The Mysterious Case of Madras’s Missing Water – A Case Study

I first thought of writing this and then sending it off to the likes of The News Minute, hoping it would be published anonymously. Then I figured why would I want to remain anonymous when my plight is the same as that of everyone around me. I will write it, and you can relate to it.

Now that we have done away with an obligatory introductory paragraph, let’s get to the heart of the matter. It has been 6 days since I have had a proper bath. By proper bath, I do not mean a soak in a tub (which we do not have at home) or a shower. It means one 16-litre bucket of water, filled to the brim, which I use for my ablutions. Sixteen litres! For the past six days, I have not had this luxury.

My octogenarian, diabetic granny has not bathed in just as long, maybe longer. To top it, she hasn’t been drinking her usual intake of water as well, because she does not want to waste water with frequent bathroom visits. It is much the same in every apartment in our complex.

Washing machines are stuffed with dirty laundry. Those of us who have top loading fully automatic or semi-automatic machines, have cradled the machine to our bosoms and poured mug by precious mug of water, as delicately as possible, and gotten one load of washing done. This takes three days. If you have a fully automatic front load machine, then there is no hope for that as well.

Imaage from Mathrubhumi
Source –

Ah! Now you are asking if you can’t find sixteen litres, then how are you running a full wash cycle. Well, we are buying five pots of water every other day. That is about 100 litres water. This is sufficient for us, a family of five, for kitchen and toilet usage, to horde it up for one wash cycle, and just pour two mugs of water on ourselves to cool down in this heat. These five pots are all thanks to one magnanimous mother-son pair who bring it to us from their nearby dwelling. The slum clearance board distributes water to them near their place and they, in turn, make some money selling this water at Rs 20 a pot to people like us. If not for them, one can’t imagine the stink up.

So, what are we doing for water otherwise? Well, we can, of course, use the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply board’s website and book a tanker of water. There are two options, 6000 or 9000 litres. These are priced at Rs. 475 or Rs. 700 respectively. Meaning, one has to shell out Rs 600 or Rs 800, in total, to the pair that make the delivery.

Bookings we make diligently. We did not have any problem until the middle of May. Of course, this coincided with the election results. (The timing is just coincidence, of course, and does not hold a cause-effect relationship at all. Or so one has to believe.) Then came the chaos. The last 9000L load was delivered on 17th May. After which we booked for water through the website on the 19th of May. There is still no sign of that load being delivered.

A few weeks back, curious to know about this delay, one neighbour from our apartment complex visited the CMW’s office. He was told that every booking would take three to four weeks time to be delivered. The good man then went again, after the three weeks time, to check and was completely ignored by the staff. Upon asking the drivers hanging around the filling stations, he was informed that deliveries would take more than a month. Which could mean two things. One, there are too many bookings being made every day and demand exceeds supply. Two, the usual bookings are made, but there is not enough water to be supplied.

Let us take case one. This could not, possibly, be true. The reasons are many. But, the most logical being that every apartment/house would have made a booking in the past month and they are still waiting for this load to be delivered. That ticket needs to be closed before the next booking can be made. Of course, the CMW could include a simple code to restrict the number of bookings they receive in one day.

The second scenario also seems like a less believable one. I am not dissing the fact the sources of water for Chennai have dried up but noting that there are plenty of water tankers plying the roads. One only needs to visit one of the CMW’s filling stations to note how many tankers are being filled. Just hang around the Valluvar Kottam signal and you can witness this magic.

So, why then the delay? Well, since we were being resourceful, we took all the calls we received in the past from the water tanker drivers and called them to ask about our booking. Many calls later one of them declared that we could get water within a few hours if we paid Rs 5000. No questions asked, no booking numbers or OTPs needed. One full load, without delay, for the price of Five Thousand Rupees! Another informed us of the same but for a reduced cost of Rs 4000. For Rs 4000, one could get five 9000L deliveries done, in normal times.

Such criminals! But needs must. I imagine there are people who are buying through this channel. Then, of course, there are our papers. Local papers claim that there are tankers being filled, but they are diverted to those in, or related, to the government. Some newspapers make tantalising news like this, while in others the sham that is water supply is being ignored. Journalists have a lot to talk about these days while water management and supply will definitely take a back seat.

The average middle-class Chennaite is a helpless soul, who earns just enough to stay afloat in a tiny cup of water. This group of people are so helpless that, to quote one driver we spoke to, “You can make a booking, but you are not going to get it.

The irony of the whole fiasco is every time I open the CMW’s website to make a booking this Thirukural is featured at the bottom of the webpage.

நீர்இன்று அமையாது உலகெனின் யார்யார்க்கும்
வான்இன்று அமையாது ஒழுக்கு.

The Mysterious Case of Madras's Missing Water, by Frost At Midnite

The Kural means that without water, all of nature ceases. And without rain, there is no water flow.

Then there is that text in blue about bribes being illegal.

Irony dies a slow death!!!

By Frost At Midnite

PS – every single person who has a booking and has not yet received their load has paid their water tax till date. And all apartments in our locality have rainwater harvesting systems.

PPS – This experience has been one of learning and the lessons we learnt aren’t going to forgotten for a long while. Reminders in the form of drums and buckets will remain. The next state elections are going to equally memorable.

8 thoughts on “The Mysterious Case of Madras’s Missing Water – A Case Study

  1. Hi Jayasree – very sorry to hear yours and Chennai plight. Mere thought of running out of water is a big nightmare, and the helplessness on top of it….very sad. Hope this suffering comes to end quickly and for forever. Chennai needs to plan now and do something to fix this problem …deepen the reservoir, desalinization plant …there has to be an answer to end this human suffering….Every body needs to be woken up after this shake up….take things on your own hand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true! It has become the case where citizens themselves are pooling in to take care of the reservoirs near them. But there are considerable hurdles for that as well. Then there is the latest news where officials are performing poojas for rains instead of doing their jobs with de-sliting etc. They could at the very least help the citizens who are willing to work with the govt, but they really don’t.


  2. “The average middle-class Chennaite is a helpless soul, who earns just enough to stay afloat in a tiny cup of water.” This is no way to live. 🙈😑

    Liked by 1 person

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