Worsening water shortages, for farmers, households, and industry, threaten the lives and incomes of hundreds of millions of Indians, and the economic growth of the Asian country.

An estimated 163 million people out of India’s population of 1.3 billion – or more than one in 10 – lack access to clean water close to their home, according to a 2018 report by WaterAid, an international water charity.

For Parthasarathy, that’s a good business opportunity, and a chance to add to his fleet of 15 water trucks as the Tamil Nadu state government struggles to meet growing demand for clean water.

The port city of Chennai needs 800 million liters of water a day to meet a demand for water, according to official data. At the moment, the government can provide only 675 million liters, according to the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board.

Like many Indian cities, Chennai and its suburbs plug that gap by buying water, encouraging residents to dig backyard bore wells, or using private wells.

Altogether, the tanker trucks deliver 200 million liters of water a day to Chennai. There are neighborhoods that depend on tankers throughout the year with no access to government water pipelines.

This is given the rise of the water mafia, which has total control over who will get how much water in the city. Tankers identify good groundwater sources in agricultural areas in neighboring districts, pay a small fee to access the water and then sell it for 50 times that cost.

However, the drivers argue that they are providing a crucial public service and plugging leaks in government delivery mechanisms.

Some residents say they are being held to ransom by private water distributors, as they have no option but to pay and no prospect of being hooked to government-run water supplies soon.

Bottlers had demanded exemption from a judge order, arguing that good monsoon rains would adequately replenish disappearing groundwater.

Overuse of rural groundwater was threatening food production and the country’s food security.

Big Wobble / Crickey Conservation Society 2018. 

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