Water becomes a 'priced' possession in North Chennai

North Chennai has the luxury of receiving Metro Water regularly, but it comes with a price. A price that burdens the fishermen in the area, already reeling from the two-month fishing ban
Water from handpumps is mixed with sewage. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath, EPS)
Water from handpumps is mixed with sewage. (Photo | Ashwin Prasath, EPS)

CHENNAI: Ever since the fishing ban came into force two months ago, R Ramesh, a fisherman, manages to make only Rs 200 a day from catching fish in shallow waters. This hardly suffices to run a family of five. Adding to his woes is the expense of water. “We have to pay the lorry driver, so each pot of water costs Rs 1. It may appear as a small amount, but for people like me who have a meagre income, it’s a struggle to shell out Rs 150 a month for water alone. Even ten pots of water isn’t sufficient,” said Ramesh, a resident of Jeevarathinam Road in Kasimedu.

Politics at play

In most pockets of north Chennai, interference of members from political parties to reap personal gains makes sure that water doesn’t reach all end consumers like Ramesh. Express’ visit to Kasimedu, Royapuram, Tondiarpet and Ennore confirmed this. This is one of the primary reasons that everyone does not get their share of water, though Metro Water has been supplying water through tankers on alternate days to north Chennai.

As a result, residents shell out Rs 1-Rs 2 for a pot of water though Metro Water provides water free of cost. Desperate times call for desperate measures and most locals are ready to go to any lengths to get water. Hence, they succumb to such politics. “Members of political parties reroute the water to restaurants and other establishments favouring them. Also, the money we pay for water finally reaches their pockets. They have made an essential resource like water, a commodity,” said a member from the fisherman wing of Tamil Manila Katchi on condition of anonymity.

Also, as a majority of residents from the three zones — Tondiarpet, Royapuram and Thiru Vi Ka Nagar — cannot use groundwater or have pipe water connections, they are forced to rely only on tanker supply. Their dependence is exploited by people with political backing who use water as a medium to gain popularity among people for votes. “Though people’s woes are genuine, some elements incite them to protest for their own gains. That is why during a water shortage, a number of protests, sit-ins happen in north Chennai. If we complain to a local member of a party, he will make sure we get water. But, this will last only for a few days. Our troubles are used to get political mileage,” said a resident of VOC Nagar in Kasimedu.

But on the whole, at the ground level it was apparent that Metro Water has been regularly providing residents of north Chennai with water on alternate days. This is a luxury when compared to the current situation in the rest of the city said locals. “Only for the past month, tankers sometimes come once in two days. Otherwise, they are reliable. The only problem is we don’t know if tankers will come in the day or at night. But it is a huge relief that poor families like us still get water even when the affluent get tankers once in three weeks,” said Saroja, a resident of Kasipuram B Block.

An unsolved issue

Sewage-laced water filled from handpumps still remains an unsolved issue, ignored by officials. For close to two years, the entire Kasimedu and parts of Tondiarpet have been getting black-coloured water, smelling of faeces, from their handpumps. “Even during normal times we struggle to get water. With a drought, that too in summer, every drop is precious. But buckets of water go waste because of mixing of sewage. We have staged a number of protests, complained to all officials, but this problem hasn’t been resolved yet,” said Manimegalai, another resident.

Locals said that this problem started with the laying of Metro Rail lines from AG-DMS to Washermenpet. Because of this, sewer and water pipes have been damaged leading to mixing of both, they added. “We can’t use groundwater as it is very salty. Water from the handpumps gives us skin allergies even if we touch it. Hence, we have to manage with five pots of water for two days in a house of four people,” said Arulselvi, a resident.

Fishing ban a bane

As a majority of residents are fishermen by profession, the two-month ban on fishing since April has cut off the only source of income for the families. On the other hand, most haven’t received an assistance of Rs 5,000 from the government yet. Hence, cost of water becomes a bigger price to pay.

“Only 20-odd fishermen get this money in a single day as there are very few e-Sevai centres in each zone. In both, Tondiarpet and Royapuram, there are only four or five. Also because of elections, we couldn’t claim this money till the code of conduct was lifted. What is the point of getting help after we start fishing?”asked Ramesh, who has borrowed a loan of Rs 50,000 to pay his children’s school fees.

Prabhakaran, another fisherman said this amount was too less to manage a family of four for two months, especially during a water crisis. “Even after the ban is lifted, it will take a month’s time for business to pick up. With the little money we have, we cannot afford to buy can water also. The government should increase the aid amount,” he added.

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