Over 40,000 buildings in Chennai do not have mandatory rainwater harvesting systems

Lack of public awareness and oversight from the CMDA are allegedly to blame for the poor implementation of rainwater harvesting systems.
Over 40,000 buildings in Chennai do not have mandatory rainwater harvesting systems
Over 40,000 buildings in Chennai do not have mandatory rainwater harvesting systems

16 years after former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa set a landmark ordinance on rainwater harvesting in Tamil Nadu, at least a third of the buildings in the state's capital remain non-compliant. An ongoing survey being conducted by the Chennai Corporation reveals that 41,725 buildings in the city have failed to develop rainwater harvesting (RWH) structures on their premises.

The civic body which is checking compliance in two lakh buildings in 200 wards across the city, has finished surveying 1.42 lakh buildings already. Of these, 77,975 buildings have the required harvesting systems, while 23,146 structures are in need of repair or maintenance. A total of 41,725 houses have however failed to set up rainwater harvesting structures despite the state government making it mandatory to do so.

In fact, according to official sources, a no objection certificate (NOC) won’t be issued to a construction unless its building plan has allocated space and resources for the RWH structures. Despite this, a flagrant violation of rules continues due to alleged lack of awareness amongst the public and oversight from the Corporation as well as Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA).

"Before an NOC is given to a building owner, there is a survey conducted to check compliance with all rules. For structures within two floors, the Chennai Corporation will issue the NOC and beyond that, it is the CMDA. Only after the NOC is given can you get water and electricity supply," says a retired Metrowater official to TNM. 

"Usually an RWH structure will require close to 100 sq. ft of area and it is possible that residents remove the structure after the checks are over and use that space for other reasons. In other cases, the overflowing water may create a nuisance, leading to the structure being dismantled," he adds.

However, the official opines that this is a recent phenomenon.

"When rainwater harvesting systems were ordered in all buildings in 2003, we had 90% compliance within a year," he says.

P.S.J. Palanirajan, president of the Greater Chennai Corporation Licensed Surveyors’ Association tells TNM that residents and building owners are constantly advised to follow rules.

"In the approval drawing of buildings, the structure for RWH has to be included. But recently, some issues seem to have cropped up. A few residents seem to be unwilling and we can educate on the budget and design for the structures," he says.

Indukanth Ragade, a T Nagar-based urban environmentalist however blames the government for the lack of efficient implementation of existing rules. In 2015, Indukanth along with Sekhar Raghavan aka Chennai's Rain Man, who founded the NGO, Rain Centre, in Adyar, conducted a rainwater harvesting survey in the Greater Chennai region. They had found that government buildings were the worst violators of the rainwater harvesting rule.

"Across Chennai, the implementation of the rainwater harvesting scheme has been very poor. The government has not promoted strong RWH systems and does not do a thorough check on the structures that have been set up," says Indukanth. "Even some houses that claim to have RWH systems have got it completely wrong. And now what is the guarantee that corporation workers sent to check the structures have any expertise in this field and can give an accurate assessment?" he asks.

Convenor of anti-graft NGO Arappor Iyakkam, Jayaram Venkatesan, however points out that lack of compliance is a side-effect of corrupt practices adopted by civic bodies.

"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 too see if all rules have been followed. NOCs are given despite lack of compliance," says Jayaram. "One solution to this is that we strongly implement a citizen charter that sets deadlines within which permissions must be granted. This will encourage residents to follow rules and force civic bodies to check compliance,” he adds. 

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