As Chennai continues to battle a water shortage, the price of water supplied by private tankers in the city has doubled since April. The crisis has affected first-time buyers far more than those who already rely on such tankers for their water supply, such as those living in high-rise apartments.
Shaji Mathews, a retired health official living in Ram Nagar in the southern part of the city, relies on private tankers to fill his 12,000 litre underground tank; piped water supply has been completely cut in his area. With two families living in his house, each tanker load is sufficient only for three weeks.
According to Mr Mathews, in April that tanker load cost only Rs 2,000. Today it costs Rs 4,500.
"This was little less than Rs 2000 in April and now nearly three times. I am a pensioner it's so difficult as half if my pension goes for water," he told NDTV.
At an apartment in Alwarpet in central Chennai, water supply is cut for 16 hours every day as part of conservation efforts.
Raja, a resident, says he spends Rs 2,500 per month for private water tankers. In total, people in his apartment complex pay a massive Rs 75,000 a month.
"We don't get water in metro taps. Our borewell has dried. In April we paid Rs 1,900 to Rs 2,100. Now it hovers between Rs 4,500 to Rs 4,800," he explains, turning on dry taps in his home to illustrate his point.
By contrast, Chennai Metro Water charges Rs 700 for 9,000 litres, but the wait is long. It can take between three and four weeks and this leaves nearly 40 per cent of Chennai's residents at the mercy of private suppliers.
Private tankers claim they have not increased prices for communities without piped water as they are bound by the contract signed. However they charge them the extra fuel cost they incur now.
They also argue the drying up of agricultural wells and water bodies around the city means they must travel longer distances to get water and therefore are forced to raise prices for some customers. Their trips to have come down they say.
"Earlier we travelled just 30 kilometres. Now we have to travel for hundreds of kilometres to fetch water. We have to pay toll fees. The farmers who own those wells too take money as this has become a source of income when there is no agriculture," N Nijalingam, president of the state association of private tankers told NDTV.
With the city's reservoirs all drying up, the state government has been forced to cut piped water supply to the city by 40 per cent. The ruling AIADMK, which has faced criticism from opposition DMK, has also had to transport 10 million litres of water daily from the northern part of the state at a cost of Rs 65 crore.
The Madras High Court has slammed the state for not doing enough.
The state has blamed the crisis on last year's inadequate monsoon and says the government must only ensure 60 per cent supply till November, when the monsoons are expected.