Drought relief: why Tamil Nadu has to cry harder

CHENNAI: As soon as the Union finance minister promised comprehensive measures for 100 water-hungry districts, the prime minister raised his hand. All private water districts in the state must be chosen for the Center's special program and large funds must be allocated, the chief minister said.

EPS was being ambitious, but not without reason. Drought-like conditions have spread through Tamil Nadu at an alarming rate, partly due to its inherent nature that its vast parts are in the rain shadow region and partly due to climate change. The monsoon fault has left the underground water table of the state overexploited. An evaluation conducted by the state's public works department shows that more than 60% of the state lacks Water , the worst districts being Tiruvannamalai, Salem, Vellore, Thanjavur and Tirupur. Many of the districts including Chennai and Coimbatore overdraw ground Water .

Having been excluded from the Centre’s Atal Jal mission launched in seven states to strengthen ground Water resources, Tamil Nadu is keen to get a bigger pie from the proposed scheme. In December, the chief minister wrote to Prime Minister Narendra , pointing out that 541 of the 1,166 firkas (revenue sub-divisions) in Tamil Nadu fall under the ‘critical’ and ‘over-exploited’ categories and they should be included in the Atal Jal programme. The Centre did not respond.

In Vellore, 33 of the district’s 52 firkas and 37 of the 52 in Tiruvannamalai have been found to be overexploited. Lack of flow from neighbouring states have compounded the problem. A Ashokan, a member of a non-profit called Reversal of Ecology Committee, Vellore, said construction of check dams and increasing the height of dams across the Palar by the Andhra Pradesh government have led to further drying up of Tamil Nadu’s northern districts. “Even those living along the banks of rivers struggle for drinking Water . Governments of the past and the present looked at Water only as an election issue,” Ashokan said.