Is Chennai the emerging ‘Water Capital’ of India?


Chennai in the recent years has been under one of the worst drought spells. It caught international attention regarding the water crisis situation when it went 170 days without a drop of water. The problem of Chennai doesn’t just lie in lack of rainfall that it had in the previous years, but the lack of water management that made the condition severe and it made news under the top 10 cities to run out of water. It left 600 million people with water scarcity problems. Then the floods in 2015 destroyed major parts in Chennai which again was termed man-made as it was because of lack of flood mitigation and also at the same time mismanagement of check dams.


Currently, the situation has taken a different course and for the better. The city’s Chief Resilience Officer, Krishna Mohan believes a complete drought-proofing of Chennai is in process and could also make Chennai the ‘water capital’ of India. The reason why the city is moving towards it because of the floods and the damage that it has caused. Currently, flooding has become a pan-India problem where lack of planned urbanization has destroyed livelihood.


The Corporation of Greater Chennai identified 210 dead water bodies and did something unprecedented—it put details of them all on its website and called for volunteers. The Corporation would sign the cheque, but the volunteer would do the job of mobilizing men and machines, clear the clogs, de-silt the lake and deepen it, de-block the inlet and outlet runnels, cement-up the banks, line the lake with trees and fence it. Tens of organizations — local bodies, corporates, NGOs, residential associations — came forward to do it.


Commissioner-G Prakash has stated that rehabilitation of 210 with a budget of Rs 512 crore has been completed. This together will hold a month’s water supply along with recharging groundwater. Apart from this, there are 63 temples that have been identified for water accumulation in the water collection structures that become a part of the temple complex. It also gets easier to channelize runoff water from the roads in the vicinity to these temple tanks.17 of these have been taken up by temple trusts or residential associations for rehabilitation. Wells have been dug into the tank beds, so that water gets into them, and seeps into the land around.

Also as a part of Corporate social responsibility, international companies have been developing tanks for water collection.These projects are funded by the corporate funds from Confederation of Indian Industry. The Nature Conservancy, a US-based NGO, which is working on the Sembakkam lake which is completely filled bullous weeds, but when cleaned can hold up 10 million cubic feet of water. So far, according to the project director, Dr M Nisha Priya, 10,000 tonnes of the weed have been removed and de-silting work is underway.

The revival of water bodies just forms one of the initiatives to sustainable living. According to the commissioner, the 6000 kms of road generate enough run-off water which could recharge the groundwater via percolation pits. He also wants large university campus, industrial campus, exhibition halls to join hands towards conserving water by building percolation pits. Some 8,000 of them are now in place, Prakash wants to do 15,000 more by the year-end, and eventually, 50,000. 

The city has two sea-water desalination in place and two more are proposed. The city is preparing itself for drought as well as flood and would in both situations be able to combat it.

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