From work from home to paper plates, how Chennai's IT firms are dealing with water crisis

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From work from home to paper plates, how Chennai's IT firms are dealing with water crisis

Though the southwest monsoon has hit Kerala and is advancing to other parts of the country, bringing much-needed respite from the scorching summer, Chennai continues to grapple with its water woes. With piped water supply cut in several areas, residents of Chennai have been largely dependent on water tankers for their supply. Workplaces are also waking up to its own water concerns in the past two weeks, say employees.

Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) is home to a number of Information Technology and Information Technology enabled Services companies, where lakhs of people work. Most companies on OMR are open round-the-clock, with their employees working in shifts, offering their expertise to various development projects in India and abroad.

In an attempt to deal with the crisis, IT companies have put in place a range of conservation methods.  While some companies have put in place permanent measures, others say their efforts are to tide over the present shortage.

Employees asked to work from home

Vishnu Priya, who works in one of the IT majors on OMR said that her company instructed their employees not to come to office for two weeks in May. “We were asked to work from our homes for two weeks in May when the water crisis was extreme,” she says. Adding that most of the cafeteria outlets were closed due to lack of potable water, Vishnu Priya says that whatever was open served food and beverages in paper plates and cups instead of the washable plastic and steel utensils.

Speaking to TNM, an employee with Wipro in Sholinganallur said that the conservation methods came into operation when the private water tanker association announced a strike in May. Wipro operates out of eight buildings in Sholinganallur ELCOT campus, each with nine floors. Around 22,000 employees work here every day.

“We were all sent an e-mail saying that the washrooms in alternate floors are only operational. It really depends on how the water supply is from the tanker lorries. If the supply is on schedule, then there will not be any restrictions, if not these restrictions come into play,” said the employee.

Companies which had provided employees with ceramic plates to eat food have now switched to providing paper plates. Srigandan who works in ISGN in Thuraipakkam said that in his office, only alternate taps are being used in toilets and that the speed of the water flow in the taps have been drastically reduced to control the quantity of water used.

IT companies turn to water conserving equipment

Some companies have gone on to install water saving devices in their offices, in order to reduce the amount of water used by its employees. Geetha S, an employee at Cognizant Technology Solutions, Tambaram said that a device called ‘EcoMist’ has been installed in the taps in their office since the beginning of May.

“This device minimises water outflow from the tap by a huge quantity and the water that comes out is almost like mist. It ensures that a lot of water is saved when a person uses the tap,” she added.

Another employee who works in Cognizant Technology Solutions, OMR told TNM that the area where employees washed their tiffin boxes was closed as a result of water scarcity.

Acknowledging the challenging water situation in Chennai, Cognizant Technology Solutions told TNM that the company has adopted a slew of measures to bring down water consumption by 80% and prevent water wastage.

In an e-mail, the company spokesperson said, “We have also switched to biodegradable plates in all our cafeterias, temporarily closed shower facilities in our gyms, and minimised the washing of utensils in our campuses by our cafeteria vendors.”

As on Thursday, the four main reservoirs together hold 31 Mcft of water against a total full capacity of 11,257 Mcft, which is a mere 0.27% of the total water-holding capacity. Poondi reservoir has 30 Mcft and Chembarambakkam has one Mcft. The water level at Cholavaram and Red Hills lakes stood at zero on Thursday.  The gradually depleting water levels had pushed CMWSSB to depend on other sources including water from desalination plants and stone quarries in Kanchipuram district.