Scarcity in Chennai

One wonders whether people have read the Times of India report of 22nd June last regarding the water crisis of Chennai. A city that had adequate supply of water, the liquid gold, till recently is now going through a water crisis. The city now depends on its three desalination plants working to their more than 80% of their capacity yet falling short of its requirements. For the last few months there has been enormous shortage of water and many areas of the town have gone without water for days. The citizens are suffering for weeks and months with no redemption in sight.

The disaster was actually man made. Having gone without a drop of rain for the last 200 days the citizens of the city are paying very heavy price for the reckless destruction of water bodies and poor planning for the city. While public sector Metrowater is unable to cater to the needs of the city for want of the necessary means of haulage of water in thousands of litres private players are making hay by charging astronomical sums for a few hundreds of litres of water from their tankers of thousands of liters. House wives are able to fill a few pots with great difficulty, the amount being far below their daily requirements.

The report goes on to say that Chennai is paying the price for “downright disrespect for water bodies and water sources. Chennai and its two neighbouring districts – Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur – together used to be called ‘Yeri (lake) districts’. They had more than 6,000 lakes, ponds and reservoirs that minimised run-off losses of rainwater and kept replenishing the groundwater table throughout the year. At present, authorities say only 3,896 have survived and Chennai city alone has lost nearly 150 such water bodies.

Further, those survived are nowhere near their actual size. Canals and supply routes have all disappeared while successive governments promoted housing projects called ‘Yeri schemes’ to convert water bodies into residential plots and apartments to house the city’s burgeoning population.” Three rivers criss-crossed the metropolis but they have all since disappeared. The rivers included Cooum, Adyar and Buckingham Canal all of which have since been killed by filth and untreated sewage and have been converted into gutters.

These and various other unwise decisions meant water storage and supply could never be according to the requirements of the city. Only the other day a photograph appeared in the newspapers of a long rake of water wagons being hauled by the Railways from Vellore to Chennai. But this will meet only part of the requirements of the city. A repeat of such haulage is on the cards as the rains are still far away.

This should be taken as a lesson for many cities including Bhopal which was in no way better off. Mismanagement of water resources and mismanagement of water supply brought the city virtually on its knees. The sources including the Upper Lake, Kolar and Kaliyasot dams had almost gone dry. The rivers feeding the Upper Lake were choked and it is only now that the villagers of the area have woken up to the problem and have started clearing the silt from Kolans and Uljhawan rivers. But the streams that flow through the city like Shirin and Banganga have like Chennai been converted into gutters. People of the town were lucky that the monsoon broke over the city, though late, with pretty good strength removing the chances of water starvation in the town, barring small pockets. There has been a lull since the first burst of monsoon but there is hope that more rains will visit the city soon. But, unless the authorities wake up and protect the water bodies from encroachment, especially the Upper Lake and the Kolar Dam things might get out of hand.

The Municipal Council is one of the most inefficient and incompetent local bodies which finds priorities elsewhere, away from the city’s wter problems. It wastes money on peripheral activities rather than on conservation of the Upper Lake. A ready example is the amphitheatre built for laser shows on water that never took off and Rs. 7 crore reported to have been spent on it have gone down the drain. The contractor is reported to have removed all the fixtures. It never occurred to the then Municipal Commissioner that the water level could plummet exposing the nozzles to the elements rendering the facility inoperable. This is the second time that a theatre for laser shows has been abandoned but no one has been held accountable. Rs, 7 crore could have financed a few sewage treatment plants.

What is more, the pipelines carrying water from different water sources, especially Kolar reservoir, develop frequent leaks which waste the precious fluid in millions of litres. Even when the city was going through a water crisis pipelines were bursting left and right draining out thousands of litres of water.

Less said the better about municipal water tankers. Even during the crisis situation these would leak from multiple points while transporting water for a water-starved community. Social audit of the Municipal Corporation’s performance in relation to its various activities, perhaps has never been done. It is imperative that this is done now to ensure that tax payers’ moneys are gainfully used yielding satisfactory results.

The title of the Times of India report “Why Chennai’s water crisis should worry you” is pointed at every city in India where civic bodies are failing the communities that they are supposed to serve. Indian local bodies, barring a very few exceptions, are non performers and because of their lackadaisical ways citizens suffer not only inconveniences but also from diseases and ill-health. This paradigm must change sooner than later. The municipalities need to work sincerely in accordance with their charter to extend to citizens a semblance of ‘ease of living” regardless of their standard of living.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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