Work from home, IT firms tell employees as Chennai battles water shortage
A severe drought in Tamil Nadu that has depleted three reservoirs – Poondi, Cholavaram and Chembarambakkam - supplying water to Chennai has forced IT companies to redraw their operational plans while many hotels have stopped serving lunch and some have downed their shutters.
On the IT Corridor along the Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR), many companies – both small and big - have asked their employees to work from home. This OMR stretch, housing over 650 IT and ITES firms employing lakhs of people, is one of the worst affected areas reeling under water scarcity.
“Over 20,000 IT employees have been asked to either work from home or move to the company offices at Bengaluru or Hyderabad. The business establishments in OMR region require 30 million litres of water every day of which 60% is consumed by the IT industries. Nearly 4000 water tankers supply water to these firms”, saidT Bharanidharan, president of IT Employees Association - UNITE.
Echoing the same, Vasumathi of FITES, another IT employees union, said staff, especially in start-ups are persuaded to work from home and the reason is water scarcity
While declining to confirm the work from home option, senior officials of IT companies in SIPCOT complex, maintained that the quantum of water that they receive was insufficient to manage normal operations.
But, some IT companies like Congnizant Technologies have placed certain measures for the efficient use of water and prevent wastage.
“We can bring lunch and have it in office but we should not wash the utensils. We can just wash out hands. And even the taps won’t splash water since ‘ecomist’ have been installed to regulate flow of water. The company usually has back up for a week, yet the management does not want to take chances and hence the new measures in place,” a senior HR personnel at Cognizant explained.
However, Local Administration Minister SP Velumani, denied that software companies have given their staff the option of working from home due to water scarcity.
“It is not true. It is a rumour spread to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Water scarcity is common during summer, but we are managing it by augmenting water supply to all areas,” he told the media after review meeting with officials of Chennai Corporation and Metro Water.
Faced with criticism of his handling of the water crisis and the opposition DMK’s demand for his sacking, the Minister said he could not be blamed for nature’s failure.
“Nature has played truant. We did not get the required quantum of rains. When nature itself fails, how could I be blamed?” was his response.
The hospitality industry too has been facing the pinch. The Chennai Hotels Association president Ravi expressed apprehension that nearly half of the over 50,000 small and tiny hotels would face closure due to the severe water scarcity.
“In a few days, nearly half of the small hotels would have no other option but close their operations. Water is essential for running a hotel. Even the little water that we get from the tankers is not good. It is either brown in colour with which we could not cook food,” Ravi told the media. Some of the hotels are using traditional banana leaves or paper plates as there is no water to wash conventional steel utensils.
The situation is so bad that even the Chennai Metro Rail is closing toilets due to water scarcity.
With every passing day, the situation is worsening and not a day passes without road blockades and demonstrations across the state.
In many villages Ramanathapuram, draw of lots is the mode of selection for distributing water. Thrice a week the lot is held and the names selected will get precedence in collecting water, from the water tankers.
In Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri in the West and many districts in the South, women bear the brunt of collecting water. It is a night-long vigil for them to collect water from dry water bodies and wells.
Meanwhile, the state government has sought ₹5,398 crore financial assistance from the Centre to carry out drinking water schemes in the state.
According to an official release, the state government has allocated ₹15,838 crore in the last three years for carrying out drinking water projects. Of this, Chennai Metro Water has received ₹2,638.42 crore for 4,098 works, the release added.
The fight for water in the parched state has also led to a murder and an attempted murder.
A 33-year-old social activist D Anand Babu of Vilar village was beaten to death near Thanjavur for regulating drinking water from an overhead tank he had arranged for his village ten days ago.
And in Chennai, Athimoolam Ramakrishnan (36), car driver of TN Assembly Speaker P Dhanapal, stabbed his neighbour, Subhashini (28) following a fight over drawing water on Thursday. The woman who needed eight stitches and is recovering at a hospital. Ramakrishnan was arrested.
Except Kanniyakumari and Tirunelveli districts, which are contiguous to Kerala and remain beneficiaries of the South West monsoon, the rest of Tamil Nadu is facing a severe drought.