The city has witnessed demand going up manyfold in the last couple of months

With the gap between demand for potable water and supply widening due to various reasons, the business of supply through private tankers appears to be flourishing in the city.

As most of the wells have gone dry with the groundwater table hitting abysmally low depths even in areas closer to the banks of the Vaigai, residents have turned to private water suppliers who are now cashing in on the situation.

The people, instead of relying on the Madurai Corporation tankers, choose private tankers as they can deliver water anywhere anytime.

The tankers feed the huge demands of hotels, hospitals and business establishments, besides households. There are more than 500 private water tankers operating in and around the city that has witnessed demand going up manyfold in the last couple of months alone. While some suppliers source water from the open wells of others by paying Rs.100 for each load, a few extract water from their own agricultural fields and sell it.

R. Chandran, a private supplier who sources water from Oomachikulam on the outskirts of the city, says that he receives five to six calls a day for supply from residents alone.

“Residents say that they have to depend on private tankers as the civic body’s water supply has turned erratic due to poor storage in the Vaigai dam. The demand has increased from areas like Anna Nagar, K.K. Nagar, Athikulam, DRO Colony, Narayanapuram, Gomathipuram and Pandikoil,” he says.

“In our locality, we receive piped water supply only once in four days. Due to inadequate rainfall, we have been facing water scarcity for the past five years. Hence, we prefer water supplied in lorries, which lasts up to a week, for other purposes. The tankers charge Rs.500 for 6,000 litres of water,” says P. Karventhan, a resident of Narayanapuram.

A 12,000-litre-load of water per tanker costs anywhere between Rs.1,000 to Rs.1,200 depending on the distance. Of late, customers, mostly residential/apartment complexes, prefer tanker loads with a capacity of 6,000 litres that cost Rs.500 to Rs.900, says P. Kannan, another water supplier who sources water from Kochadai.

No regulation

While hundreds of private water suppliers are into the business, there is no regulation or monitoring of the quality of water supplied by them. According to sources in the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), Public Works Department (PWD) is the authority to enforce quality norms on private water suppliers in the city while the Food Safety Department fulfils the function when it comes to corporation water tankers.

“We are creating awareness of the importance of chlorination. The drivers are advised to keep the tankers clean and taught easy methods of adding chlorine,” says J. Suguna, Designated Officer, Department of Food Safety and Drug Administration.

Further, Ms. Suguna also advises the public not to use the water supplied by private tankers for drinking or cooking.

There are about 50 tankers operated by the Corporation in the added areas of the city. The water is treated properly and then chlorinated before being supplied to the residents, according to a corporation official.

It is not just the PWD which is responsible for the regulation but also the local bodies that can play a role in monitoring the private tankers, says a TNPCB official. Lack of co-ordination between departments is a major cause for the rampant water supply business, the official adds.

Water expert P.S. Navaraj says, “Most of the private water tankers get water from open wells. It should be made mandatory that they get a no-objection certificate from the local body before supplying water to anybody.”

“As per the guidelines of the Central Groundwater Authority, they are not allowed to extract water from open wells, which may contain pollutants that can’t be filtered even by a water purifier at home. Therefore, it can impact the health of a person.

Officials of Pollution Control Board must test the quality of water supplied by these water tankers. There must be a regulatory body to monitor and provide licences to them to operate trips. The tankers must also be educated on the use of water,” Dr. Navaraj explains.