Women's Household Water Management in Mylai Balaji Nagar, Chennai, India

By Khosla, Prabha | Women & Environments International Magazine, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Women's Household Water Management in Mylai Balaji Nagar, Chennai, India


Khosla, Prabha, Women & Environments International Magazine


In the south of Chennai, India, lies Mylai Balaji Nagar, a resettlement colony of about 10,000 low-income residents. In 1995, 2700 families of mostly pavement dwellers were evicted from Mylapore (Central) Chennai and resettled on a coastal wetland in the southern periphery of the city. They were evicted to make way for the construction of a railway station and left on the Pallikaranai wetland without any services or infrastructure. Each family was allocated a plot measuring 15 ? 18 ft and their belongings were trucked and dumped on the wetland. The forced eviction of slum and pavement dwellers from towns and cities is an ongoing process and managed by the Slum Clearance Board, an agency of the Tamil Nadu State government. Once people are evicted, the provision of services to them becomes the responsibility of the municipal government where they are resettled. For the newly evicted pavement dwellers from Mylapore, the Pallikaranai panchayat (town council) became their new local government.

The land, and in this case, the wetland, continues to be owned by the State government and residents are given a 'licence' to live there. However, this does not prevent many of the resettled slum and pavement dwellers from selling their rights to the land and either moving back to the city or to another area. Buying and selling of the 'licence' to reside in Mylai Balaji (MB) Nagar is a common occurrence.

In the early years of the resettlement, access to water was not a problem; however, today, there is a severe problem of both water quantity and quality. The supply of water via standpipes and water tankers is sporadic, arrives without warning, and sometimes not for 5-10 days. The Pallikaranai panchayat pumps water from a well in the nearby Lake Narrayamapurram into a piped water system and if there is insufficient water, then water tankers distribute water to residents. The limited water supply is also a reflection of the reality of Chennai as a whole, which is heavily dependent on groundwater extraction and does not have sufficient water to satisfy the demands of a metropolitan region of 7.5 million (2007) inhabitants.

For the women of Mylai Balaji (MB) Nagar and their families, the lack of sufficient and safe water is a constant problem and occupies much of their time and energy as does the management of waste water. The interviews with Parameswari and Mannammai below provide a snapshot of the very difficult reality of the women in MB Nagar as well as many other slums and informal settlements in urban India - a snapshot of how poor urban women manage household water when they have very precarious access to it.

Parameswari

Parameswari is 28 years old and lives in a two-story house with her husband, two sons, aged five and seven, a brother, her parents and her grandmother. She and her family have been living in MB Nagar since 1999. They are not from the original community that was evicted from Mylapore. They bought their rights to the land from a family who was re-settled here. Parameswari's husband is a construction worker and her mother is a cleaner at the local school. Parameswari makes about Rs. 2000/month from her sewing. (1US$ =Rs. 45) She obtained a loan from her Self-Help Women's Group - Kalki (a micro-credit system common in India), so that she could build the additional floor of the house.

When the family first moved to MB Nagar they used to get water daily via water tankers sent by the town council. Over the years, standpipes were installed and with the increasing density of the settlement, as well as other factors, water supply was reduced to every other day, and then to twice a week. The water in the early years was clean and free of insects, which is not the case today. For about six months in the early years, water was only available at night, at midnight or later. This meant that the women could not sleep as they had to stay awake into the night for the water. They successfully lobbied the town panchayat to change this schedule. …

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