Doubts raised over enforcing rule on installing grey water recycling plants

The present water crisis has forced the flat owners to go in for rainwater harvesting, though the rule is at least a decade old.

The present water crisis has forced the flat owners to go in for rainwater harvesting, though the rule is at least a decade old.   | Photo Credit: HANDOUT_E_MAIL

When the Corporation yet to effectively implement rainwater harvesting in buildings

On June 28, Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami said in Chennai that the State Government would grant planning permission to apartments, other multi-storey buildings and industries only if they installed grey water recycling plants.

The plants would help save 50% used water and therefore the Government would make them mandatory for apartments and industries, he justified.

The Chief Minister’s statement comes close on the heels of the release and is a reiteration of the Tamil Nadu Combined Development and Regulation Rules, 2019. Annexure XXII of the Rules says,

“Effective measures shall be taken within each premise for recycling grey water (water used for washing of cloths and bathing) and structures to the following standards shall be provided, the same shall be shown in the plan applied for Planning permission.”

But the Government’s move to enforce grey water recycling, it appears, has come somewhat late, as the State Planning Commission in its Twelfth Plan Strategy for Water Supply calls for a circular approach to waste water recycling.

“In the Twelfth Five Year Plan [2012-17] all water supply schemes should be integrated with concomitant water disposal system,” it says and calls for re-use of treated waste water and sludge and re-entry of treated waste into an ecosystem.

In addition to calling for using recycled grey water, the Commission also presents an estimation of how much water can be saved.

It is not just a Commission recommendation but the Government itself has emphasised the need for grey water recycling. In Vision Tamil Nadu 2023, it says that it will target to achieve recycling and reuse of 30% domestic waste water generated in all cities by 2020.

A rough calculation based on the Commission's estimation that 30% can be saved by way of recycling grey water shows that the Coimbatore has the potential to save at least 40 million litres water a day as the total capacity of the three sewage treatment plants that the civic body has installed and is commissioning is 140 million litres a day.

But the big question is how effectively can the Coimbatore Corporation enforce the State Government’s decision to make grey water recycling mandatory. A look at how effectively the Corporation has enforced the rule making compulsory the construction of rainwater harvesting structures does not appear to instil confidence.

The Corporation accords planning permission only if building plans show rainwater harvesting structure in blue print, assesses newly constructed buildings only if the structures are constructed and re-checks this at the time of giving water connection.

Though is is on paper, the reality is quite different in that the assessing officers do not physically inspect every building, says the Corporation sources, adding the same approach holds good for issuing water connection as well.

The officials entrusted with the task of checking the rainwater harvesting structures merely go by what the applicants have to declare, says a senior officer requesting anonymity.

The truth in the officer’s statement can be seen in several apartments that are now going in for installing rainwater harvesting structures, years after the Corporation or the authority concerned granted planning permission and assessed them for tax.

A.A. Ragunathan, president of an apartment residents’ welfare association near Thudiyalur says it is the residents who have taken up rainwater harvesting as the builder did not provide. And, the residents decided to do so now because sometime ago they faced water shortage and had to buy.

R. Raveendran of Residents Welfare Association of Coimbatore says increased awareness and the current water crisis has forced households, apartments, education and also industrial associations to harvest rain water.

Coimbatore, as a city spread over 250, has the potential to harvest 1,50,000 million litres rainwater on the assumption that it gets 600mm rainfall a year. This is at least 95,000 million litres in excess of what the city gets from Siruvani and Pilloor drinking water schemes a year, says Vanitha Mohan, Managing Trustee of the water conservation NGO, Siruthuli.

But the city somehow seems to lose out on this because of the Corporation’s poor enforcement. The civic body officials admit that there is no mechanism in place to punish building owners for not constructing rainwater harvesting structures when they apply for property tax assessment.

Also, there is no provision to penalise them for not properly constructing the structures.

A Town Planning wing officer says the all the civic body can look at is acting against such owners for violating the approved building plan.

The officer adds that the Corporation also does not have a mechanism for periodically checking the effectiveness of the rainwater harvesting structures.

Consumer activist K. Kathirmathiyon says as a rule is as good as it is enforced, the Corporation should conduct a drive to check buildings for rainwater harvesting structures and it should start with high-rises, commercial and industrial establishments.

For the drive to be effective, the Corporation should exclude individual houses on smaller plots and for this it has to have a cut-off based on square feet. Secondly, the Corporation should also fix accountability for officers for checking rainwater harvesting structures. If during the checking drive, it is found that the buildings do not have rainwater harvesting structures installed, it should pull up the officials who assessed those for tax and granted water connection.

Unless this is done, the civic body’s drive to ensure construction and effectiveness of the structures will be ineffective. The same approach also holds good for ensuring presence of grey water recycling facility in apartments, Mr. Kathirmathiyon adds.

As for flat buyers, the addition of grey water recycling plants will not substantially add to the cost, says a prominent city builder. The Government’s direction only complements what many builders are already doing in that many are moving towards zero discharge system, he says.

The senior Corporation official says very soon the civic body will despatch teams for checking apartments for the presence and effectiveness of rainwater harvesting structures and may consider engaging domestic breeding checkers or animators who are in any case going door-to-door to destroy mosquito breeding sources.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 11:07:52 PM |

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