Private Vendors Increase Prices by Over 100% as Chennai Water Crisis Continues

Authorities have cut piped water supply in the city by 40%.

New Delhi: The water crisis in Chennai is showing no signs of letting up. Over the past few days, the scarcity has led to violent clashes in the city, offices being closed and a political blame-game between the different parties.

Private vendors increase rates by over 100%

The crisis has left people more and more dependent on private vendors – who are increasing prices by over 100% since they know the public has no other option.

“From Rs 1,600 [for 12,000 litres of water] in April, the cost went upto Rs 3,500 in May and now for the last two instalments of water in June, we’ve paid Rs 5,000 per lorry,” advocate Mohammad Muzammil, who lives in T Nagar, told the News Minute. “And if we try to question the lorries, they say that if we are not ready to pay there are others who will.”

One lorry of water, when supplied by the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board, costs Rs 1,000. But at the moment, that water is hard to come by. Private suppliers are charges anything between Rs 3,000 and Rs 6,000 for the same amount of water.

“They [private suppliers] are exploiting the desperate situation that people are in,” a Metrowater official told the News Minute. “But the truth is that Metrowater is unable to meet the city’s water needs independently. We get 1,000 bookings a day and manage to dispatch about 600 water tankers. So, there are 400 pending bookings everyday and this in addition to the bookings we get the next day. The government must intervene in the matter but if they come down too hard, the tankers may go on strike and people will suffer. Their argument is that they travel over 50 km in search of water to transport.”

Digging deeper

According to NDTV, authorities have cut piped water supply in the city by 40%, leaving people more dependent on private suppliers. The lack of water has also given rise to the fear of disease. “We don’t get water even to bathe. I have an office-going son and a daughter at home after college. I work. Water is not enough,” Vijaya, who lives in the heart of the city, told the channel.

To try and find a way around this, some residents have decided to dig deeper borewells – going down to 1,000 feet. The New Indian Express reported that there has been a 150% rise in borewell installation costs in the last two months. “Contractors used to charge Rs 350-400 per foot for drilling through the shallow aquifer and Rs 75-80 for hard rock layer. Now they are charging Rs 400 per ft for both layers combined,” hydrologist J. Saravannan told the newspaper.

Watch | In Soaring Heat, Where Do Delhi’s Homeless Get Drinking Water From?

And even that isn’t likely to have much impact, as borewell diggers are finding out. Groundwater depletion in the city is a severe issue – just as it is in the rest of the country. As The Wire has reported before, a NITI Aayog report stated that 21 Indian cities, including Delhi, will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people.

The only reason the groundwater crisis is not making more waves, Siddharth Goel wrote in The Wire, is because private tankers are masking the problem. The major issue, he argued, is that groundwater is treated like a private resource:

“Groundwater aquifers are a common public resource, similar to rivers and lakes, but qualify as private property through land ownership. In the absence of tight monitoring and regulations, overconsumption by households or commercial businesses can rapidly deplete common underground aquifers.

Despite the political ramifications, reclassifying groundwater as a common resource and regulating its use is essential to avert the impending crisis.”

Madras high court slams Tamil Nadu government

Hearing a public interested litigation on effluents flowing into a canal in Vellore, the Madras high court hit out at the Tamil Nadu government on Tuesday for failing to come up with a plan to tackle the water crisis. Justices S. Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad said that the crisis was not “created in a day”, but the government had taken no preparatory steps.

Also read: ‘We Fear Drought More Than War,’ Say Border Villagers in Gujarat

The government submitted a report on the steps being taken to curb the crisis, as well as new desalination projects planned to supply more water to Chennai. The court responded by saying that several water bodies in the state have been destroyed due to encroachment.

While the Tamil Nadu government is facing the court and public’s ire, the water crisis in the country is not limited to just one state. More than 44% of India is currently facing a drought. According to Down to Earth, 2019 was the second-driest pre-monsoon season in the last 65 years. Maharashtra and Gujarat have also been in the news for the severe drought affecting local populations, particularly farmers.