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Thanni: Why do taps in Chennai never go dry today?

Dr Sekhar Raghavan

Today, Chennai can hardly complain of water scarcity. What made this possible? One name that will go down in history:
Dr Sekhar Raghavan. He dedicated a quarter century to bringing about a change through his dedication and perseverance, that stemmed from repeated disappointment, and single-handedly paved the way for making Chennai a water-rich city, where water flows through every tap at any time of the year. Read on to know the story of “Thanni” (water).

One day almost three decades ago, Dr Sekhar Raghavan, dejected over water scarcity, wandered the streets of Besant Nagar, a coastal part of Chennai, when the soil caught his attention. After studying the topography of soil, he knew water could be stored in the porous ground. Thus began his journey.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that he realized the need for saving the limited water available from natural sources, such as rain. Getting this information out to the masses proved to be more difficult than he had anticipated. His three-year door-to-door campaign to educate inhabitants of the adjacent residential complexes was a Herculean task that yielded no results.

Dr Raghavan then collaborated with Victor D’souza, who published an incisive article about rainwater harvesting to educate the public. This journal had a readership of over 40,000 people, and it was exactly what was needed to get the word out to the masses. People gradually became aware of his findings and soon Dr Raghavan was seen delivering lectures on how to do rainwater harvesting.

It was around the same time the Chennai government had put an emphasis on the need for rainwater collection. Santha Sheela Nair, an IAS officer, was appointed as the water supply secretary, with the goal of making rainwater harvesting one of Chennai’s top priorities.

Dr Raghavan also obtained additional assistance from Ram Krishnan, an NRI entrepreneur, who supplied the required funds and support to take this idea to the next level. This resulted in the establishment of the Akash Ganga Trust Rain Centre. Dr Raghavan received much-needed visibility and a platform to educate the people of Chennai about the benefits of rainwater harvesting. The Centre was inaugurated by the then chief minister Jayalalithaa.

According to Dr Raghavan, there is a compelling need to expand awareness about rainwater harvesting. When the seasonal monsoon arrives, porous earth absorbs natural water; since no outlets are visible and the already porous water table is not equipped to take in more rain, we will soon face major flooding and devastating water logging scenarios, if not already evident from what we’ve seen in recent years.

“This attempt to establish such wells will assist in diverting rainwater into these structures. Such constructions are very simple and quick to put together, preventing undue perforation of the soil,” he explains. He claims that a 15-foot-deep cement rig with a diameter of three to five feet can be created in a day or two at most.

At 75 today, Dr Raghavan is still on his feet, teaching people about the advantages of rainwater harvesting. He encourages housing societies and complexes to collaborate in the development of bore wells and dry wells to collect the water that comes during the seasonal monsoons. He is still readily accessible to lecture on his most passionate subject to schools, institutes, building societies and governmental events.

Dr Raghavan is optimistic that more people will become aware of this concept and will support his efforts to do so. His campaign is only getting started, and we’ll need a great number of people like him to make a substantial shift in how we think about rainwater harvesting and its benefits.

With more organisations joining in, Dr Raghavan can organise the required set up for rainwater harvesting, any time anywhere.

As told to Valencia Fernandes,
Sub Editor, Clean India Journal.

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