CHENNAI: A tranquil neighbourhood located in Kovilampakkam, Sunambu Kolathur is a small suburb which encompasses towering buildings on one side and small-scale residential structures on the other. Private water tankers stand lined up along the rocky, rutted roads - a common sight for residents here. Once considered a lush locality with abundant water resources including the vast Sunambu Kolathur lake - which now stands almost parched, the plight of people here is not any different from the rest of the city.
Vinayakkam, a resident of the area says, “The last time I saw the lake full was during the 2015 Chennai floods. It has been years since this lake was desilted. We spend around Rs 1000 per month for water and purchase water once every two days, in spite of having so many wells and water bodies around. If the water bodies in this area had been maintained properly, we wouldn’t have been facing this crisis.”Located at a just a 10-minute drive from Sunambu Kolathur is Nanmangalam lake. Surrounded by mud bunds, encroachments and trash, the lake paints a picture of neglect and stands as a testimony to government apathy. Residents allege that despite repeated complaints the lake has not been desilted and government has not taken any stand on the encroachments either.
Speaking to Deccan Chronicle, a dejected resident says, “Desilting and encroachments are only a part of the problem. The water tanker companies purchase wells from residents for a hefty amount, procure water and sell them at almost double or triple the price. You can see water lorries in this area any time of the day, 24/7. If this continues to happen, where will the residents of this area go for water? Government needs to intervene immediately but we have lost all hope.”
The residents of Vengaivasal, a nearby area, echo similar concerns. “Every day around 500 water tankers draw water illegally from wells meant for agriculture. This is water piracy,”says Dinakaran, a resident, who has been protesting against this issue for a long time now. He says that water tankers do not supply water to residents of the locality, despite exploiting their water resources. This has irked the residents who staged a protest by blockading illegal water tankers a few days ago. “We have never faced such an adverse water scarcity. We have no qualms about giving water to those who need it. But the water tanker owners are stealing from our wells and depriving us (the residents of this area) of water. We are being forced to beg for water now,”says Dinakaran.
Julius (61), a social activist and resident of Vengai Vaasal, says, “The quality of water here has gone for a toss with several recently constructed flats disposing their waste into the water bodies.” Encroachment is another issue they face. A resident says that only recently were the 300 houses encroaching the lake area demolished.
Water piracy, non-existent water management policies and zero effort by the authorities to tackle encroachment issues have all made residents of Vengai Vaasal victims to Chennai’s worst drought in seven decades. However, the residents have taken matters into their own hands and are now constructing a well of 40 ft depth, with permission from the area collector. The people conducted a bhumi pooja at the construction site on Sunday (June 30) in the presence of PWD project engineers.
While state government has blamed the delayed monsoons for the city’s water woes, a visit to the city’s lakes tells otherwise. Going by the latest NITI Aayog reports, water scarcity is not an issue which pertains to the city or the state alone, it is a nation in search of water. The need for an efficient water conservation plan cannot be overemphasized. Unless there is better management, restoration and revival of the country’s water bodies, it will be safe to say that ‘Day Zero’ is not far away....