The year 2019 promises to be one in which Chennai has received more rain than in the preceding ones. This is one of those quinquennial occurrences that does much to restore faith in the future of our metropolis. For the rest of the time we are quite happy to lament loudly about the shortage of water and indulge in doomsday predictions. There is however very little concrete action as far as conservation of water is concerned. In fact it becomes even less in years when the rains are plentiful, which is when we ought to be saving every drop that falls.
For the first time since 2014, Chennai has registered a surplus of 30 per cent in the rainfall received till the month of September. With the northeast monsoon predicted to be normal, it is expected that the water crisis that has gripped the city since 2017 will ease quite a bit this year. This is of course a welcome development and Chennai can congratulate itself on its serendipitous fortune. The sad part is that with the pressure easing, all action on conserving water has more or less ceased. The first of the signs that this is no longer a hot topic likely to get media attention is when rainwater harvesting and conservation cease to be the subject of seminars hosted by fringe elements and social climbers. Hollywood stars too have stopped expressing concern over Chennai’s water scarcity and godmen also have moved on. Of course these do not have much of an impact beyond spreading some awareness at best. But what is worrying is that people who are affected by water shortages have also begun putting off implementation of rainwater harvesting schemes purely on the assumption that water will once again be available in plenty post the monsoon.
The Government too has gone on to focus on other matters. With the withdrawal of the water train from Jolarpet, the most striking reminder that we were brought to our knees just a few months ago has also vanished. Emergency measures for water not being needed means these will not garner publicity and so will not translate into votes. It is no wonder that there was not a ripple in the media, both social and otherwise, when the Government admitted that the new reservoir and the fifth for the city, slated for completion in October this year, will operate only up to 30 per cent of its capacity, chiefly owing to some civil works that have become hugely delayed. The Thervoy Kandigai- Kannankottai Reservoir, planned to have a capacity of 1,000 million cubic feet of water, will be able to take in just 1/3rd of that volume. This means that that we are not much better as compared to what we were in 2015 when it comes to our ability to store rainwater. As for the rest of that surplus monsoon that we are likely to have, all of it will make its way to the sea. And so, we did not learn much from our varied experiences of flood, cyclone and drought between 2015 and 2019.
If this is the way we are to administer our storage and usage of water, we are not likely to progress much. Having recognised that we have a problem, it is necessary for everyone from the citizen to the Government to arrive at a solution, implement it and move on to other things thereafter. But the present attitude of wallowing in misery when there is shortage of water and then wasting it in times of plenty is nothing more than perpetuating an issue and milking it for sympathy each time it strikes. Ultimately, it is we who are to blame and not the rainfall.