Water crisis in Tamil Nadu: Clashes erupt in Chennai, IT firms cut down operations

Arun Janardhanan
At Villivakkam, Chennai

When Mohan switched on the motor to draw water from the sump near his house in a Chennai suburb last week, neighbours tried to stop him. And when his wife Subashini rushed to his side in support, a neighbour, Aathimoolam Ramakrishnan attacked her, stabbing her in the neck with a sharp weapon.

Ramakrishnan, who is Tamil Nadu Speaker P Dhanapal s driver, was arrested last Thursday and Subashini is recovering at a Chennai hospital, according to a police officer. But the violent clash only highlights the worsening
drinking water crisis in Tamil Nadu s capital.

With few signs of rains across the state and reservoirs running dry, Chennai s IT firms and restaurants have cut down operations, residents struggle to book tankers and the state government has begun disconnecting water connections to houses for illegally drawing water.

And the crisis is not limited to Chennai. As frustration and anger built over long hours without water and longer queues outside government tankers, police confirmed that a 33-year-old social activist Anand Babu was beaten to death by his neighbours for objecting to their attempt to store a large quantity of water.

According to police, Kumar (48), the main accused in the case, tried to fill water in large plastic barrels from a nearby overhead tank. Babu questioned their storing of too much water for one house when other families were struggling to get water in the neighbourhood. It became a heated argument and Kumar and his two sons in their early 20s started beating Babu with logs and sharp objects. Babu succumbed to injuries later, said a senior officer at Thanjavur who probed the murder at Vilar South Colony, about 5 km from Thanjavur town.

As the crisis deepens, Opposition leader and DMK chief M K Stalin demanded the resignation of Municipal Administration Minister S P Velumani and urged Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami to dismiss him from the Cabinet if he refused to quit. The Madras High Court, too, has sought a report from the government on the looming water crisis.

Several establishments have been closed due to the water crisis. It has gone to a point where IT companies are asking their employees to work from home. Does the Municipal Administration Minister who is busy with corruption have an answer for this? said Stalin in a statement Saturday.

Meanwhile, the AIADMK government has issued an order to take up a traditional water body restoration scheme worth around Rs 500 crore in the current financial year. The government claims that implementing this scheme in 29 districts will improve the groundwater table.

The Chennai metro water authority has also been tasked with waging a battle against water thieves . A senior official said they have disconnected water connections to several houses in the last two weeks for illegally drawing water from water pipes using high-power suction motors.

Incidentally, some restaurants in Chennai have reduced operational hours and a few IT firms have reportedly told their workers to work from home. The water shortage has also hit Southern Railways, too, forcing them to transport water from afar to Chennai for operational needs and passenger services.

T N Hariharan, managing director of Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board, told The Indian Express that the situation is not as alarming as being projected. He said the regular supply of water from Chennai metro water was 830 million litres a day (MLD).

It has come down to 525 MLD now. Usual water sources such as Red Hills, Sholavaram and Chemabarambakkam lakes have fully dried up. But we are maintaining supply with the help of other sources, we will be able to manage the crisis until November, he said.

According to him, getting one spell of rain, as expected in the monsoon by next month, will likely recharge and revive groundwater tables.

Some 180 MLD is being sourced from two desalination plants, 180 MLD from Veeranam lake in Cuddalore (about 240 km south of Chennai), about 95 to 100 MLD from agriculture bore wells and 30 MLD from about 22 rock quarries in Chikkarayapuram, 50 km south west of Chennai. This meets the water demand in the city right now. Water from these resources through pipelines are taken to four water treatment plans in Chennai before they are released for public consumption, he said.