CHENNAI: The surprised looks and wide grins among the public when a group of activists led by Magsaysay award winner Rajendra Singh drank a glass of water supplied to city residents by Chennai Metro Water, revealed it all.
“Tap water in all metros is good for drinking, but a psychosis is created to make the public buy bottled water,” Singh said while launching a three-year campaign for making potable water available free of cost in public spaces, on the YMCA ground in Royapettah on Sunday evening.
The distrust among the common people over the quality of the water supplied by the public utility was evident from the reaction of the gathering, when Singh symbolically gave a glass of water to anti-nuclear campaigner SP Udayakumar, who was egged on to drink it by environmental activist G Sunderrajan of the NGO Poovulagin Nanbargal.
Sunderrajan said that the campaign aimed to drum up support from all political parties in Tamil Nadu ahead of the elections next year. “We will try to pressurise all parties to include this demand in their agenda and electoral manifesto,” he said.
Singh, who won the Stockholm Water Prize for pioneering work in water harvesting in his native village in Rajasthan, called for decentralisation of water management up to the community level, pointing out that water was a resource meant for public use and not to be sold as a commodity by corporates.
“Where water is managed by local communities, rivers turn perennial. Where it is given to corporates, farmers commit suicide,” he told a gathering of around 100 people. Tamil Nadu was an ideal place to start the campaign to hand over management of water bodies to communities instead of allowing private parties to encroach it, Singh noted.
The youth of the country, who were still keyed into soft drinks and bottled water, would join this campaign once they realise that their future prosperity is linked to public water availability, Singh felt. Despite being part of government panels and winning acclaim, Singh said that no political party had come out in support of his water policies. “Nobody wants to debate on this topic in public as well. Even the people who gave me the Stockholm prize, will they implement the plans for which I got the citation,” he wondered aloud.
Earlier in the day, speaking to Express, Singh said that river cleaning projects like those announced for the river Ganga, should involve local communities who were spiritually attached to the river.
“But this government is thinking only about contractors and corporates while talking about cleaning Ganga. River cleaning is not possible with science and technology,” he said, adding that the start of Ganga cleaning must begin with its tributaries.