The unexpected, manmade water crisis that was experienced by those in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur districts since Monday has come to an end, with members of the Private Tanker Operators Association agreeing to a truce on Wednesday with Municipal Administration Minister S P Velumani. Earlier on Wednesday, the Greater Tamil Nadu Packaged Drinking Water Manufacturers Association agreed to end their strike.
Speaking to the media, N Nijalingam, president of the TN Private Tanker Operators Association, said that the government agreed to look into their demands after a tense meeting on Wednesday. “Two members from our association will join the committee formed by the Public Works Department (PWD) that will look into this order,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Madras High Court upheld a 2014 Government Order issued by the PWD that regulates the extraction of groundwater for commercial purposes by commercial establishments. Justice SM Subramaniam upheld the order while disposing of a batch of petitions challenging the order.
This order observed that water and other natural resources are national assets. The judge directed the authorities concerned not to grant a licence, no objection certificate (NOC) or permission to commercial establishments/persons to extract groundwater for commercial usage without inspecting the water flow meter, that allows for fixed water extraction. The order stated that if water was extracted without any authority, it amounted to theft.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewage Board (CMWSSB) issued a circular guaranteeing 24 hours operation of their tanker lorries. CMWSSB operates 790 board agreement vehicles throughout the city, and an average of 675 MLD water is supplied through pipes and mobile water services.
A beeline of 20 water tankers carrying over 10,000 litres of water is a daily sight at Embassy Residency in Perumbakkam. This apartment complex that has close to 700 occupied flats comes under the Perumbakkam panchayat and the pipes from Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewage Board (CMWSSB) do not run through their complex, forcing residents to buy water regularly. But since Monday, the glaring absence of these water tankers left them between a rock and a hard place.
“Our apartments can store water for a day. With the water that we stored on Sunday, we were able to manage on Monday But it has been three days now and we’ve been running from the municipality to the panchayat to help us with this situation. Unless the strike ends, there can be no respite for us,” says Raghunandhanan, Perumbakkam Embassy Residency Association’s President, his worried tone evident.
But Raghunandhanan wasn’t the only one who was severely affected as a result of this strike.
Several apartments, gated communities, private companies, hospitals and other establishments in extended parts of the city and the districts of Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur were left to fend for themselves as a result of the strike.
Raghunandhanan also observed that the puja holidays is the only reason the problem did not escalate. “Commercial complexes have no water. If not for the puja holidays, the corporates would have had to shut down their premises. What can be done without water?” he asks.
The interim respite has stabilised the situation for now.