FEATURE-As groundwater runs short, water battles grow in parched Chennai

CHENNAI, India, Nov 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When the thousands of water lorry drivers who shore up parched Chennai’s overtaxed water delivery system went on strike for three days last month, to protest a ruling restricting their access to groundwater, a water crisis ensued.
For Parthasarthy, that’s a good business opportunity, and a chance to add to his fleet of 15 water trucks as the Tamil Nadu state government struggles to meet growing demand for clean water.
The port city of Chennai needs 800 million litres of water a day to meet demand for water, according to official data.
In particular, Chennai depends on more than 4,000 private water tankers for its everyday water needs.
According to the Chennai Private Water Tanker Lorry Association, which has more than 1,000 members, each tanker makes up to five trips a day, ferrying water from the outskirts of the city to apartments, hotels, malls and offices.
Altogether, the tankers deliver 200 million litres of water a day to Chennai, according to the association.
But critics say the firms’ use of rural water is depriving people in those areas of sufficient water – and that fast-depleting water supplies mean it’s time to rethink how water is managed in Chennai.
Last month, the Madras High Court – Chennai’s highest court – finally ruled on a petition brought by 75 drinking water bottlers against the 2014 Tamil Nadu water restrictions.
Bottlers had demanded exemption from the order, arguing that good monsoon rains would adequately replenish disappearing groundwater.
The plant would provide 150 million litres a day of water to Chennai and its suburbs, and is expected to be running in the next five years, he said.

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