After a delay of six years, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami led the ground-breaking ceremony for an additional desalination plant at Nemmeli, in the outskirts of Chennai, on Thursday. This comes at the height of the worst drought Chennai has seen in decades.
Late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had first spoken about the desalination plant on the floor of the state assembly in 2013. Once set up, the Rs 1,259-crore project is expected to provide 150 million litres a day (MLD) of potable water to the city from 2021. The government also plans to begin work on another plant with a capacity of 400 MLD, which will be the second-largest unit of the kind, in the near future.
"When both these plants are completed, it will ensure 100% drinking water requirements for Chennai," Mr Palaniswami said at the event.
Chennai already has two desalination plants that ensure a total of 200 MLD of drinking water for its people. At present, Metro Water supplies only 525 MLD of water per day against the city's requirement of 830 MLD. In two weeks, trains will bring two MLD of water every day to Chennai from Jolarpet in Vellore district, located in the northern part of the state.
The opposition alleges that the ruling AIADMK has not launched any water schemes in Chennai over the last seven years, resulting in the current water scarcity. The Chennai Metro Water has cut piped water supply by 40% and deployed 900 tankers that make around 9,000 trips every day to deliver water. The unprecedented scarcity has forced people to stand in queues before sunrise each day, causing school students to miss out on classes and forcing employees to skip work. Schools, colleges, hotels, hospitals and IT parks have also come under severe stress for want of water.
Critics claim that it took nothing less than a terrible drought and scathing criticism from the Madras High Court for the ruling AIADMK to act. "The assembly session begins on Friday, and the state government organised this foundation stone-laying ceremony only because of that," Leader of the Opposition and DMK chief MK Stalin said.
They also accuse the state government of making a big show at the foundation stone-laying ceremony in view of its recent drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections and the upcoming local body polls. Besides AIADMK flags, giant hoardings with pictures of EK Palaniswami and his deputy - O Panneerselvam - dotted the vicinity of the ceremony on East Coast Road yesterday.
However, even the upcoming desalination plants may not suffice in the days to come. Residents of the city want the Chief Minister and his cabinet to lay out its plan to recharge the water table in view of central think-tank Niti Aayog's assessment that the city's groundwater reserves would completely dry up by 2020.