Chennai is reeling under one of the worst water shortages in living memory, and the news has made international headlines so much so that even Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio is tweeting about it.
Like the rest of the country, Chennai too is dependent on the monsoon, and any truancy on the part of the rain clouds -- which is a regular phenomenon the days of El Nino -- leads to a water scarcity in the city.
Has the state government been doing enough to mitigate the recurring crisis?
Dr K Satyagopal, below, IAS, the commissioner of revenue administration in Chennai and the head of disaster relief in Tamil Nadu, tells Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar, "We have instructed all our officials to take complaints of water shortage seriously and attend to it immediately. Storage tanks in colonies are regularly filled on a daily basis."
What are the short-term measures that you are taking to alleviate the water shortage in Chennai?
In normal times, Chennai receives 830 MLD (million litres per day) and now we are supplying 525 MLD. This is coming from the two desalination plants, agriculture fields. There is a pipeline from Veeranam which is supplying 30MLD and another 30MLD from quarries in Chengalpattu.
We are also looking at abandoned quarries around Neyveli. We are expecting 10 MLD from Jollarpettai and we will maintain this supply till the monsoons set in.
We are also asking Andhra Pradesh for water. We have a written agreement which is a friendly arrangement.
And what are the long term measures?
Another desalination plant construction has been inaugurated. It is a major plant and it will take two years for it to start functioning.
We have selected two places to build reservoirs which will store two TMC (one thousand million cubic feet) of water.
Chennai requires one TMC water for a month at 830MLD. We have a couple of lakes where the water is not potable.
We are setting up modular plants to treat this water and then supply it to Chennai. The waste water from these plants will be supplied to industry.
We are planning a series of check dams on the Palar river to store three TMC water.
We have also given a Rs 3,000 crore flood mitigation and water storage plan to the central government.
Last year we added 0.75 TMC storage in Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur districts. This was done by connecting two major irrigation tanks there. The land between the two tanks also belonged to the government, so this was done easily.
Fifty years ago, there were 850 water bodies measuring 12.4 sq km in Chennai while now there are 50 water bodies measuring 2.27 sq km. Is any attempt being made to retrieve our water bodies?
Both these figures are highly exaggerated. There were never 850 water bodies in Chennai, and there are definitely more than 50 water bodies now.
All encroachments on the main rivers and canals are being removed. The process has already started and we will complete it.
As for water bodies, all commercial establishments can be removed, but where there are people living it is a long process. They cannot be removed without rehabilitation and so the process takes much longer.
What about OMR (Old Mahabalipuram Road) which is our IT corridor and further from the city some of the tallest residential complexes have been built along this road?
We supply water to the complexes in Old Mahabalipuram road that are within the Greater Chennai Corporation limit. After that it comes under the respective districts.
You have to understand that most of OMR citizens have always dealt with private water suppliers. Now as the private suppliers have increased their rates, they are facing problems.
From our side we are planning a reservoir exclusively for OMR with a storage capacity of 0.75 TMC. Instream reservoirs are also planned in major rivers.
As most of our reservoirs are dry, why isn't desilting being done which increases the capacity of the water bodies?
Except Chennai, Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur districts, in the rest of the state desilting has been done. We have removed 7.4 crore cubic feet of sand and have given it free to farmers.
In the aforementioned districts sand will not be given free but will be sold to those who require it for construction.
The removal of this silt has resulted in restoration of storage capacity of 2.6 TMC.
Why haven't dry rivers and tributaries been desilted all over the state?
You know that river sand mining or desilting is an environmental issue so we have to keep that in mind while removing sand. The PWD has been told to start this work.
How much money has been allotted to tackle the current water crisis?
The government has sanctioned Rs 287 crore for this work. Out of this Rs 65 crore will be used to transport water from Jollarpettai to Chennai.
What other steps have you taken to mitigate the citizens's suffering?
We have instructed all our officials to take complaints of water shortage seriously and attend to it immediately. Storage tanks in colonies are regularly filled on a daily basis.