Shimla in crisis
The inefficient allocation of resources has brought Shimla to a complete standstill and tourists have been advised against visiting, elaborates Nandini Agnihotri.
The Himachal Pradesh High Court, on Wednesday, ordered to cut water connections of 224 hotels and guest houses that have not deposited their water bills across Shimla, the capital city. In the light of acute water crisis in the town, the court also passed an order to stop all construction activities in the core areas of Shimla to save the dwindling water resources. It has also banned car washing for a week and prohibited tankers from supplying water to individuals, particularly those living in VIP areas.
The inordinate delay in the execution of the Kol Dam Lift water supply scheme to provide 55 million litres of water per day (MLD) to Shimla is the root cause of the worst ever water crisis this hill town has witnessed.
The plan was to lift water from Satluj, as conceived in the early 1970s, but there were no funds. After the construction of the 800 MW Kol dam project, the proposal was revised to lift the water through World Bank funding. The project is in its final stages and execution would start as soon as funds are released by the WB, which has already inspected the site. This means the town would have to bear with the problem for at least three more years.
Anger spills on roads
A water war has ensued in the town, with people from almost all localities hitting the streets with empty buckets, obstructing traffic and trying to surround local officials and politicians. Thirsty residents angrily protested against the non-availability of water. The situation has turned so ugly that the police have booked more than 200 people, including councillors.
In the past, BJP had agitated against the water shortage when the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) was controlled by Congress and CPI(M). This time, the party is at the receiving end. Mayor Kusum Sardet has left for China, leaving the people in a lurch and former mayor Sanjay Chauhan has blamed the SMC for failing to manage and regulate the water supply adequately. "We have not taken a bath for one week now and are now being compelled to buy mineral water to drink," said Gargi, a local, while adding that they can't even send their kids to school.
Tourists are not welcome
The residents vented their ire on social media cautioning tourists against visiting the hill town. Last weekend, the occupancy of hotels in Shimla was 90 to 100 per cent, but now, even the hoteliers are advising guests to cancel their bookings.
As per the data procured from the tourism department, there are only 268 registered hotels in Shimla that have 4,356 rooms with 9,064 beds. However, according to the Tourism Industry Stakeholders Association, there are 670 unregistered flats and homes in Shimla and its adjoining areas that are illegally being run by online companies. "These homes are mostly located in residential areas and are eating into the water share of the domestic consumers," says Rahul Chawla, general secretary, Tourism Industry Stakeholders Association.
The minimum requirement of the town with a population of around 172,000 is about 35-37 MLD and the floating tourist population (about 100,000) puts an additional burden of 8 to 10 MLD. However, the town is receiving 18 to 25 MLD of water from its five sources: Giri, Guma, Churat, Chaher and Koti-brandy. The water supply of one of the main sources – Ashwani Khud (supplying 8 to 10 MLD) – was shut down after sewerage was mixed with water and resulted in an outbreak of jaundice in 2015.
Due to the paucity of water, the rates of tankers which were otherwise Rs 2,500 (for 12,000 litre) have increased to range anywhere between Rs 6,000 and Rs 8,000. Also, the sale of disposable plates and mineral water has increased manifold.
Background of the crisis
Owing to a 72 per cent rain deficit and scanty snowfall during the winters, the water sources have not been sufficiently recharged and have virtually dried up due to the sudden rise in temperature, largely attributable to Global Climate Change and specific regional climatic inconsistencies.
The series of issues that landed Shimla in this trouble are the failure to plug the leakages from water lines that delivered 80-85 per cent of the water supplied and leaked the rest, there was also irrational supply of water as supply was not affected in VVIP areas while the common residents cried desperately for basic resources, the existing nexus of hoteliers with linemen and the inadequate number of tankers being pressed into service all added up to amplify the existing crisis.
High Court's intervention
Following the boycott of Courts by the Bar Association to express its solidarity with the people, the Himachal Pradesh High Court intervened into the matter and issued elaborate instructions to the civic body, asking it to meet the requirements to overcome this situation of grave emergency.
The Division Bench of the High Court comprising acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Ajay Mohan Goel took suo moto notice of the situation and directed the municipal corporation to stop the supply of water through tankers to VVIPs, except the Governor and the Chief Minister, suspend all construction activities and washing of cars for at least one week or until the situation can be brought back to its normal pace.
It also asked the SMC to approach the Army to divert the water used for the golf course at Annadale and utilise it for public use and also approach the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies which has a huge storage.
Measures by state government
As the situation aggravated, the government swung into action and Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur started monitoring the water supply. First, a committee headed by Chief Secretary Vineet Chaudhry was constituted to monitor the situation on an hourly basis on May 28 and on the same evening, Shimla was divided into three zones to supply water on a fixed timetable with a three-day gap. He also asked that at least one tanker be made available to every ward.
"The crises cropped up due to the drying of water sources which reduced the availability to 50 per cent but we are taking all steps to meet the emergency situation," said Jai Ram Thakur adding that a long-term plan for durable solution to the problem is the need of the hour and the government was working towards realising it.
Summer festival postponed
The scarcity of water has forced the Shimla district administration to postpone the five-day-long summer festival (which was accorded a status of an international festival) scheduled from June 1. The festival was once cancelled in 1970 due to a 35-day-long agitation by non-gazetted employees and in 1977, due to the Assembly polls, while on several occasions, the programmes were washed away due to heavy torrential rains.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)