With low water table and dry borewells, tankers are the only source

The water wars threatening societies in the foreseeable future are already under way in localities in and around Madurai. Communities are imploding, neighbourhoods tense and friends turning foes as the hectic scramble for water to meet their daily needs begins each day at the crack of dawn.

With no piped water, residents of Sadasiva Nagar, Yagappa Nagar, Tahsildar Nagar and Gomathipuram of erstwhile Melamadai panchayat depend on groundwater. But with the failure of two successive monsoons, the groundwater table has sunk so low that borewells have been running dry.

Residents are relying on water supplied by tankers. Many regret investing in new borewells. S. Rathna Kumar of Gomathipuram recently spent Rs. 1 lakh on sinking a new borewell after the old one failed. “I wish I had not spent so much money on the new borewell. I could have managed this summer with water brought by the tankers. I would have saved money and a lot of tension,” he observed ruefully.

Those who cannot afford to buy water go in search of it. Women balance pots on their heads and waist. The men use bicycles and motorbikes to fetch water, with 25-litre cans perched riskily on fuel tanks along bumpy roads. The pots come in different colours and the cans vary in size. Even children chip in by lugging water on tricycles.

The narrow roads and by-lanes come alive at dawn as water tankers jostle for space with milk vendors and newspaper boys astride two-wheelers.

As day breaks, the residents anxiously wait for the tankers to arrive. Sometimes the tankers are late, or never show up. Nerves are frayed.

Worst hit are the residents of Sadasiva Nagar, who depend almost entirely on the water tankers to meet their daily needs, including drinking and cooking.

An elderly couple, K. Manickavasagam and Bhuvaneswari of Nakkeeran Street, knew they could not match the prowess of other residents in carrying pots and lifting cans. When their second borewell sputtered to a halt, they were forced to buy water from the erratic tankers. “ We spend around Rs 3,000a month for water alone,” Bhuvaneswari laments. Their neighbour, S. Dhakshina Subramanian, incurs an additional overhead cost of Rs 1,200 a month on water. “ All my morning prayers are for early rain, not for any other personal need,”he says.

R. Venkateswaran has a different tale of woe. He invested Rs. 20,000 on securing a water connection to his house after Melamadai panchayat was annexed by the Madurai Corporation. Now he regularly scans the horizon each morning to spot the water tankers.

Venkateswaran’s troubles did not end there. He was compelled to invest on a separate overhead tank for his tenant. “I never imagined that people could stoop so low while quarrelling with longtime friends over water. People are ready to share food, but it seems they are not ready to share water.”

V. Karunaianandan, a retired insurance officer of Gomathipuram, concurs ”As long as water is available in surplus , neighbours get along. Their true nature comes out when they run short of water,” he observes.

He is tired of VIP hypocrisy. Collectors and Corporation Commissioners make lofty assurances but fail to back them up, he notes. A case in point is the proposed conversion of the Vandiyur tank into a summer water storage facility with year-round boating for the public. The proposal has remained a dead letter for years.

Gomathipuram residents have resorted to collective action to save the groundwater table. They have imposed a ban on borewells beyond a radius of 4.5 inches and blocked the entry of rigs into the area.

But on Thiruvalluvar Street, houses are falling vacant with tenants deciding to leave. The owners are not looking for new tenants. “ We do not want to take a risk considering the water situation,” says M. Raju, a home owner.

His neighbour is in a quandary. He is constructing a new house after pulling down the old one.

“He has sunk three borewells so far. He has been buying three tanker loads of water per week for the new construction. He does not know how he will manage for water when the house is ready for occupation,” says Muthukannan, a mason.

While the Madurai Corporation is going back to the drawing board to find ways of augmenting and expanding its water supply, the stricken residents in the outlying areas are expecting the situation to get only worse.

More In: Madurai