The strike announced by water tanker operators was finally called off after talks with the state government on Wednesday night, but the protest that went on for three days showed how dependent the city is on this chain of supply to continue with its routine. The commercial establishments in particular were hit hard, as they are completely dependent on private tankers for water supply.
The unexpected water scarcity brought about by the strike – which worsened after the packaged drinking water plants joined them – also sent the city residents into a panic mode, forcing them to scramble for drinking water cans in the midst of Pooja holidays. Much to their relief, however, the packaged drinking water companies too withdrew from the strike on Wednesday evening following talks.
Earlier in the day, the strike had forced more than 50 per cent of the nearly 10,000 hotels in the city to remain closed, said M Ravi, president of Chennai Hotels Association. The number would have gone much higher in the coming days if the government failed to find a solution. “We cannot run hotels without water supply,” he added. The association representatives had met Municipal Administration Minister S P Velumani on Tuesday evening seeking steps to end the strike.
With no water to clean vessels or even cook, many hotels were forced to down shutters; some of the owners kept a board explaining the reason for the closure. “Almost all customers prefer packaged water to Metro Water,” a hotel owner near Kodambakkam explaining why they were forced to remain closed.
Although the protest was against the restrictions imposed by Madras High Court on tapping groundwater, those dependent on tanker water, mostly hotel owners, apartment dwellers, private companies, and lodges, alleged that it was the failure of Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) in providing required water supply to commercial establishments that has put them in a quandary.
Private water tankers alone supply nearly one crore litres of water to the city, which is mostly drawn from Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts. “For the last three to five years, Metro Water failed to supply sufficient water to hotels. We could not cook using the water they supply due to high chlorine content. Because of this, we are buying packaged drinking water and tanker water,” Ravi added.
Many lodges had stopped new bookings and were serving only those who had booked rooms in advance. “Apart from restaurants and small lodges, even luxury hotels too were affected, and rooms were kept vacant. Big jewellery shops and textile shops have also been affected due to water scarcity, and were struggling to provide water to their employees and customers,” Ravi added.
Metro Water arrangements insufficient, say consumers
Though the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) have stepped in to manage the situation, consumers opined that the measures that they have taken would not suffice. “Metro Water has made arrangements to supply tanker water from its filling stations on payment. But it will not help most of the hotels, as not all hotel owners have tankers. Only 10 per cent of hotels have own lorries,” M Ravi, president of Chennai Hotels Association, said.
Owners of packaged water units divided
After creating widespread concern among the residents with their decision to join the water tanker operators’ protest, the packaged drinking water association called off their strike after talks with the government on Wednesday evening.
But, even before it became a unanimous decision, the rift within was clear when a section of firms announced that they would continue to supply bubble top water cans. Claiming that only 50 to 60 of the total 400 firms in Chennai, Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram districts were on strike, M S Elangeshwaran of Tamil Nadu Packaged Drinking Water Manufacturers Association said the remaining units were functioning.
“We will go for an appeal against the court order and demand the government to revise the norms for tapping groundwater,” he added. The association, Elangeshwaran added, had decided to stay away from the protest in view of the pooja festival. “We do not want to cause trouble for the residents who are celebrating the festival.”