As the state of Tamil Nadu and its capital Chennai reels under a severe water crisis, Municipality and Rural Administration Minister SP Velumani on Monday claimed that these problems were being 'manufactured’. Addressing a press conference at the Ripon building, the Minister stated that the government was ensuring water supply throughout the city and simultaneously addressing shortages.
The Minister's claims come even as hotels, offices and residents struggle to meet their daily water needs in Chennai. With its four reservoirs at 0.23% of their combined capacity as on Monday, the city that is supposed to receive 830 MLD of water, now gets only 525 MLD. And with ground water depleting across the state, dependency on water tankers with erratic schedules has created a nightmarish situation for residents.
And yet, when the Minister explained the steps being taken by the government to supply water, he said, "Imagine how many schemes we have put into place if we have given Tamil Nadu 2470 MLD water extra in the last eight years. All schemes have been put in place and we are doing a good job. Despite this because there is no rain, we are facing problems.
He added, "In Chennai there has been no rain for over 190 days. Despite this, Amma's government should work towards providing water continuously and our authorities are rushing to solve any problems that arise." The Minister stated that the government has given instructions to all authorities dealing with water supply to act fast on any issues that arise and to form committees. "We are monitoring everything, we have created teams to handle issues, put out a toll free number and are ready to deal with any complaints," he added.
On hotels and offices running out of water
But when reporters pointed out offices and hotels were struggling to deal with the water scarcity, the Minister denied it. When told that IT companies along OMR are asking employees to 'work from home', Velumani claimed that the practice was common.
"IT companies and hotel associations have spoken to me. There is no closure of hotel. This is false propaganda. People in IT field work from home in a routine manner. When there is a problem tell us but some people are instigating issues," he said.
However, this is far from reality in the city.
Speaking to TNM, Alagunambi Welkin, General Secretary of the Union of IT & ITES Employees (UNITE), says, " Larger MNCs are doing cost cutting measures like reducing water supply in bathrooms, shutting down some bathrooms or switching off the air conditioner. They have told only 10-20% of their staff to work from home. But the mid-level companies have told most of their staff to work from home because they unable to open bathrooms or provide water inside their buildings."
One employee from a multinational corporation, reveals on the condition of anonymity that a member of the Human Resources Development called her on the phone and told her to work from home.
"We were told that due to water shortage and unavailability of water tankers, we should connect from our residences," she says.
The Minister then went on to even downplay problems being faced by hotels in the city and state.
"In hotels also they are buying water. We have told hotels to save water being used to wash vessels. If any private lorry refuses to come, we will talk and tell them to go. We are ready to solve any problems." he assures.
But the Hotel Owners association that is looking to meet representatives of the Government of Tuesday, is aghast by the lackasidical attitude on display.
"Hotels across the city are struggling. We are dependent on water lorries and our working timings all change because we don't know when they will arrive. If the lorry doesn't come on the day we expect, hotels have to close. There is no choice," says M Ravi, president of Chennai Hoteliers Association. "Bigger hotels buy can water to manage for a couple of days. Several small hotels are already closed. If this goes on for another week, we all have to shut shop. We clearly have a problem here and are paying exorbitant rates for private tankers. We are going to meet the Chief Minister and Local Bodies Minister to discuss this," he adds.
Minister SP Velumani then went on to add that while his government was set to address any issues that erupted, problems are being 'manufactured by some people'. He then quickly claimed that he did not want to make the matter political.
"These problems are being manufactured from some places, people are creating it. I don't want to get into the politics of it," says the Minister. "We have held complete discussions today," he adds.
However, a source in Metrowater tells TNM that these discussions can do little to solve the larger problem at hand.
"The meeting was just to expedite the process already underway. If we are sending out 600 water tankers today, it will be increased to 900. But there will still be a deficit," says the official. "It is wrong to say that the problems are being manufactured when people are suffering. In 2017, we still had ground water despite lack of rain. But this year, there is no way out till it rains."