The summer of 2019 brought Chennai, one of India’s largest metropolitan cities and the state capital of Tamil Nadu, to a halt. There was no natural calamity, no disastrous flood, nor an earthquake or a cyclone. The people had simply reaped what they had sowed; Chennai had run out of groundwater. The acute shortages meant that people were queuing up in the streets in the hope that water tankers would come to quench their thirst, but this help was not forthcoming. Matters were made worse when news broke that politicians from the ruling All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) were diverting available tankers to their homes, where they were used for a variety of purposes, from cleaning to watering gardens. Not for the first time, the misery of the people was compounded by selfish politicians who abused their powers and privileges.
Unfortunately, Chennai was not an isolated incident. Reports from Niti Aayog, the policy think tank of the Government of India, showed that IT hub, Bengaluru, and the national capital, Delhi too was expected to run out of groundwater by 2020. In light of these recent developments, both the federal and state governments have at least paid lip service to the crisis in the forms of new schemes. Predictably, these schemes largely exist on paper only. In a country divided along the lines of caste, religion, and gender, elections are hardly ever won on promises of growth. However, it is important to note that without water, there is no life. While the old adage goes, ‘we must act before it’s too late’, I fear that ship has sailed. Irrespective, we must act now to rescue the situation as best we can. Where there is groundwater, it has been rendered unfit for use due to pollution. Chemicals take mere minutes to seep into the ground, so the problem itself is global. “It’s important that our solution is low-cost and can run off the grid, given the number of contaminated sites and the widespread nature of the problem,” Lily Rajic, a postdoctoral researcher at Northeastern University said.
Government schemes and individual responsibility must come together to help develop citywide systems of rainwater harvesting that continuously replenish groundwater. Concretisation must be reconsidered since water cannot seep into the ground below wherever we have built roads, pavements, and floors.
Even small and seemingly insignificant steps, if carried out on a large scale, can affect tangible change. At this point, however, there is no guarantee. Nonetheless, we owe it to our future to at least try.