April 23, 2021
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Chennai Looks To Beat Its Water Woes – In Curious Ways

The worst water crisis in more than two decades has Chennai totally parched.

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Chennai Looks To Beat Its Water Woes – In Curious Ways
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Chennai Looks To Beat Its Water Woes – In Curious Ways

FTP in Chennai’s sprawling IT complexes does not stand for File Transfer Protocol – at least not in the present context. It actually refers to Floor To Pee. If an employee in an IT office wants to know if his floor is FTP it means if the toilets there are functional.

For, the multi-storied complexes have toilets functioning only on alternate floors in an attempt to tackle the massive shortage of water in these air-conditioned steel and glass domes. For example in Wipro’s eight complexes in Sholinganallur on Rajiv Gandhi Salai (the name for Chennai’s IT corridor), its 18,000 employees can use only half the number of restrooms compared to a month ago. “The idea is when toilets are functional only on alternate floors there will be less wastage of water and also the temptation to take toilet breaks, unless really urgent, would be reduced,” said a project manager at Wipro.

Though the move has not gone down well with the IT employees, they too realise that it is one possible way to get around water crisis in Chennai city which has not had rains for more than 190 days at a stretch. The city’s reservoirs are bone dry, the groundwater table has plunged and even private tankers that make hay during such crises are unable to find bore wells that can supply water to the thirsty city. Though more than 600 IT and ITES companies on this stretch use recycled water for flushing and cleaning, they are unable to cope with the water crunch in their office spaces. Cable ties are secured around push taps so their outflow is restricted. Paper cups at water coolers are done away with and employees have to fill their water bottles. Many IT companies have also advised their staff, when they come to the office to carry their own bottled water from home. “It is back to school for us,” quipped Bharath who works for Ford Business Services.

In another quick fix, many IT companies have now asked their employees to work out of their homes, asking them to visit the offices only once a week. The canteens have also been asked to use throw away cups and plates so reusable vessels need not be washed. This, of course, punctures the much-publicised ban on one-time use plastic. But since preserving water is the only mantra now, other environmentally unfriendly practices are given a go by in the process.

Restaurants, another major consumer of water, have also resorted to unheard of practices. They have dumped the ‘thali’ meals (rice served in a plate surrounded by steel cups of sambar, rasam, kootu and vegetable curry) since they have no water wash this entire cutlery. Instead, for lunch, they are serving only readymade sambar, tomato, lemon or curd rice and the likes which require just one plate and a spoon. “Though we have our own private tankers, they are unable to source water even from 30 km outside the city as the farmers there are protesting against exploitation for commercial use. For a 100 seat restaurant, we need 12,000 litres of water every day,” pointed out M. Ravi the president of the Chennai Hotel Owners’ Association.

Hospitals are another major casualty in the water war. Water is essential to maintain not just overall cleanliness but also to carry out surgeries. “A three-bed operation theatre alone requires 6,000 litres of water daily. Calculate how much more water is needed to run the rest of the hospital. So we are advising patients to postpone their surgeries if they are of a non-emergency kind as we do not want them confined to a hospital bed and suddenly find no water in their bathrooms,” said Dr. Deepak a gastro surgeon.

The state government has been found seriously wanting in tackling the crisis leading to a mad scramble at water filling points and road rokos in areas starved of water supply for days together. The authorities also stumbled badly by reopening schools in the first week of June which in turn are scrambling for water to keep their toilets functional for the hundreds of schools kids. “Many kids and teachers go back home with their bladders full as our toilets are stinking without adequate water,” complained a school teacher.

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