CHENNAI: For Peter, owner of a small food stall near Chepauk, buying drinking water is a major expense. He shells out around Rs 1,500 on 40 water cans every day. Though this is heavy on his pocket, he cannot limit this expense because a reduction in the quantity of water used in cooking food would mean a drop in quality. Now, Peter is spending sleepless nights because water can prices are likely to go up by Rs 2- Rs 3 in the coming months.
With most borewells in neighbouring districts going dry, water can manufacturers said the price per can is most likely to increase by a maximum of Rs 3. Though the hike looks like a small amount to pay for water, almost all small-scale businesses like Peter’s and other medium-scale eateries in Chennai, which are heavily dependent on water cans will face a severe backlash. “I will have to pay an extra Rs 5,000 every month if prices shoot up. I cannot increase the prices on the menu as my customers are students and daily wage labourers. Summer is going to be a struggle for hotel owners like me,” said the 45-year-old.
As such eateries and hotels do not get Metro Water, most depend on water from private tankers, can services, and on borewells in some areas. Such businesses, on an average, shell out around Rs 35,000-Rs 50,000 per month on water alone.
For example, a medium-scale biryani shop in T Nagar spends Rs 22,000 on water every month. Even if they attempt to use water judiciously, their basic requirement on alternate days is 10 water cans and 12,000 litres of water. “To reduce water usage, we use plantain leaves on plates and use water from tumblers and not big jugs while cleaning tables. But whatever we do, we require at least 7,000 litres of water a day. We have no choice but to pay more from next month if the price goes up,” said Surendran, manager of the eatery at Panagal Park.
Borewells running dry
Ezhumalai, the owner of a juice shop at Usman Road said that most customers refuse to drink juices made with borewell or tanker water. “Even at small shops like ours, people want food or beverages made with can water only. They do not trust the quality of any other water. Also, we cannot increase the price just because we use can water, which is more expensive. So, we try to use milk instead of water for most juices,” said Ezhumalai.
In most places across the city, except for the ones located near the coast, water levels in borewells are rapidly decreasing. Hence, dependence on private water sources will be at an all-time high this summer. “We use close to ten buckets of water from the borewell every day to clean the vessels and the floor. But the borewell is almost dry now. It looks like we have to buy extra can of water for cleaning purposes as well from next month,” said Raviraj, owner of a hotel at Kodambakkam.
Reasons for hike
As existing borewells located at Poonamallee, Avadi, Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram — which act as primary water sources for private players — are drying up, water managers said good quality will cost more from March end onwards. In core areas of the city, water cans that are sold at Rs 30-Rs 35 now may be sold at Rs 32-Rs 40, and cans sold for Rs 25 at peripheral areas may be sold at Rs 27-Rs 30 in peak summer.
“Borewells from where we usually source water have already dried up. So, water tankers will have to travel to faraway places in search of water.
As the distance increases, transportation charges will go up directly resulting in a price hike of water cans. Companies that process raw water will not change their rates as the competition among them is high. Only the distributor and transporter will hike their prices,” said Ananthanarayanan, president of Greater Tamil Nadu Packaged Drinking Water Manufacturers Association. He also warned that as demand increases when water sources become sparse, quality gets compromised the most. “Some distributors will start selling water cans even at Rs 15 to make a profit.,” he added.
Venkada Subbu, president of TN Hotel Association said, “The government has to regulate groundwater extraction so that all parties benefit.”