Chennai’s water tankers plug the civic gap

  1. ishabh Bhatnagar | February 8

Chennai: India’s “worst water crisis in history”, according to a June 2018 report by government policy think tank NITI Aayog, is manifesting itself in Chennai as hordes of rumbling water tankers that make their way in and out of the city round the clock shuttling thousands of litres on demand.


Water tankers are a common sight in Chennai

The long drawn water crisis has specifically badly hit hotels, offices and residential complexes located on the Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR), where the quality of groundwater is brackish.

The groundwater levels around Chennai have depleted so much, that private players in the water tanker business have had to constantly push further away from the city and even dig deeper to fulfil the massive demands.

“Earlier it was much closer. There was water even in Palllikaranai and Perumbakkam. But now we have been shifted all the way to Mambakkam, Otiambakkam and Thiruporur. The distance is constantly increasing, but the increase in demand is helping us cope with the rising costs,” said K Siva of Murugan Water Suppliers.





A 12 thousand litre tanker for tapwater costs Rs. 1300-1500, whereas a 24 thousand litre tanker costs Rs. 2500. “We charge Rs.100-150 extra depending upon where the water is to be delivered,” he said. “We try not to make water out of reach for the poor, but we have to cope with the general inflation. There is an increase of approximately 5 per cent in the cost every year,” he said. 

Top: Mambakkam Lake in June 2018, bottom: A depleted Mambakkam Lake today

“Drivers now make at least twelve trips a day, sometimes even fifteen, which is thrice as many trips as they used to two years back. We have added 35 new tankers since last year. Instead of one shift in the morning, we have more drivers coming in to make trips through the day to ensure same day delivery. Water is something we can’t live without, and people are very strict about their requirement and our punctuality,” he said.

“Water is a huge issue even in this area. We depend on tankers for daily supply. It is a give and take situation. There are tankers driving around our area all the time, creating a ruckus, but then we need water from them as well,” said Selvaraj, a resident of DABC Habitat in Polachery, Mambakkam.

One of the hundreds filling points that have popped up around Mambakkam


The inadequacy of supply from Chennai MetroWater Supply and Sewage Board (CMWSSB) has left residents to depend on private suppliers. In October 2018, Madras High Court upheld its 2014 and 2017 orders regarding the government banning the exploitation of groundwater for commercial use, but the ban was considered near-sighted by many and the demands posed by the Chennai Private Water Tankers Operators Association were met by the government. “Sometimes we fear that we might not be able to meet the demand. We are not sure how much water is left. The demand grows exponentially but there is not enough infrastructure to cater to the population,” said N. Nijalingam, president of the association.