Chennai: M Seshadri booked a water tanker from Chennai Metro Water, the state-owned supplier on May 17. A month has passed and the 68-year-old is still waiting on his order, having made at least 10 trips to the Metro Water branch in Valluvar Kottam. He still hasn’t been given a final date, but knows the wait is going to get longer.
The senior citizen’s plight is a drop in the tsunami of problems that has befallen Chennai residents who have been left dealing with an acute water crisis yet another year. Only this time, the shortage is severe enough to affect both citizens and corporates alike.
In an alarming indication of its magnitude, the scarcity has forced IT companies to scale down operations, with employees being informally told to work from home. Many guest houses and hostels have temporarily shut down, and restaurants are taking lunch meals off the menu and switching to paper plates to save water.
Residents are also queuing up with plastic pots at community wells where a lottery system decides who gets to draw water from the dark depths. But the longest queues are the ones in front of water tankers, or ‘thanni lorries’, that have become a permanent fixture of life in Chennai.
With taps running dry, most residents have been forced to book water tankers for their daily needs. But with the demand far outweighing the supply, the waiting period has increased to 25 days, which in turn has pushed up the prices manifold.
“I work in a hospital and earn Rs 20,000 per month. I have a big family to support. The expenditure on water is eating into my savings, and it’s getting more and more expensive each day,” says Mohammed Hussain, a resident of Teynampet area.
This waiting period isn’t limited to Metro Water tankers alone. With demand zooming each day, private suppliers, too, are asking customers to wait for at least two weeks. While a Metro Water tanker costs Rs 700-Rs 800 for 9,000 litres, private ones are making a killing at Rs 4,000-Rs 5,000.
“We had been booking private tankers a month in advance. But now even that isn’t an option since certain restrictions have been imposed. When we approach them, they tell us to come after 15-20 days. The level of crisis is extreme. We are depending on water cans now, but they are very expensive,” says Vipin J, who lives in Kodambakkam.
With middle-class and low-income families forced to add ‘water’ as a category it their household budget, many Chennaiites are demanding that the government regulate private tankers too.
“Since state-run agencies have not been able to provide adequate water tankers, one has to go in for private tankers. But the cost is exorbitantly high. The government should step in to control the private suppliers and get them to fix their rates. There won’t be any pressure on Metro Water then,” says VS Jayaraman, a resident of T Nagar.
Seethalakshmi, another T Nagar resident, says the men who bring the water tankers demand a tip too. “Metro Water tankers don’t arrive on time, so we rely on private ones. We pay Rs 1,500 and we have to shell out money for tips as well. Sometimes, tenants in our building don’t pay up for water tankers and we end up bearing that cost too.”
According to official sources, the total water demand in the city is 950 million litres per day (MLD), whereas the supply is 750 MLD, including 200 MLD from private tankers. That leaves a dangerous deficit of 200 MLD, and activists say the deficit is even higher.
With the situation worsening each passing day, the Tamil Nadu government on Tuesday said it was largely dependent on ground water to meet the requirements till the onset of monsoon in October.