The Tamil Nadu government has set a three-month deadline for private, government and educational institutes and buildings to set up state-approved rainwater harvesting systems. Those who do not comply, according to state Municipality and Administrative Minister SP Velumani, will be issued a notice and will be liable for government action.
This decision comes after an audit conducted by the state government found that at least five lakh buildings in the state did not have rainwater harvesting systems in place. 14 municipal corporations and 121 municipalities in the state were surveyed in the state this year and the figures were released at a press conference on Monday.
In Chennai, over two lakh buildings in 200 wards across the city were surveyed for compliance to the 2003 order and to check if rules regarding the size and drainage system of water-conserving structures were followed. Of these, harvesting systems were found to have been correctly installed and maintained in 1.36 lakh buildings and newly built in 3,850 buildings. Rainwater harvesting systems were, however, not found in 60,461 buildings and in need of maintenance in 37,131 buildings.
Similarly, in municipal corporations and municipalities apart from Chennai, 15.89 lakh buildings have been inspected. Of these 10.19 lakh buildings have been ordered to renovate their rainwater harvesting systems and 4.98 lakh buildings have been issued notices to install new rain water harvesting systems. The government plans to further inspect 31.96 lakh buildings by November this year.
The large gap in the implementation of the scheme, however, comes as no surprise to Sekhar Raghavan – also known as Chennai's Rain Man – who founded the NGO, Rain Centre in Adyar. In 2015, he was part of the team that conducted a rainwater harvesting survey in the greater Chennai region. Rain Centre conducted the audit on the government's insistence that a third party undertake it for the sake of autonomy.
"The systems were not in place then, they are not in place now," says Sekhar. "After 2003, most people did not even set up rainwater harvesting structures and those who did had set it up wrongly. Ninety-nine per cent of the people didn't harvest the dry way runoff (the area from where the water flows off) and only harvested the roof water. These buildings do not have recharge wells which make the harvesting system more efficient. Instead, they use PVC pipes that get clogged within a year," he adds.
This time around, however, Sekhar expects a change in people's attitudes but adds that there is a lack of experts who can guide them in the process of setting up an efficient rainwater harvesting system.
"People and the government have learnt their lesson after successive years of drought and they are ready to work towards saving water. There is no option but to harvest water now and the number of calls that I get for information on setting up a proper rainwater harvesting system is proof of that," says Sekhar. "But the problem is the implementation could remain shoddy. The engineers who inspect these structures themselves are not aware of how a correct structure should be. And there are not enough trained people to set up systems correctly," he adds.
However, the very existence of buildings that do not have correctly installed rainwater harvesting structures indicates a deep-rooted violation of existing rules in place. According to official sources, a no-objection certificate (NOC) won’t be issued to the particular construction unless its building plan has allocated space and resources for the RWH structures. Despite this, over 60,000 buildings in Chennai and at least 4.98 lakh building in the rest of the state have failed to construct the structure to save rainwater.
Convenor of the anti-graft NGO Arappor Iyakkam, Jayaram Venkatesan had earlier told TNM, "Ideally, a building without an RWH structure cannot get an NOC. But the practice is that the builder bribes the civic body and engineers do not bother to see whether all rules have been followed. NOCs are given despite lack of compliance."