Poor response to rainwater harvesting mechanism causes concern

THE HINDU [20 JUNE, 2001]
By Feroze Ahmed

CHENNAI, JUNE 18. Without any serious implementation of rainwater harvesting (RWH) methods, the City seems unlikely to capitalise on the coming monsoons.

Measures taken now to enforce installation of rainwater harvesting structures would go a long way towards recharging the city's groundwater levels.

But, despite the interest generated in RWH, few are actually installing the necessary infrastructure. The Government, which was among its prime promoters, too is indifferent to a system that was once deemed mandatory. Presently, authorities insist only on an undertaking.

Water managers and city planners are instead debating jurisdiction. The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) officials say the Metrowater board is responsible for enforcing RWH systems in new buildings. They add that even where RWH structures are incorporated in building plans shown for approval, they are usually not installed as it is not regarded compulsory.

The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) sanctions water and sewer connections only on an undertaking that a RWH structure will be installed in the building. Beyond that, though, there is no effective monitoring mechanism.

The CMWSSB had resolved last July to make RWH structures compulsory for all buildings irrespective of size and area. It was also resolved that the structures be maintained by the owners or occupiers.

The decision was based on the CMWSSB Act, 1978, which states that the board is vested with the authority to control extraction, conservation and use of groundwater in the Chennai Metropolitan Area.

Also, according to a Government Order, ``all buildings whether residential or commercial must provide structures necessary to harvest rainwater to augment groundwater. The municipal engineers shall ensure the provision of such structures before approval of the building plans''.

Despite the provisions, steps are hardly being taken to make these structures mandatory or to monitor their implementation. One suggestion was that inclusion for RWH structures be made a compulsory component for approval of building plans by the CMDA.

Builders and owners too are reluctant to implement the system. CMWSSB officials say this might be due to high rates charged by private contractors.

However, installing a RWH structure for a regular independent residence would cost only about Rs.5,000. The rates would vary depending on the catchment area but would not be expensive, they said.

Installation, they added, is a simple procedure that can be carried out in a few days by local plumbers, based on free technical guidance provided by the RWH cell of the CMWSSB.

There are few takers though, and activists point out that with a generous monsoon predicted, the City is losing a chance to recharge its depleting groundwater.