Ground check: Yes, Chennai corporation schools suffer from water shortage

Private schools across Chennai have been warned by the state government against cutting short classes or declaring holidays due to water scarcity. The state has insisted that private schools must determine alternate solutions to the existing water crisis independently and ensure continuous of supply of water for drinking and bathroom in schools. Education Minister P Sengottaiyan even pointed out that his department’s responsibility is only to ensure that government schools have adequate water.

But a ground check by TNM revealed that some schools in the city run by the corporation are largely suffering from lack of adequate water supply. And with government denial over the mounting problem in their educational institutions, staff are forced to dig into their own pockets.

“Every day I buy water cans for teachers with my own money,” a senior teacher tells TNM, at a corporation school in Triplicane. “Ours is a 12,000 litre sump and water from Metro pipes come once every 15 days but the supply has become highly irregular now. After a long wait we got the tanker here last week but they left after giving us very little water, probably 2,000 litres.”

There are 165 students in the school and they have been instructed to bring spoons and their own tiffin boxes to avoid washing hands and plates in the premises. The school’s borewells are running dry and with sporadic water supply, students and teachers are under immense stress. But without the government’s permission, they cannot cut down the duration of classes or send children home.

“Every day, during our prayer session, we remind students not to waste water,” the teacher says.

And this government school is not isolated in its struggle to continue providing hygienic drinking water to staff and students.

In North Chennai’s Korukkupettai, 35-year-old Anbazhagan, a watchman, rides into the Government Primary and High school with a water can on his bike on a Saturday.

“This is for the teachers,” he says. “For the students we still have water for one more day in our sump and after that I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he adds, worried. 

The school has one sump with a capacity of 6,000 litres and one saltwater borewell that hasn’t run dry yet. The sump supplies drinking water for a strength of less than 500 students studying in the school. 

“The salt water from the borewell is used for toilets but drinking water is a major problem here,” laments the watchman. While the school should get its drinking water supplied once every week, the last time they received water was on June 4.

When TNM contacted PK Ilamaran, president of the Tamil Nadu Teachers Association, to report the water shortage in schools visited, he denied the findings.

“There is no water problem at all,” he declares. “We are getting water two times a week. And we get 6,000 litres of water each time. Even I work in North Chennai,” he adds.

Ilamaran says that all 281 schools under the Chennai corporation and seven schools run by the state government receive sufficient water supply.

But his claims are far from the reality in a Government Primary and High School on CB Road, Washermanpet.

“It has been two weeks since water tanker last came and school has been functioning without drinking water since then,” says the school's watchman hurriedly, before shuffling away. “It has been difficult. We are managing for now but hopefully it comes next week,” he adds. The school has also cleaned its sump in anticipation.