Chennai's agony:BY GOKUL CHENNAI, the country's only metropolitan city without a perennial source of drinking water, is in the

grip of acute water scarcity. Two of the rain-fed lakes that meet the city's needs - Poondi, and Red Hills - have severely depleted storage owing to the failure of the southwest monsoon (June-September) and the northeast monsoon (October-December) last year, and a third, Sholavaram, is dry. Tanker trucks pressed into service by the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) and those run by private operators are trying to meet the people's daily needs, at least partially. The people of Chennai get 35 litres of water per capita in the best of times. The poor, the majority of them living in slums, are the worst-affected. They depend almost entirely on the public water supply systems. Although the city receives rain during both the monsoons, it is the northeast monsoon that replenishes its reservoirs, which also receive the surface run-off from the Araniyar and the Kortalaiyar rivers. These reservoirs are shallow (Poondi is 2.2 metres deep, Sholavaram 3.4 m, and Red Hills 3.8 m) and are spread over a total catchment area of 3,513 sq km. In years of normal rainfall, about 200 million litres a day (mld) can be drawn from them. Poondi's capacity is 76.7 million cubic metres (mcm), Sholavaram's 22.5 mcm and Red Hills' 71 mcm. The public water distribution system meets 65 per cent of the city's needs, sources such as wells 21 per cent, community facilities (mainly India Mark 2 deep handpumps and open public wells) 10 per cent and private sources 4 per cent. About 92 per cent of the city is piped. Since 1978, water has also been supplied by tankers to the needy areas from one of the three headworks in the city. The water supply to Chennai during years of normal rainfall is around 313 mld (78 litres per capita a day, or lpcd). But during the drought years availability has been as low as 127 mld (32 lpcd). There is considerable variation in the availability of water across different sections of the people. According to a study undertaken in 1993 by the Centre for Environment Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad, while the average gross availability of water was 69 lpcd, it was 8 lpcd in the slums. GROUNDWATER is the city's major water source now. It is drawn mainly from the well-fields in the Araniyar-Kortalaiyar basin and the aquifer between Tiruvanmiyur and Muttukadu along the coast south of Chennai. The well-fields yield 148 mld and the southern aquifer supplies 10 mld. There are a number of minor well-fields and individual wells. The other sources of groundwater are 5,759 tubewells, 35 open wells operated by municipal corporations in the suburbs and 4,700 hand pumps. According to the Census of 1991, there are about two lakh private wells in the city. CMWSSB, or Metrowater, the government agency that is responsible for supplying water to Chennai, supplies 250 mld, including 50 mld for industrial use, every day. Nearly half of this comes from the wells operated by it (70 mld) and those it has hired in Tiruvallur district (30 mld, which is to be increased to 60 mld). Metrowater has added 1,075 storage tanks to the existing 2,525 in order to meet the current water crisis. Water is distributed by over 300 tankers that make over 2,000 trips every day. In order to ensure effective distribution, Metrowater has commissioned filling points at six distribution stations in the past three months. The Southern Railway runs 'water specials' to Chennai from Chengalpattu and Erode. Each train carries 10 lakh litres in 50 wagons every day. With a view to tapping the ready market for water, private suppliers have stepped in. They draw water from the southern aquifer and sell it in multiples of 4,000 litres. They charge anywhere between Rs.550 and Rs.750 for a tanker-load of 12,000 litres. Groundwater extraction is reaching its limits. Accordin to the Central Groundwater Board, 80 per cent of Chennai's groundwater has been depleted and any further exploration could lead to salt water ingression. The assured yield from groundwater sources is estimated at 190 mld; of this, 158 mld has been tapped. The rapid growth of the city's population has strained the water supply systems. In 1911, when most of these systems were designed, its population was only about five lakhs. The present population is 55 lakhs. Efforts to tap the groundwater resources started in 1965. Six well-fields were commissioned between 1965 and

1987. In early 2000, 17 deep borewells were dug and 13 deepened. This is in addition to the existing 49 deep-borewells. According to C.P. Singh, the outgoing Managing Director of Metrowater, the board has commissioned a study, "The Second Chennai Plan," to explore the possibility of augmenting the sources of groundwater and tapping the run-off water in the Araniyar-Kortalaiyar river basin. HOWEVER, the city's annual agony during summer is unlikely to end unless other options are explored. Chief Minister Jayalalitha has promised to provide "potable water to all citizens". The new government has also promised to revive the Veeranam Water Supply Scheme that was launched in 1968 to bring water from the Veeranam lake, about 250 km from Chennai, desilt tanks, and construct reservoirs at Ramanjeri and Thirukandalam on the outskirts of Chennai, as part of the second phase of the Krishna River Water Project, which is popularly known as the Telugu Ganga project. According to an official release, the government, taking into account factors such as the rate of population growth and the sustainability of the Krishna water scheme for 50-60 years, decided in 1996 to spend Rs.1,000 crores during the following five years to strengthen the distribution system. But the plan remains on paper. The Public Works Department's plan to construct reservoirs at Ramanjeri and Thirukandalam has been delayed because of problems relating to land acquisition. The new government plans to implement the two projects. PROFILE OF THE PROJECT AREA Tiruvallur district came into existence in the 1997. The boundaries of the district stretch from the Bay of Bengal and Chennai City in the east, Chittoor of Andhra Pradesh in the west, Chitoor and Nellore districts of Andhra Pradesh in the north, and Vellore and Kancheepuram districts in the south. It has a long coastal line of 80 km. The district has 3 revenue divisions, 8 taluks and 14 blocks. There are 823 revenue villages, 6 municipalities, 19 town panchayats and 540 village panchayats. The population as per the 2001 census is 27.38 lakh (provisional) with a density of 800 persons per sq. km. Males constitute 50.77 percent. Almost 50% of the population lives in rural areas, while 26.18% is SC/ST. The literacy rate is 68% and there are 55, 9515 households. Of the total working population, 46% is engaged in agriculture. Rain falls during the North-East and South-West Monsoons. There are no perennial rivers only seasonal ones. These are the Kosasthaliar, Araniar, Nandi, Kallar and Coovam, as well as the Buckingam Canal. The non-calcareous soils covering 64% of the total area are predominate in all taluks. The geographical area is 342,243 hectares and the major crops grown are paddy, groundnut and sugar-cane. The important fishing clusters are Pulicat and Arambakkam. As regards industrial development, Tiruvallur district has different industries dealing with textiles, bricks, electronics and other engineering initiatives. Apart from 11 government industrial estates with about 1,505 units, there are five private industrial estates. There are 180 large and medium industries and 16,940 small-scale and tiny industries. There exists a good banking network. This consists of 23 public/private sector banks, with a network of 130 branches; 19 branches of Kancheepuram District Central Cooperative Bank; 10

Primary Cooperative Agricultural Rural Development Banks and branches of the Tamil Nadu Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (TIIC). Administrative arrangement The administrative units of the district consist of both revenue villages and village panchayats besides town panchayats and municipalities. Thiruvallur district comprises 8 taluks, 14 blocks and 816 villages. As regards to the hierarchy of administrative arrangement, there are 6 municipalities, 19 town panchayats and 669 villages panchayats in the district. The details regarding talukwise number of blocks, villages, village panchayats, town panchayats and municipalities are given in Table 1. Taluk Block R.Village Panchayats TP Municipalities Thruvallur 2 121 81 1 1 Uthukottai 2 161 102 2 1 Thiruthani 2 80 69 2 1 Pallipattu 2 70 81 3 1 Ponneri 2 169 96 3 1 Gumudipoondi 1 87 61 2 1 Poonamalli 3 115 85 4 Ambathur - 13 47 2 All 14 816 662 19 6 5.1 River basins Araniyar, Kusasthalaiyar, Adyar and Cooum are the four rivers in the district. Araniyar and Kosasthaliyar originate in Andra Pradesh, whereas Cooum and Adyar originate from surplus courses of Cooum of tank in Thiruvallur taluk and Chembarambakkam tank in Sriperumpudur taluk respectively. The length and area of the basin for each river are given in detail in Table 26. In respect of basinwise ground water availability the average annual rainfall of the four river basin is 1039mm. The river basinwise geographical area, rainfall gross recharge etc. are given in Table 27. Dams and reservoir The only dam in the district is across the river Kosasthalaiyar river named as Sathiyamoorthi sagar and was constructed in 1994. The designed capacity of the dam is 97.98MCM. There are three reservoirs at Red hills, Cholavaram, Chembarambakkam with the capacity of 93.46, 25.30, 103.23 MCM respectively. Water at Sathiyamoorthy dam and all the three reservoirs are used for only chennai city water supply. (Table 28) 5.3 Irrigation by different sources. The main sources of irrigation in the district are wells, tanks and canals in that order. The gross area irrigated under these sources are 75649,37468 and 3375, hectares respectively. On an average nearly two third (67.1%) of the total cropped area are irrigated. Of the 14 blocks in the district, 8 blocks avail irrigation sources for over 75% of the total cropped area. The blockwise details are given in Table 29, 30. 5.4 Incidence of Drought, Flood & Cyclone No data are available on drought, Flood & Cyclone for the years 1985-96. However, the available information obtained from the section dealing nature calamities in district collectorate regarding the compensation during heavy monsoon period reveals that all the 6 taluks and 14 blocks availed relief fund. The details are given in Table 31. Generally flood occurs during north east monsoon when there is heavy rainfall coupled with cyclonic storm formed in Bay of Bengal. Floods often occur in the basins of Kosasthalaiyar, Araniar, Cooum and Adyar and its tributaries. Packaged water takes sheen out of Metrowater Families spend Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,000 a month for buying water Despite a steady supply through pipelines, most households depend on packaged water for cooking and drinking purposes CHENNAI: Metrowater might have stepped up its daily water supply to 570 million litres a day — a definite high in recent years. Due to the comfortable storage

levels at the reservoirs, officials are confident of meeting the demand till monsoon. But there is a twist in the success story: a majority of city households depend on packaged water for cooking and drinking purposes. More than 150 water packaging units in Tiruvallur district extract ground water, treat them using reverse osmosis plants, package them in 20-litre bubble-top cans and supply them to the city households.The bubble top has become the mainstay in most homes despite round-the-clock supply by Metrowater. This despite officials reiterating several times that water through pipelines and tanker service is potable and is being supplied only after treatment for impurities. According to the Tamil Nadu Packaged Drinking Water Manufacturers Association, the daily sale of 20-litre bubble tops exceeds 75,000 units a day. With the price tag between Rs.15 to Rs.35 per can depending on the brand, the residents are collectively spending more than Rs.15 lakh every day on potable water. The private sector is meeting a demand of more than 20 lakh litres a day. G. Vinayakamurthy, joint general secretary of the Association, says residents got used to the taste and quality of packaged drinking water during the successive drought years and there is no going back. "All the manufacturing units stick to the quality standards set by the Bureau of Indian Standards. Through reverse osmosis treatment, we are able to provide water with ideal total dissolved solids (TDS) levels that improves the taste." Apart from the bubble tops, one-litre PET bottles are another huge segment especially in hotels and travel sector. Water purifiers have also made an impact in recent months though water-packaging units claim that it could never dent their market share. Another interesting aspect of the impact of private supply of water has been the manner in which several middle-class homes have absorbed the costs in their monthly budgets. Several families set aside anything between Rs.500 to Rs.1,000 a month for purchasing water. R. Rajesh, an Anna Nagar resident, sees the money spent on water every month as a reasonable sum for maintaining good health. "The water tastes better and there is the added advantage of BIS certification for quality. Somehow one does not get the same confidence with the water supplied through pipelines. That is not to say it is impure but surely packaged drinking water tastes a lot better than Metrowater." Company charged with misuse of ISI mark on packaged water The BIS will write to State authorities seeking cancellation of manufacturing licence • The offence is punishable with imprisonment up to one year or fine of Rs. 50,000 • Chennai, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur have over half the State's licensed water packaging units CHENNAI: The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has detected the misuse of the ISI mark by the manufacturers of "Blue-i" and "Sun `n' Cool" packaged water. A BIS raid on Tuesday at Reform Aqua Systems Private Limited in Vegambakkam village, Melkottur, showed that the company was using the ISI mark without certification or a BIS licence. The offence is punishable with imprisonment up to one year or a fine of Rs. 50,000. The BIS will write to the State Industries Department seeking cancellation of the manufacturing licence. "We collected several Blue-i market samples from Adyar. Then we tracked down the company," said J.T. Davidson, Head (Marks), BIS.During the raid, officials seized 600 ISI-marked water-filled pouches, a plastic film with ISI marks to make 80,000 pouches, 113 empty 20-litre PET containers and 165 opaque containers, which were recently banned in favour of transparent ones. Increased vigilance The Bureau will intensify vigilance over packaged water manufacturers in the State, especially in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur. The three districts have 250 of the 400 licensed packaged water manufacturers in Tamil Nadu. There are 1,200 licensed units in the country. "There may be manufacturing units misusing the ISI mark. We urge consumers to report such violations," Mr. Davidson said. Last month, BIS blacklisted 20 companies whose ISI certification had expired. Packaged drinking water is one of the 109 `mandatory

certification' products that include LPG cylinders and baby food. Complaints can be registered at 22541442 or 22541216. Stealing farmers’ water to quench Chennai’s big thirst. A Rs 600-crore tanker industry is capitalising on Chennai’s acute water scarcity. Over 13,000 tankers are mining the surrounding farmlands for water. With agriculture in crisis and groundwater levels insufficient for farming, farmers find it easier to live off the money they earn from private water operators. Severe water shortages are routine in Chennai every summer. The average person knows she’s got to sweat it out in the baking sun, waiting in an endless queue for water. This year the rains have cheated them again. Although the water rushing in from upper riparian states like Karnataka and Maharashtra has brought temporary relief, nobody believes the problem will ever be solved. The Tamil Nadu government has no answer; it is busy ‘stealing’ water from its farmers to quench the thirst of Chennai’s population. Water shortages are met by lifting water from neighbouring rural areas. Every month, an average of Rs 50 crores’ worth of water is brought into Chennai from the rural provinces. That amounts to a whopping Rs 600 crore, every year, for water. Chennai Metrowater says the Upper Veeranam Project, meant to bring drinking water to Chennai, will result in savings of Rs 500 crore every year. Right now, however, water continues to be ‘stolen’ from rural areas around Chennai, destroying valuable farmland and creating a shortage in Veeranam itself. Nobody likes to talk about this.Government lorries have stopped plying water from the villages to the cities, but private lorries continue to do so,” says a Metrowater Board official. “We can fulfil only one-fourth of the needs of Chennai, the rest is met by private operators.”According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), on average a person needs 3 litres of water for drinking, 4 litres for cooking, 20 litres for bathing, 40 litres for sanitation, 25 litres to wash vessels and 23 litres for gardening. Chennai currently has a population of 50 lakh -- that means its total water requirement for the year is approximately 675 million litres. ‘Managing Water in Chennai’, a report brought out by the Centre for Science and Environment, predicts that by the year 2021, Chennai’s population will rise to 1 crore, and its water requirement will increase to 1,170 million litres annually. Of this, around 870 million litres will be required to meet residential needs; the rest will be for industrial purposes. In 2004, the various sources of water supply to Chennai included: • Tanks and borewells operated by Chennai Metrowater: 120 million litres • Water recycling units: 3 million litres • Government and municipality wells: 15 million litres • Housing board wells/borewells: 400 million litres • Private water tankers: 50 million litres • Canal/sewage water recycling: 50 million litres • Veeranam Project: 40 million litres supplied through taps Source: Chennai Metrowater As Chennai (total area: 200 sq km) grows into yet another Asian megacity, it is busy drawing water from sources all around it. The water is being drawn from nearby towns like Mamandur, Palur, Karungizhi, Tiruporur, Puvirundavalli, Meenjur, Gummidipundi and Kanaigiper, using a fleet of over 13,000 water tankers. Private lorries collect water from farms and villages around Chennai; borewells are the main source. This is water taken away not just from agriculture but also from the drinking water supplies of the villagers. Groundwater levels have dropped drastically in all these towns and villages as a result. A policy of enforcing compulsory rainwater harvesting, initiated by the Tamil Nadu government a few years ago, has made very little difference to the water situation in these rural areas. Even villages that do practise water conservation methods are facing a severe water crisis. Disputes over water are common. “In our village, as per government instructions, we carried out rainwater harvesting with the help of

district officials; we recovered lakes occupied by various vested interests. We deepened the lakes and de-silted them. But all these efforts have benefited only the private water suppliers,” says Neelavathi Venkatesan, president of the Vangaivasal village panchayat. He says there were already two packaged water companies operating in his area. Now another has been given permission to set up shop. Apart from them, private lorries have also been regularly taking water from the lakes and wells in the village, to sell in Chennai. In 1987, Venkatesan says, the Tamil Nadu government brought in a special Act to prevent instances of water theft from public sources. But, according to him, even if the culprits are caught and handed over to the police they are let off with only a light fine. “We have carried out many agitations against these operators, but they are of little use. Now we have a water problem in our village,” says Venkatesan. In Tiruvallur district, north of Chennai, groundwater along a stretch of around 13 km has been made unusable by the seepage of seawater inland by as much as 4 km. “The government lorries may have stopped taking water to supply the residents of Chennai, but the situation here has not changed much. Every month the water dealers pay farmers an advance of Rs 50,000 plus Rs 15,000 for the rights to exploit water sources on their land. The water is pumped out using subsidised power provided by the government for agricultural purposes,” says Samuel Dharanipathy, vice-president of the Vengaivasal Ayacut Organisation (ayacuts are channels used to divide irrigation water among farmers; the organisation oversees this process to prevent disputes).Dharanipathy says diesel engines are being used to draw out the water. Seven wells in his village are being exploited in this manner; most of them, around 30 feet deep, have already dried up. A perennial 110acre lake in the village has also gone dry. “This year we de-silted the lake and there is some water now but we are not sure if it will be enough for our cattle,” he adds. It’s a similar story along the East Coast Road (ECR) that runs south of Chennai down the entire coast of Tamil Nadu. Here, because of the proximity to the sea, much of the groundwater has been contaminated by saltwater. The private water operators are siphoning off whatever drinkable water is left in the villages, sparking off several agitations by local people. But little has been achieved. The indiscriminate pumping of water is further contaminating water sources. In Selaiyur, villagers have to bear the consequences of the destruction of water sources both by local vested interests as well as private water operators. The Selaiyur lake (around 90 acres in size) that was being used to irrigate around 500 acres of farmland, and is also the source of drinking water, has almost been taken over by local bigwigs. Although the villagers have been protesting the illegal takeover of the lake (they have even taken the matter to court), they have received no help from the government. Meanwhile, private water tankers continue to lift water from the lake.“We don’t stop anyone from taking water to solve Chennai’s problems. But existing water sources should be protected and the requirements of the rural people should be safeguarded,” says C Loganathan, head of the Selaiyur farmers organisation.In their defence, the private water dealers say they are not exploiting anyone, they are only meeting Chennai’s demand for water. “We serve the people. The government is not able to give water to everybody so we supply those who are willing to pay. We don’t pressurise anyone to buy from us. The state-owned Metrowater also charges money for water -- so why is it a crime if we also do so,” asks Ganesan, a water dealer. He adds that by paying farmers for their water they are being given a new lease of life, as the agricultural situation is so bad. “We are giving farmers an income they never expected. We are not exploiting anyone. We have to pay for the maintenance of our lorries, diesel, rentals and many other things apart from providing employment to people,” says Ganesan. K Veera Raghavan, a sharecropper in Vengaivasal, agrees that the farming situation is precarious. “We have to depend on electric pumps to irrigate our fields with the water remaining in our village pond. But there are too many power cuts and farming is no longer profitable.” Veera Raghavan explains that the proximity of

his village to Chennai also means that labour costs are high as many villagers migrate to the city in search of better jobs. The government, he says, is indifferent to agriculture, and the cost of private funds to pay for farming inputs is exorbitant. “I have 3 acres of land, and spend around Rs 7,000 per acre. My entire family works on the farm for six months of the year, at the end of which I get a return of Rs 12,000 per acre. Most of this money goes towards paying interest on loans. My 200 sq ft well, from which I sell water, gives me more income than my farming does,” says Veera Raghavan. He spent Rs 5,000 on setting up a new borewell, and Rs 12,000 on a diesel engine. He sells a tanker-load of water for Rs 80, on which he makes a profit of Rs 60. The farmer says his family eats and lives better now. Veera Raghavan admits, however, that the indiscriminate sale of water could lead to shortages in the future. But he believes there is no other way out for his own survival. “This is god’s will,” he says, lifting his hands to the sky. A little investigation in the provinces around Chennai reveals that water is not the only thing being bought by private water operators. They are also buying up land from farmers in distress and debt. Drained of all its water resources, the land is being sold as real estate.“After selling their land, most farmers move to Chennai in search of work and end up in the city’s slums,” says Venkatesan of the Tambaram taluka farmers association. The government must do something urgently to prevent the ruin of the state’s farming communities, he says. “We used to have a beautiful life before. Agriculture used to be good enough to look after my entire family. But now there is no water in our wells anymore and we want to sell our land and move to Chennai,” says Perumal, a farmer in Payayaseivaram village, Balur taluka, holding back his tears.Social activists in Chennai say it is possible to solve the city’s water problems, provided the government is able to frame the right policies and implement them properly. “The ponds around Chennai’s numerous temples need to be revived. This will automatically increase groundwater levels. The swamps around the city should be protected, as they guard against seawater contaminating groundwater sources. Some of these swamps are being used to dump garbage; this should stop immediately,” says V Srinivasan, an activist who has worked on projects to revive Chennai’s temple ponds. “The state should not convert the neighbouring rural areas into a desert simply to supply water to Chennai,” says K Anbararan, a poet and writer based in the city. It is time, he says, that the government stopped looking at everything from the point of view of electoral politics, and did something to solve the real problems of ordinary people. (R Srinivasan is a social activist working on livelihood issues among the urban poor in Chennai. He is currently engaged in rehabilitation work among tsunamiaffected populations in coastal areas to the south of the city)