the new Veeranam Extension Project, envisaged to supply drinking water to the Chennai Metropolitan area from six proposed collector wells in the Kollidam (Colleron) riverbed, has evoked strong protests from farmers of villages situated on the river's banks. They fear the project will increase their water woes. The Rs 300 crore project, 300 kilometres from Chennai, aims to supply 150-180 million litres per day (mld) water to the state capital.
Residents of Perambalur district-based Tirumanur panchayat union, situated on the northern bank of Kollidam River, and villagers along the southern bank of the river in Thanjavur district organised for protest the day the project was launched. "Around 165 mld water is already being extracted from the Kollidam bed in the vicinity of Tirumanur for 17 combined water supply schemes, which cater to around 250,000 residents of 2,300 habitations, including nine municipal corporations. The new project will extract more than the cumulative requirements of the existing schemes and may lead to the failure of the existing borewells. Some wells had already gone dry last summer," says Tirumanur gram panchayat vice president.
The area is already suffering depleted groundwater levels. Hand pumps in Chemmangudi and Vilangudi areas have gone dry. Many farmers have no option but to use submersible pumps. A writ petition against the project was filed in the Madras High Court by S Ramamirtham of Perambalur district. But when the case was heard on Feberuary 21, 2005, the Metrowater Board said in its counter-affidavit that the project will draw only a small portion of Kollidam's water potential of about 2,360 mld. Of this, 200 mld was extracted by other schemes.
Though the state government says farmers' apprehensions are baseless, it acknowledges that according to a project report on building groundwater recharging structures across Kollidam River in Thanjavur and Perambalur districts, the area is water stressed. Experts point out that after the annual closure of Mettur Dam gates, there will be no flow of water in Kollidam river from January 31 to the last week of June, unless special discharge is arranged. Instead of digging collector wells, they say the government should use system tanks and eri s. They also warn the proposed check dams for recharge may cause progressive capacity reduction due to siltation. They suggest barrages are the best option.
The government recently proposed to construct water recharge barriers and a ban on sand quarrying on Kollidam riverbed. But this didn't calm protestors. Now, instead of steps to solve possible water crisis, it has announced provision of new electrical connections in the villages, clearly a soft sop.