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Where pipes gush air, not water

Though many neighbourhoods were added to the Corporation limit over a decade ago, they still lack basic amenities like drinking water and sewage connection. The burn stings more when you consider the tax that residents pay for a non-existing connection to the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB). Swedha Radhakrishnan reports

Where pipes gush air, not water

CHENNAI: It’s the duty of every elected government to ensure uninterrupted supply of drinking water for its denizens. Clearly, the State government and the Greater Chennai Corporation have missed the memo, as tax-paying residents of merged areas to the GCC limits continue to struggle without piped drinking water and sewerage connectivity.

The situation became dire during the cyclone-induced floods in December, when many neighbourhoods in the north and south parts of the city including Madhavaram, Ernavoor, OMR, Shollinganallur and Thoraipakkam were inundated with over 4 feet of rain water.

With sewage backing up and loss of electricity, residents suffered as they did not have drinking water as well. Private tankers, which would deliver water to these areas, couldn’t wade through the flooded waters.

Work completed but…

While the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) says that the works for new connections were completed in several areas, residents dismiss the claim.

“It has been over a decade since the area was included within the Chennai Corporation limit, and we still haven’t received connections for drinking water and sewage in the area, which was promised by the civic body,” lamented Harsha Koda, co-founder of Federation of OMR Residents’ Association.

A few years ago, the Metro Water board had commenced the project for the supply of drinking water, and even completed it but no connection has been provided yet. “Only two buildings got pipeline water connection but no proper supply was given by the civic body. We’re forced to store water from the tankers lorries as an alternative arrangement,” he added.

As residents are dependent on the private tanker lorries for water supply and cleaning of sewage, frequent strikes by the tanker association force them to get involved and talk to the concerned authorities and association members to withdraw the protest. The recent floods hit them hard as lorries couldn’t wade through the floods to clean out the sewage, which led to overflow and stagnation in the gated communities for days.

‘Why pay tax?’

Lack of drinking water has been a perennial problem for the residents of Thoraipakkam, as each apartment has been paying Rs 7,000 per month for tanker supply.

“We recently bought a house in this apartment complex and the previous owner had not paid taxes for more than 10 years. We received a letter from the concerned department to pay taxes for both water and sewage. Since we were not aware of it, we informed the previous owner to pay the pending bills quickly,” recalled U Kaniga, a resident of Thoraipakkam.

Since water and sewerage tax must be paid once every 6 months, Kaniga paid her share too, but for a non-existing connection. “We paid tax 6 months ago. Since we’re a family, we also pay Rs 7,000 each month to tanker lorries for drinking water. And, there are no sewage facilities. If tankers start protesting, we’re hit hard as our everyday life gets adversely affected. The government and the local body do not seem to care,” she fumed. “What’s the point of paying taxes then?”

Contaminated, yellow colour

Tax-paying residents of north Chennai have been requesting the local body authorities to construct a tank in their respective areas for their daily drinking-water needs.

They are dependent on the hand-pumps and pipelines in the street provided by the Metro Water but those are accessible only on alternative days, and the water has been contaminated with sewage.

So, they’re forced to use drinking water for domestic purposes too, since they don’t cannot afford to buy from tankers.

“The water supplied in the street via hand pumps are yellow in colour, and stink, most of the days. Though it’s not suitable for domestic purposes, we use it. We purchase drinking water by spending Rs 35 every day. After we complained to the civic body, samples of the contaminated water were collected. However, we haven’t received a response from them till now,” rued Arokiaraj, a long-term resident of Erneeswarar Nagar in Ernavoor.

Whenever water supply has been suspended or contaminated, residents try to reach out to ‘Dial for Water’ to book tankers. But it takes more than 2-3 days for the supply even in the case of emergencies. In case of sewage overflow and stagnation, Ward 4 Councillor R Jayaraman paid for private lorries to remove the filthy water on the streets.

“We’re tired of complaining to the civic body. There has been no response from the engineers of the Metro Water board about this issue. Instead, they let untreated sewage into the newly-constructed storm water drains, which turns into a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Though the Corporation officials are aware of such activities, they don’t take any steps,” said Venkatesh, a resident of Ernavoor.

Projects on the anvil

Speaking to DT Next, Mayor Priya Rajan explained that various complaints of sewage stagnation and lack of drinking water during the recent flood situation were raised by ward members and residents.

“We instructed the Metro Water board to address the issues at the earliest. After many areas in north and south Chennai were included within the Corporation limits, the projects for new connections have commenced,” added Priya. “The main reason for overflow and sewage stagnation in interior roads in core areas is the surge in population since the pipelines that were laid are around 30-50 years old. We have submitted a proposal to Minister Nehru (Municipal Administration) to allocate additional funds for drinking water and sewage projects in the extended areas.”

The work for drinking water and underground sewage projects in Kottivakkam, Pallavakkam, and Neelankarai began on November 6, 2023, at an estimated cost Rs 495 crore, which would benefit more than 1 lakh residents. Also, sewage pumping stations will be constructed in the areas to prevent sewage overflow from manholes.

Similarly, in January, the work for an integrated underground sewerage project was started by the Metro Water board. The project will benefit residents of both Injambakkam and Uthandi.

Swedha Radhakrishnan
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