Chennai Water Crisis: Situation dampens, protests erupt as crisis worsens

The state of Tamil Nadu has faced its worst dry spell in recent years. It is irony to believe that the city of Chennai had once faced a devastating flood crisis in the year 2015 when their lake reservoirs had overflowed due to unseasonal rains. Yet, little has been done by the authoritative body to tackle the disaster carefully.

Last year, rainfall in Chennai had been at the lowest at 75.55 centimeters as against 149.5 centimeter in 2017. The city has seen the longest dry spell in a decade this year, with no rains for over 190 days since last northeast monsoon period.

The crisis faced by Chennai had been foreseen by many hydrologists as well as experts. Manohar Khushalani, former director of the National Water Academy, told NDTV, "In 2015, Chennai had flooded. The same reason that caused the floods is causing the drought. Reservoirs and canals have to be restored and encroachment should stop."

The Madras High Court slammed the government for their negligence and sought detailed reports about the number of lakes and reservoirs in Tamil Nadu besides steps taken for desilting.

Chennai is facing a manufactured crisis. The development in Chennai has been rapid. Rapid industrialisation has led to the development of commercial hubs. The population of the city has increased gradually. The per capita consumption of water has increased to 107 per capita per day. The Demand for water in the city has gone up by 47 percent in the last decade from 750 MLD in 2008 to 1,100 MLD in 2018.

The groundwater in Chennai and its surrounding areas is replenished by five lakes -- Puzhal, Sholavaram, Kaliveli, Pulicat, and Maduranthakam -- all located within a 60-km radius of the city. 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. The Chembarambakkam lake is Chennai's largest source of drinking water. The lake is bone dry with a parched and cracked bed.

The situation has taken another toll in the city. The sight of people lining up on the streets with their buckets and utensils is worrying. Water tokens are being issued to residents facing acute water crisis in Royapettah area, to avail water supply through water tankers as reported by ANI. Many big IT firms have advised their employees to work from home in order to save water. They have limited the use of toilets in the offices to conserve water.

Real estate developers have stopped construction work in major parts of the city due to the water crisis. “Hotels have cut down the number of working hours and said they will not provide thali (meals) as it uses up more water. For a 100 seat restaurant, 12,000 litres of water is used up every day,” said M. Ravi, president of the Chennai Hotel Owners’ Association to Business Standard.

Many schools have temporarily shut down kindergarten sections saying that children will not be able to handle the severe heat prevailing in Chennai. Students and children have stopped going to schools and are instead seen in the long queues of water. On Tuesday, school education minister KA Sengottaiyan said providing water to students is the responsibility of the school management.

The hostel services and associations have taken the worst hit as they have temporarily shut down their services. The hospitality industry has been on its toes tackling the crisis. The hospitals and medical services have postponed their surgeries which are not essential at the moment. People have started migrating from one locality to another. There were incidents of crime too, wherein one-man was beaten to death and a lady stabbed in the neck in clashes over water as reported by the Indian Express.

People in the city have turned towards private water suppliers to meet their consumption demands. However, taking advantage of the situation and demand, they have increased their prices by 400 percent. Normally, a water tanker costs around 800-900 rupees for 9000 litres. Now it has been increased to somewhat around 4000 rupees. Also, the delivery time has extended to 4-5 days.

To solve the crisis, people have resorted to put motors and further dig their wells by 1000 ft to fetch the groundwater. 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.

While the citizens have been struggling to fetch water, the ruling party AIADMK is doing everything they can to supply the drinking water. "Water is being supplied through tankers and desalinated water is also being distributed," Chief Minister E Palaniswami said. He further added water from the Mettur Dam was being released to replenish Veeranam Lake in Cuddalore district and supply drinking water to Chennai. Stone quarrying plants and desalination plants are being used from Kanchipuram district to meet the demands. However, they are going to perish soon as said by Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) officials.

Recently 700 DMK workers were detained by Coimbatore police for protesting outside the Coimbatore City Corporation Office to urge the state to take adequate steps towards resolving the water crisis.

A crisis monitoring committee would be set up by the state government to tackle and monitor the water supply in every zone of the city. The government has also sought help from the Centre for providing aid worth Rs 5,398 crores to curb the water crisis.

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