Post rains, parts of Chennai deal with sewage flooding streets

TNM spoke to residents in T Nagar, Besant Nagar and Anna Nagar who said that sewage mixed with rainwater has inundated their localities, seeped into bore wells, and even entered their homes.
Collage of a house and a street in Chennai filled with a foot deep sewage mixed with rain water
Collage of a house and a street in Chennai filled with a foot deep sewage mixed with rain water

Shiva Subramanian and his family call an apartment in Chennai’s T Nagar home. But for the past three weeks, they have been staying in Pallikaranai. Since 2009, they have lived in an old residential complex at the corner of T Nagar’s Usman Road. However, on November 7, the whole family packed up and left their apartment following intense water logging due to heavy rains. To date, Shiva, his wife, and his son have not been able to return home. Not because they don’t want to, but because their building is surrounded by a foot deep of rainwater mixed with sewage.

“It has been three weeks now. The whole place stinks. We have made multiple complaints to the corporation but nobody has come to drain out the water. The water has turned black and has become a breeding pool for mosquitoes,” says Shiva, describing his apartment complex’s condition to TNM. The long-time T Nagar resident is vexed with the situation, adding that this has happened once before in the building - located on Pinjala Subrmanian street - during the 2015 floods. This time, almost all residents of this 28-apartment complex have been evacuated as the sewage has mixed with the rainwater and entered their metro water sump, contaminating their water lines. 

Water stagnating around Shiva's T Nagar apartment complex

However, this issue is not limited to Shiva’s building.

Across T Nagar – which consists of commercial buildings and residential neighbourhoods – people have reported that rainwater has mixed with sewage and flooded their streets. Social media, too, has been filled with complaints from the city residents. There have been numerous tweets to the Chennai Corporation asking them to clear sewage from T Nagar’s roads and to stop pumping it onto the streets. People also posted pictures of roads with stagnating sewage along with pleas for help. This includes residents of Ramachandra Street, Bazullah Road, Rajan Sreet, Rama Kamath Puram, etc.

Just last year, the Chennai Corporation had spent Rs 200 crore to rebuild stormwater drains in T Nagar, under the Smart Cities development works. Residents say that the fact that T Nagar was among the worst-hit places in the city during these rains, despite these development works, was a cruel joke.

Sewage stagnation across Chennai

The sewage crisis is seen in various parts of Chennai. TNM spoke to residents in Anna Nagar and Besant Nagar, who said that sewage has leaked through kitchen pipes and bubbled out of bathroom drains, and flooded their homes.

“After the second bout of showers on November 18, I woke up to my kitchen, hallway, and rooms flooded with greenish water. On checking, we identified that the water had leaked out of the kitchen drain and that the bathroom drains were spitting out water because the sewerage system was clogged and overwhelmed,” says Smitha, a resident of Anna Colony in Besant Nagar. 

Smitha adds that despite seeking help from the Chennai Corporation, nothing much could be done to resolve the sewage mixed rainwater stagnation in the area. “They could not bring their drainage suction vehicle into our tiny road and clear up the water. So, they said that it would resolve automatically,” says Smitha. However, with her mother and her 83-year-old grandmother living in the house, Smitha adds that the sewage stagnation and inundation is a major health hazard.

“There is also the possibility that the sewage could have mixed with the metro water. We have been cleaning our house every day and using water only after boiling it,” she adds.

On November 13 and 14, residents in an apartment complex in Anna Nagar faced a similar issue. “Around 20-21 residents fell very sick. They had diarrhoea, vomiting, and fever. Two days before this happened, we identified that sewage had mixed with the bore well water inside the building post the rains. This water is used to bathe, wash clothes and utensils by residents. But before we identified the contamination, people had already used it,” says, Sharada*, a resident of the apartment located on the 13th main road.

Sewage water enters borewell tank of Annanagar apartment complex

Overflowing manholes and wells

According to an official from the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMSSSB), an overburdened drainage system is the reason the sewage is spilling out. 

“Our sewerage system and the pumping station wells ( where the manhole drains into) work on gravitational power. The wells are built at different heights for the water to flow. From various outlets, this sewage gets collected at wells located in different pumping stations,” says the official, who works as an Area Engineer in the CIT colony zone. 

Due to the rains, the water table increased and the manholes and pumping wells got filled to the brim with stormwater and sewage, resulting in the spillover found on the streets, he explains.

“When stormwater drains don’t work properly, the excess rainwater drains into the sewage lines. We must remember these pipes were built long ago and have a fixed capacity when it comes to holding water,” he adds. 

Additionally, buildings in low lying areas are further prone to inundation. “For example, the apartment complex ( in T Nagar) that has been vacated is one foot lower than the ground level. So when the sewage lines which are right under the road overflow, the water gets collected in the low lying areas,” he adds. All of the buildings on that road have a single outlet for the sewage to flow into the main pipe located on the main road. “Some of these are commercial buildings, such as hotels, where they generate more sewage. All of this has to drain through one small outlet,” he adds.

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