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Pumpful of water; heartful of joy :-)

June 5, 2013

Water Water Where Are You?

India is one of the most unfair places to live in the world, where without efforts the rich can remain richer while the poor can get poorer.  In this country where water is a scarce commodity, the shocking truth about water is that, its almost FREE  and NOT METERED !

Including in the city where I live in in Chennai, it’s sort of regular practice for the upper middle-class homes to have huge underground sumps to store the METRO water released by our metropolitan corporation  at very nominal rates which are normally flat and fixed.  (we have a flat utility charge and an even water tax payable half yearly).  The storage capacity of sumps could range anywhere from 4000 litres to 15,000 litres to speak of, for instance.

A 15,000 litre sump capacity seems to be the unofficial norm in most homes that can afford the luxury, which means, a whole load of 12,000 litre capacity of a water tanker could fill it comfortably and still leave some room space.  In months and perhaps years when rainwater storage is good in our reservoirs, there is hardly any necessity for those who can afford the sumps to buy water from tankers.  If at all the monsoons fail, we the better-offs can still afford buying loadfuls of tanker water.  If it comes to that…

But rains or no rains, the truth about the lowest ranks of our society is that, the masses have to queue up for potable water supplied into huge ‘sintex’ water tanks erected in every street in Tamil Nadu ( in the last 10 years).   Once a day a corporation water tanker could fill up these big black water tanks that are invariably never cleaned over years.   The multitude of women, mostly labour class, running after the water tankers supplying water for these tanks is a daily sight in my city.  For a (plastic) pot of drinking water, says my house help, she has to chip in two hard earned rupees, from their everyday meagre earnings.  So per day, women like her have to shell out a good 20 rupees, a sizable portion of their daily wages, for potable water alone, while we the upper middle-class are reaping in the benefits of even a bathtub (so to say) which comes to us almost free in a mostly dry city like Chennai.   Because for that small 20 rupees in these parts,  one can still buy a square meal, or perhaps even two in cheaply-run roadside stalls.  So that’s what our lowest classes are paying for lifeline called ‘water’ – a very heavy price.

I always find it an irony that in my society where those who can afford to pay for water have to enjoy this scarce resource free of cost flowing through our expensive silver taps and shower systems and bathroom fittings, those who are living in slums and make-shift homes have to pay dearly for even a glass of water like this, let alone a bucket to cleanse and wash.  The unfairness of the system is appalling.  The insensitivity of those who can afford the luxury of abundant supply of clean water in their homes for the plight of those chasing water tankers day after day for years, is all the more shocking.

Kudos to chief minister Jayalalitha J, all this is to set to change shortly, one hopes.

Its a rarity to see old cables or pipelines replaced anywhere so easily in India.  So recently, one was taken by surprise with the laying of new water pipelines in the city, replacing the old rusted ones that have been in place for decades probably.

Without bias i would like to aver that i am a big fan of JJ’s administrative policies even if she could be discharging after all the expected governing duties in her capacity and nothing more.  The sad story is that in India, even this is a rarity.  Gujarat CM Narendra Modi set the trend, but JJ has got it going for a while as well.

The rainwater harvest system is the best scheme ever to be introduced by Jayalalitha during one of her previous regimes.  Every couple of years, India, and especially Tamil Nadu faces drought wrought in by poor monsoons for which governments and the masses have to stay prepared alike.   A good part our of time and energy is expended mainly on securing the basic amenities in this country, what a pity.

It so happens that is always JJ who cleans up the tanks  and strengthens the bunds of our reservoirs  in time for monsoons so that we have good storage.  Sprucing up the catchment areas well in advance of the monsoons alone can result in least wastage of rain water in this monsoon-dependent country.  In her last regime, JJ had made it mandatory for every home and business and city road to have a ‘rain water harvest system’ ( RWHS) installed in the premises, following it up with inspection by officials.  New approvals were not sanctioned without the RWHS in place in building plans.

In my personal experience, during one of worst summers when metro water supply dried up, i recall sinking of a borewell by our family to a depth of some 90 feet  Almost every other home in the street that could afford the prohibitive costs did it.  (JJ still supplied potable water to homes by way of tankers for a record two years or more).  In 2-3 years of complete drought, it was amazing how she managed to pull plugs everywhere to ensure, the city never went dry. At any costs, she scrounged whatever was possible for us, about 8 billion denizens who call Chennai our home. As per new govt and corporation regulations, we had to install the RWHS soon after, at a modest cost of some 2000 rupees in addition.  During one of the routine check-ups of the borewell after a lapse of some 7-8 years, we found that the water table in our house compound had improved to a remarkable 35-40 feet, up by some 50 feet miraculously thanks to RWHS installed in time, catching the excess rain water and routing it to the underground.  In these intervening years, we had afterall had normal to under-average monsoons, not much.  Underlines the role played by RWHS here.  Salinity in water also was found to be reduced to a great extent.

Then came the next DMK govt (JJ’s ADMK lost the assembly elections mainly due to incumbency factor which commonly plagues Indian voters/democracy), and the first feat of the ruling party was NOT TO STRICTLY ENFORCE THE RWHS the way JJ had it going.  No wonder, the watertable in the city has ever since dropped to dismal lows.

Many of the RWHS installed ten years back are also presently redundant, obsolete which need a thorough spruce-up.   One atleast hopes the main catchment areas of the city like underbridges do not have clogged RWHS or have been cleaned up in time for the monsoons.  The temple tanks in Chennai are main monsoon catchment areas that get thorough weeding out every year by JJ government always well in time before the impending monsoons.  Water storage in the temple tanks automatically and magically improves the water table in the adjoining areas to decent levels. Highly modulating Mylapore watertable is a clear example.  When the Kapaleeshwar temple tank is brimming to full capacity, the locality faces no water issues. Least salinity in the ground water, where due to close proximity to the sea salinity is of some concern.

What I also missed in DMK rule was the routine mosquito sprays done by JJ to keep the mosquitoes off the city streets.  It never tired our ward councilor i guess to ensure spraying week after week for entire five years when JJ administration was on.

I recall that before JJ handed in the reins to DMK’s Karunanidhi who took over as CM the last time, she had even computerized the family ration cards.  After that, the DMK government never found time to issue a new card in an entire decade they ruled the state.  Now all the family cards are in tatters with extended lifetimes granted by DMK govt and now by JJ, and once again the enormous task of issuing and footing the huge bill for fresh family ration cards rests with the current ADMK government.  The treasury was apparently whitewashed when JJ assumed office.

The power problem is of huge significance suddenly in the state, getting worse by the day.  While JJ left office with 11,000 MW production, our outgoing DMK government left it back to her at a reduced level of 7000 MW production.  With Koodankulam atomic power project running, one hopes the severe shortfall affecting the productivity and employment generation in the state will be tackled.  An uncompromising JJ has asked for a major share in the power, having been denied the shortage from the national grid, for the only reason, there is no alliance between the central and state governing parties.  With windmills kicking in their share and with modest monsoons for a good hydel power, one hopes, the power problems of the state will be history soon.

As a literate person who is in observance of all things going on in my state, i am listing facts here and not exaggerating anything.  I can see the differences in administration, efficiency, willingness to serve and according of priorities by successive DMK and ADMK governments over every successive five year period.  I do not belong to any political party, i merely want to record here how a single woman who is anathema to most male politicians in this part of the world can do so much for better quality of life in her State.

The first measure JJ took on resuming her official duties is, transferring of most male registrars and other higher-ups in registrar’s offices and taluk offices,  and replacing them with women registrars and officials.  Even corporation officials like councillors seem to be women these days.  As someone not shocked by bribing at every stage in our daily life, i can see how the women officials atleast hesitate when it comes to asking for/accepting bribes let alone demand for one as has been mostly the case with male officials.  There is no documentary evidence for all this….  I must say, we just got better, and if bribery is not totally eliminated, atleast we can claim its minimum low now so far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, atleast.

So the replacing of old rusted water pipes in my street was a pleasant surprise.  I don’t recall that in atleast last fifteen years where i have been living since long.  May be the pipes are 30-40 years old?

In one of the by-lanes lives my househelp who in her miserable existence has to run after water tanker every other day to get some 20 pots (kudam in tamil) of water.  The time the tanker arrives in itself  is an everyday mystery.   The unforgiving ordeal requires that the women have to plan their entire day of activities around the tanker-timing.  Many women like my househelp have uterus problems already, thanks to heavy lifting of water pots for years on and carrying the weight home.  Because the tankers cannot reach the fag ends, they are usually parked in the widest sections of the streets where the big ugly black  ‘sintex’ tanks are erected.   Women run after the tankers in a rat race to get access to water first before all is emptied into the sintex tanks.  Many keep complaining of hand pain, hip pain, hernia, excessive bleeding during menses and other health problems specific to women, because of prolonged hardship by way of carrying the weighty water pots over years.   The tanker routine has been taking a heavy toll on the health and well-being of our women undoubtedly.  If this is the case with the able-bodied, what about those who cannot carry weights.  School girls carrying water pots balanced in their heads and waists is a sad sight where mothers suffer frail health in this lowest strata of our society.   While I the better-off  by birth, with the built-in sump and all that, sit at home paying a meagre flat water tax and bill every half year, with abundant supply of metro water flowing through my pipes all 24 hours a day, all 365 days an year…

What an irony of social justice.

I have been thinking of this unfair system of water distribution for too long.  This can’t go on forever and somewhere somehow, justice must be served, equality has to be restored.    Last week my househelp told me, a fresh metrowater line has been laid upto her thatched home by corporation officials free of cost and a handpump installed.  Finally! ‘Water is flowing 24 hours a day’  cried in ecstasy this hardworking sincere girl in her late twenties, a mother of two, who toils all day for a bare existence – because even this basic amenity of potable water had always been a luxury evading her through lifetim until now.  So far as she is concerned, this is unbelievable, unthinkable!  Does the sudden supply of potable water to poorest of the poor make one waste water as some envious sections allege?  Never so.  Knowing what she been going through for ages running after tankers, my househelp appreciates what it is to have supply of water at home.  ‘Atleast we can have clean showers, unhurried showers’ says she for whom quality time is saved with no more need to run after the tankers.  Says she, until now not only had she been waiting for and chasing the tankers for days, years now, she also had been making sure the pots were emptied before the tankers arrived no matter.  The metrowater tankers are supposed to supply free water, but invariably the tanker drivers would charge everyone a small fee of two rupees per pot, which is a big bill for those like my househelp.

Finally i can see how much difference this small hand water-pump with the metro-water line has made to the poorest of the poor in my city.  Access to clean potable water is our birthright.  Finally these women are happiest and content for they are saved a horrendous daily labour, wasted labour, wasted time, wasted health, all for quenching a glass of clean water and scrubbing their tired, sweaty bodies after a day of hard work.    ‘For other chores like washing i use the bore-well installed by the corporation in our street’ says my househelp.   The water is salty, but even so, she wants to continue using the slightly saline water for washing purposes.  ‘I know the value of clean potable water that i have no heart to use it for washing clothes or utensils even if i have nonstop supply at home now’ confesses the poor woman.

As a result, the tankers plying my city have suddenly disappeared off the city roads.  And what a welcome change!  Air is somewhat clearer i guess! Water tankers are also notorious for causing serious road accidents resulting in casualities many times, so rightly nick-named ‘killer tankers.’With their vanishing off the scene, finally mothers can breath a sigh of relief and safely let their children play in the streets. And the big black plastic tanks are being removed one by one – these had come to be accepted as a regular sighting in the city. Such ugly creatures!

Most of all, its a pleasure to see how JJ’s small administrative measures improve the quality of life for everyone in this State.  A pumpful of water goes a long way to raise the standard of living of the poorest of the poor in this state.  As an ordinary citizen of this country and my state, i know the difference and appreciate the difference.  Law and order is much better these days.  Receipts are issue for tickets issued for traffic violations which in itself is an achievement.   As with JJ administration always, i see women cops everywhere, every foot of the city roads.

With winning the tribunal case for Tamil Nadu farmers of the Cauvery Delta for shared waters from Karnataka state in the Supreme Court, JJ has sowed good seeds of development and progress in this state for welfare of the masses.  She has made a promise and she is keeping it.  I believe we are having early monsoons for once, and i hope, delta farmers are benefited hugely.  Cauvery delta is our rice bowl.

Jayalalitha Jayaram, of all the initiatives you take for improving the quality of life for people of this state including ensuring that the health clinics and government hospitals are run well and fully staffed, i appreciate most your earnest deed of getting potable water into the very homes of the poorest of the poor, free at that.    I salute you lady, for justice and equality are not tough to dispense with, as you have shown.  Its all within our capacity, and all it takes is a good heart.

I appreciate your ‘Amma’ restaurants providing food at nominal costs for labourers, another welfare measure.

But over anything, what you will always be remembered for by the women of this city, is for giving the hardworking lower middle-class women of the state the respite they sincerely deserve, saving them precious labour and time, saving their energies for better, useful and productive purposes.

‘Pumpful of water’ exclaimed my househelp in sheer pleasure,  unaware that this is her privilege, her birthright, and i found a drop of water rolling down my eyes.  After all, it taken a woman to understand another woman.  Like JJ does.

Pumpful of water – heartful of joy; if you have been there, you’d see it.

Water is a precious commodity in my city/nation. Water conservation is top priority. Water to the city is routed through canals with the auspicious of shri Satya Sai Baba religious charitable trust, not a government initiative, note.



What our state/central governments can do to ensure just and equitable water distribution to everyone, irrespective of one’s social strata:

1.  Water is ridiculously NOT metered in India.  Nowhere else in the world can you notice such a vast irregularity and mismanagement in handling of one of world’s scarcest resources.  Its high time the  FIXED flat minimal water tax and water bill is done with, to be replaced by proper metering and billing, and water taxes levied in accordance with one’s consumption.  Additional surcharges can be levied with the utility charges as consumption levels go up.  This is the only way to ensure that everyone gets their fair share of the scarce commodity called water.   After all this is universal practice.  Aren’t the other civic amenities such as electricity charged as per usage?  Efficient metering and billing and surcharging  for over-consumption beyond a prescribed limit will ensure that water consumption is optimal in our society. Slabbing of water rates the way we have slabs for electric meter is mandatory to regulate water distribution and prevent misuse by and large. Water rationing is another thought. 


From → Dilli Durbar

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