Chennai: MK Stalin, leader of the opposition party in Tamil Nadu, joined protests led by his party - the DMK - against the AIADMK government's handling of the ongoing water crisis. The southern state has been fighting a water shortage for several months. State capital Chennai has been forced into 40 per cent cut in piped water supply after four city reservoirs - the main sources of drinking water - dried up.
"There is a water famine in Tamil Nadu. EPS (Chief Minister E Palaniswami), OPS (Deputy Chief Minister O Paneerselvam) and ministers aren't bothered about water crisis. This water scarcity is not a sudden development," Stalin told the protesters. "The one question being asked by people across Tamil Nadu is 'where is the water'? The AIADMK government has not completed any drinking water project in the state. Its party officials are holding yagnas in temples - not for the rains, but to protect their own government," he said.
Today marks the third day of protests by the DMK. The party asked district secretaries to stage protests with support from the public. Stalin also criticised the AIADMK for "irregularities" in the construction of an extra desalination plant. "This government lies continually. I would order probe into desalination plant irregularities soon after coming to power," the former deputy chief minister said, predicting, "There would be a change of Govt in Tamil Nadu even without fresh elections."
Chennai needs 800 million litres of water per day (MLD) against a current supply of only 525 MLD. To help deal with the crisis, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had last week offered to send 20 lakh litres of water to Chennai. Chief Minister E Palaniswami welcomed the gesture but asked instead for 2 MLD, saying, "We are everyday supplying 525 MLD water (in Chennai) and if 2 MLD water could be given every day, it will be useful for the people."
The groundwater in Chennai and its surrounding areas is replenished by five lakes - Puzhal, Sholavaram, Kaliveli, Pulicat and Maduranthakam - all located within a 60-km radius of the city. However, encroachments on these water bodies, a long-standing issue, have significantly reduced each lake's ability to hold water and replenish underwater tables.
The state government last week announced that 10 million litres of water would be transported to the capital, from northern parts of the state. The Chief Minister has acknowledged that drought and deficient monsoons have resulted in depletion of groundwater levels, but has claimed the issue is not as big as it ha been described by the media.
Hospitals hike charges
The severe water crisis in Chennai has not spared even hospitals. The dwindling supply of water has sent room rents, cost of procedures like dialysis and consultation in most neighbourhood hospitals and nursing homes soaring. Room rents in some of Chennai’s hospitals had increased by up to Rs 350 a day in mid-May itself, and that was a month ago. Most big corporate hospitals claim that they have been able to absorb the cost, but not any more now. On an average, a hospital with 30 beds is spending Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000 more a day. “That would mean up to Rs 450,000 a month. It is impossible for small hospitals to absorb that. We’ll have to pass it on to patients,” said former Indian Medical Association state chief Dr T N Ravishankar. That could mean big hospitals, too, may not be able to sustain without price hikes.”