The age-old adage ‘Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink’ seems to hold true for residents of Kasimedu in North Chennai, who live in tenements that are a mere 100 metres away from the Kasimedu Fishing Harbour, also known as Royapuram Fishing Harbour, but scramble for water in parched Chennai.
While the city has been reeling under an acute water crisis which peaked this summer, residents of Kasimedu have been hit hard, due to erratic Metrowater supply and no means to pay for expensive private tankers who have doubled their prices since the crisis began in Chennai.
People here rely on groundwater and water supplied to public tanks by Metrowater to meet all their needs, right from drinking to cleaning up the catch at the market.
Residents of Kasimedu, most of whom work at the Kasimedu Fish Market next to the harbour blamed the scanty rainfall for the ongoing water crisis. “It has been four days since I took a bath. I am hoping that I can take a bath at least today and have asked my family to fill up water if we get any”, said 60-year-old Kaliammal, who has resided at Kasimedu all her life.
The sexagenarian said that residents pay Rs. 40 for a can of drinking water and purchase at least five cans a day to meet all their daily needs. “We buy 10 cans on Fridays since there is absolutely no groundwater available”, said Kaliammal, who used to avail water from Metrowater and the sump in her house until a few months ago. Kaliammal added that DMK leader Stalin had been sending lorries once in two days to provide water to Kasimedu residents, with which they have been able to manage so far.
Sumathi, another resident who cleans and cuts up fish at the fish market, said that while it was difficult to cope with initially, residents of her locality have learned to manage the crisis, albeit the hard way. “Metrowater provides only six pots for each family irrespective of the size of the family, which is not enough. So we pay extra money and procure cans, which amount to Rs. 100 a day”, she said.
The cans are procured by suppliers and it is sold at a high price to residents at Kasimedu. Meanwhile, Metrowater provides water using a token system. “Since most of us work at the fish market from dawn to dusk, we are provided with tokens. Using these, we can procure water at any time from the suppliers”, said Sumathi, adding that if she missed getting the tokens, she will not receive any water for that day.
The water crisis in Chennai had brought Kasimedu down to its knees last month, with residents taking to the streets on June 14 and demanding Metrowater to ensure a continuous supply of water.
However, officials at Metrowater claimed that there has been no change in the water being supplied and said that citizens were being supplied with water ‘in the normal course’.
The officials said that they supply water division wise in Chennai. According to them, Kasimedu is divided into 64 streets with 4000 residents relying on Metrowater to meet their daily needs. Close to 35 streets have one tap in each street which provides water for one hour each day, since the houses there do not have water connection.
About seven to eight big houses in Kasipuram A Block and houses in Power Kuppam in Kasimedu receive metro water through taps. Lorries pump water directly into pipes and water is distributed through one tap in each household. Powerkuppam used to receive 15 tankers back in the day and now they receive 10 tankers since they have begun to use water judiciously. The officials said that the remaining streets receive water through tankers. Tankers with varying capacities are used to supply the water.
Sumathi, who took part in the Kasimedu protest, said that Metrowater officials had assured ‘more than adequate’ water supply to the residents, which is yet to be fulfilled by the officials. “We mainly need water for taking bath but the water we get is not enough for that. We pay extra money to procure drinking water for taking a bath”, she said.
Another vendor at the market who wished to remain anonymous said that life for the Kasimedu residents revolves around drinking water cans now since there is no water in the area. “We purchase drinking water cans for our daily purposes and use sea water to clean the fish before selling them”, he said. The 63-year-old vendor lamented that while there was plenty of water during his childhood, there is hardly a drop of water left.
Others at the market, who sympathised with Kasimedu residents felt that the crisis would come to an end only if the government stepped up and took charge of the situation.
Dhanalakshmi, a resident of R K Nagar who comes to the fish market for work said that the plight of Kasimedu residents would ease a little if the government provided them with water from the city’s desalination plants. “Water in my area comes from tanks every day. Three to four trucks come in every day and fill up the tanks. We get water only when the lorries fill up the tanks”, said Dhanalakshmi and added that there was not much of a crisis in her area, since residents procured water from both Metrowater and private operators.
Chennai-Jolarpettai drinking water scheme
On June 21, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had announced that 10 million litres a day (MLD) of water will be procured from Jolarpettai via train and supplied to North Chennai and Central Chennai up to Triplicane from July 7. The scheme, which was delayed due to incomplete pipework commenced daily trips to the city from July 12.
The move, however, has evoked mixed reactions from the residents at Kasimedu and visitors to the fish market.
Scoffing at the scheme, Kaliammal said, “We do not know when they will bring the water. Moreover, whether the people urinate in it or wash their shoes in the water, we will have to buy it anyway since we have no other choice.”
Dhanalakshmi felt that it was a good move since this water was a necessity for the residents of North Chennai, given that rainfall is not expected to make land any time soon.
Mahesh, a customer at the market from K K Nagar opined, “While the scheme is a good one, nobody knows how long the water will last. Before the next rainfall strikes Chennai, the government has to desilt lakes or at least initiate Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) across Tamil Nadu.”
The general consensus, though divided was that Kasimedu will be able to tide over the crisis until the arrival of the monsoons with water from the Jolarpettai scheme. ‘For a person who does not have water and is suffering to find some, getting even a little bit of water will be a blessing,” says a fish vendor who wanted to remain anonymous.