CHENNAI: WITH the advent of summer, illegal water extraction is once again booming in the city’s southern suburbs with the Keelkattalai and Nanmangalam lakes becoming the epicentre of the water mafia’s operations this year.
With more than 70 tankers operating in the area, around 25 lakh litres of water are being extracted and sold on a daily basis. It has been pointed out that if left unchecked, this plunder could go on till the end of June end.
Numerous commercial pipes dot the Keelkattalai lake bed. While some snake towards large wells in the wasteland beyond the lake, most end abruptly in the lake itself. This indicates that a significant amount of the water is being sourced directly from the lake.
Water suppliers are quick to deny this. “The water from the lake cannot be sold,” said A Raja, one such water supplier. However, with the Keelkattalai lake being one of the least polluted water bodies in the suburbs, the water mafia may well be exploiting it.
The modus operandi of water suppliers operating around Nanmangalam lake is this: water is pumped from large wells a few metres from the lake bund. The pipes lead to makeshift filling stations along the Nanmangalam main road, making it easy for tankers to do multiple trips.
ILLEGAL extraction of water makes for good — if dodgy — business. According to water suppliers operating near the Nanmangalam and Keelkattalai lakes, each 12,000 litre tanker makes at least three trips a day. Each load costs around `1000, with prices expected to rise with the heat in coming weeks.
Regardless of whether the water is sourced from lakes or wells near the lakes, the act is a direct violation of Chennai Metropolitan Area Groundwater (Regulation) Amendment Act of 2002.
In 2002, a government order was issued, following the amendment, prohibiting commercial extraction of groundwater from both Nanmangalam and Ullagaram (under which the wells around Keelkattalai lake fall).
According to Vaidyanathan Seetharaman, an advocate, water extraction operations from these areas are also a violation of the Tamil Nadu Protection of Tanks and Eviction of Encroachment Act, 2007.
He claimed that the Kancheepuram Collector had filed an affidavit in the Madras High Court in 2016 stating that all pumps used for illegal extraction of water had been removed. However, pumps have clearly made a comeback in the last two years and official apathy seems to be letting the water mafia greedily suck out groundwater.
Interestingly, Raja, who has leased a well bordering Keelkattalai lake, claimed he supplies 10 loads of water to the Pallavaram Municipality every day. With the civic body itself dependent on illegally extracted water, it is unlikely the water mafia would be stopped, he said. Commissioner of the Pallavaram Municipality, K Sivakumar, was not available for comment.
However, Tambaram Revenue Divisional Officer S Chandrasekaran said he would look into the issue and also work with other departments, such as Public Works and the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board, to ensure that the illegal activity is nipped in the bud this summer.