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India facing the worst water crisis ever

Abha Toppo
Abha Toppo

A water crisis ensued when thousands of water lorry drivers in Chennai went on strike for 3 days last month to protest a verdict restricting their access to groundwater. People had to face lots of problems as there was no water in the entire city for three days.

Saravanan Parthasarathy, who owns Jai water supply said, "A resident called and even threatened to suicide if I didn't send a water tanker. Water is like that. We can't live without it”.

India is facing a big or ‘the worst water crisis in its history’, according to a report by NITI Aayog published in June. The worsening water shortage is threatening the lives and incomes of millions of people including the farmers. Moreover, it is impeding the economic growth of the country. Around 163 million people in India, especially from the rural areas, don’t have access to clean water close to their home.

According to official data, Chennai needs 800 million litres of water every day to meet daily demands. But the government at the moment could only provide 675 million litres of water, said Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board.

Like many other Indian cities, Chennai and its adjoining regions fill that gap by purchasing water, encouraging people to dig backyard bore wells, or making use of private wells. The city depends upon more than 4000 private water tankers for its daily water needs. The government is also running a ‘dial a tanker’ service for the public.

The Chennai Private Water Tanker Lorry Association said that each tanker makes at least 5 trips per day, carrying water from the city outskirts to flats, hotels and offices. In total, the tankers deliver 200 million litres of water per day to Chennai.

Shekhar Raghavan, director of the charity Rain Centre said tankers spot good groundwater sources in agricultural areas in bordering districts. They then pay a small fee to get the water and later sell it for a very high cost. He added that the unauthorized extraction of groundwater is creating many problems as supplies run short.

Four years back, a state government order had restricted the use of such tanked-in water for commercial purposes; however implementation of the order was erratic. Government had so far fined many people still the amount of water being supplied continued to grow - by about 25% since then.

Parthasarthy said, “Technically we are delivering water free of cost and helping the people. We are quenching the city's thirst”. His company's brings water from 50 kilometers away from the city and charge only Rs 2,000 for 24,000 litres. But the critics are saying that the company’s use of rural water is depriving people in those regions of adequate water.

The Madras High Court last month had finally ruled on a petition brought by 75 drinking water bottlers against the 2014 Tamil Nadu water restrictions. Those restrictions stop the companies' access to groundwater in areas recognized as ‘critical and ‘dark zones’. The bottlers had asked for exemption from the order saying that good monsoon rains would sufficiently refill disappearing groundwater.

The court in its decision called groundwater the ‘backbone of India's drinking water and irrigation system’ ruling that firms extracting it for money without permission were engaged in criminal ‘theft.

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