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Vengaivasal residents see red over tapping of water

By Our Staff Reporter

CHENNAI, JULY 3. Residents of Vengaivasal, 30 km south of Chennai, are incensed over indiscriminate drawing of water from farm wells around Vengaivasal Periyeri (big lake) and Sitheri (small lake) by private water tankers.

Villagers say the plunder is depleting groundwater level. The water is transported to combat Chennai's acute scarcity.

More than 60 agricultural wells in the village are now doubling up as filling points for private tankers. Everyday, about 150 tanker lorries visit the village to draw water, the residents said, while observing a fast on Saturday to draw the attention of the Kancheepuram district authorities to their demand to stop the tapping of water.

On Friday, the district revenue officials reportedly seized about 10 lorries while they were drawing water at the village. They trucks were handed over to the police, the residents said. Following this, no private tankers were seen in Vengaivasal or the adjacent Sithalampakkam village today. However, several water tankers were seen plying to and from Kovilancheri and Noothancheri nearby hamlets.

Selling well water has become a lucrative business for the agricultural landowners, said A. Gopal, president, Vengaivasal Agriculturists Ayacutdars Association. The pumpsets used for drawing water from the wells were run with the free electricity that the government provided for farmers, he said.

Vengaivasal village has 10,000 residents living across its 4 square kilometres spread, and is known for its copious groundwater resource.

The private water carriers leased these wells for about Rs. 15,000 a month after depositing Rs.50,000 with the owners, many of whom have stopped farming their land, Mr. Gopal said. About 70 agricultural families each in Vengaivasal and its neighbouring villages have been affected.

Most of the domestic wells that had a water level of about 30 feet are going dry, said Thangamani, a resident. Household supply has also declined as the yield from panchayat wells has gone down, said Ms. Neelavathi, the panchayat president.

In 2001, water was being drawn from seven wells in the village. Large-scale drawal began early this year. The residents said they had been representing to the district authorities ever since the drawal began three years ago, but there has been no positive response, they added.

The 110-acre Big Lake went dry by March soon after the extraction began, said K. Samuel Tharanipathi, former secretary of Vengaivasal Lake Ayacutdars Association. The wells were located on the bed of the 35-acre Small Lake.

The two lakes together would have solved the water needs of the community, said Mr. Srinivasan, activist and member of Tambaram Taluk Tank and Groundwater Protection Force. "The scene is getting botched up with the advent of water merchants," he said.

While the groundwater scenario at Medavakkam was not so good due to the rocky sub-soil, the nearby villages of Sithalapakkam, Perumbakkam, Vengaivasal, Madurapakkam, Ponmar, Kovilancheri,, Medambakkam and Noothancheri, which had rich water reserves and had turned the target of private water tankers.

The residents have been pleading in vain with the revenue authorities to implement laws for protecting ground water resources in Chennai metropolitan area.

Two drinking water packaging firms have also put up factories in the village, which the residents have decried.

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