Political blame game erupts in Tamil Nadu as water crisis worsens

Chennai’s key reservoirs — Cholavaram and Redhills — have hardly 1 per cent of their capacity Photo: PTI
Tamil Nadu reels from a water crisis, and political parties, instead of finding a solution to it, are blaming one another.

The DMK, the main opposition party in the state, and its allies are blaming the government, run by the AIADMK, for its “negligence” and “administrative failure”.

And the AIADMK and its allies, including the BJP, talk of “past mistakes” of DMK-led governments, such as not protecting reservoirs, lakes, ponds, and dams.

While the water shortage is across the state, Chennai, India’s sixth-largest city, is making headlines.

Though deficient rainfall is the ostensible reason for the crisis, some deeper factors are rampant real estate and infrastructure development, and people not being sensitive to such issues. The combined effect has been depletion in groundwater levels and major waterbodies drying up.

With borewells and wells going dry in parts of Tamil Nadu, the demand for water has gone up manifold, compelling people to depend on water-tanker operators. There are also complaints that the supply of water follows a pattern of priority: First the so-called important people, including the chief minister and other ministers, get it; then the business houses, followed by apartments, and finally the slum-dwellers.

Refuting the allegation, Chief Minister K Palaniswami said the crisis was owing to the failure of the monsoon. “I drink 4 litres and use only two buckets of water for other uses. What do I do with two tankers of water,” he asked, when questioned on allegations that he got two tankers of water a day.

Palaniswami said the situation was the worst in Chennai because the key reservoirs — Cholavaram (capacity of 1,081 million cubic feet) and Redhills (capacity of 3,300 million cubic feet) — had hardly 1 per cent of their capacity. During the same period last year, it was 24 per cent in the case of both.

“The government is taking all steps to address the water scarcity in the state,” said Palaniswami.

However, the Opposition and the judiciary have come down heavily on the government. The Madras High Court has observed the government has not taken measures even though monsoon failure was predicted. The court has directed the Public Works Department (PWD) secretary to submit a report on the number of reservoirs in the state, steps taken for desilting, the amount sanctioned for this, etc.

The DMK and its allies have asked Municipal Administration Minister SP Velumani’s resignation.  DMK President Stalin said: “The state government, which is in the Centre’s clutches, has not taken any initiative to avert such a situation.” 

Terming the crisis avoidable, Stalin said the situation did not come about all of a sudden. “In the Assembly, I have been raising the issue of plummeting water levels in lakes for the past one year. But no efforts were made,” he said.

Refuting the allegation, Velumani said the AIADMK was doing more than what the DMK did to solve the state’s water crisis. He said Jayalalithaa’s government had spent Rs 21,988 crore during 2011-16 on drinking water supply schemes. The present government has spent Rs 15,838 crore. But the DMK government spent only Rs 7,280 crore when it was in power between 2006 and 2011.

The BJP has supported the AIADMK.

Recalling Stalin’s assurances in 2009, as deputy chief minister, on reviving the highly polluted Cooum river in the city in 10 years, besides replicating the Singapore model of restoration, Tamil Nadu BJP President Tamilisai Soundararajan wanted to know the DMK’s contribution to tackling the water woes of Chennai.

BJP National Secretary H Raja slammed the DMK, saying it had lacked a vision to conserve water bodies.  “The DMK is responsible for the acute water crisis in the state due to its flawed water management policy,” he said. 

“The Valluvar Kottam (a familiar landmark in the city) was built on a lake. If all the lakes are converted into structures, there will be no means to conserve water.”

Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam on Friday sought from the Centre a special package of Rs 1,000 crore to expand irrigation structures in drought-hit areas. While there were “severe drought conditions” countrywide, their impact was significantly “more” in the state, he said. 

The vagaries of the monsoon, climatic change, unending inter-state river water disputes and fast-depleting groundwater have all led to an unprecedented water crisis in Tamil Nadu, he said.

Panneerselvam said Tamil Nadu formulated a project at Rs 17,600 crore for modernising the Grand Anicut Canal system and has forwarded a detailed project report to the Centre, seeking financial aid.  He has laid the foundation stone of the third seawater desalination plant in Chennai, at Nemmeli. It will come up with an investment of Rs 1,259 crore to serve 150 million litres per day.

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