A city in deep water crisis

Tourists arriving in Shimla have been asked by the hotels to arrange for drinking water on their own or return;and locals are defecating in open to avoid water shortage, reports Rakesh Rocky

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Hills are not calling you’’! This is the WhatsApp status of many youths in Shimla nowadays. Previously, the usual message for summers used to be- “Hills are calling you’’. Despite problems, which are common in many hilly areas, Shimlites love inviting friends and relatives to Shimla in summers and stroll on the Mall Road and Ridge. But, this time the scenario has changed. The reason ismounting water scarcity problem in the hilly town.

The seriousness of the crises could be judged from the fact that around 35 per cent hoteliers in Shimla have stopped fresh bookings as there is an acute shortage of water in the hotels to meet the requisite necessity. And, those who are arriving have been asked by the hotels to manage drinking water on their own. The administration has less than half of the water available to meet the total demand of the city per day. People are getting water after a gap of five days and that too for a teeny-weeny time. The latest problem which the Irrigation and the Public Health (IPH) department and Municipal Corporation (MC) authorities are facing is presence of huge silt after recent rains. This has affected the pumping of water from at least three water sources.

The most serious water crisis has not only created drinking water problems but also there is the shortage of water in the flush to clean the defecation. To save home water, many people are being seen defecating in the open. The sewerage tanks are stinking and those who are forced to drink unclean water from the natural water sources without filtration are entering in the unknown vortex of the disease. In May, the sewerage water got mixed with drinking water supply in the city which caused health problems to at least half dozen people. Two years ago, such negligence caused the death of more than two dozen people, including an IAS officer, died due to Jaundice in Shimla.

Himachal Pradesh High Court has instructed that extra water supply was stopped to the VIPs and influential hotels. Now, the administration has come out with the rationing of the water and issued an area-wise schedule for water supply in the city. After the strictness of the court, the day-to-day water supply chain is being given to the public through newspapers and radio, including the mobile number of the corporation concerned nodal officer.

Shimla’s water crisis shows the failure of all the governments till now and their indifference towards the future. According to experts, the water crisis of this time is a dangerous sign of future of Shimla. Many organisations and intellectuals have been suggesting that Shimla should remain only as a tourist place and the capital should be shifted somewhere else, or big offices should be shifted to Dharamshala, Mandi or Sundernagar.

The representatives of Municipal Corporation, who are elected to solve the problems of the city, have failed to fulfil their responsibilities. The Shimla Mayor, amid serious water crisis, went on a trip to China on May 26. She came back after eight days. It is now being demanded that foreign/ study tours of MC office bearers should be stopped running at the cost of public money.

The major sources of water supply to the city of Shimla are Gumma, Giri, Churath, Cheyad and Koti Brandi. The IPH department was lifting average 18 Million Litres Per Day (MLD) from Gumma, 10 MLD from Giri, 2 MLD from Churath, 1 MLD from Cheyad and 2 MLD from Koti Brandi water sources which is still about 10 MLD less than the actual demand. Then the leakage of water on the big scale. The reason is that during pumping and The water supply has distribution, the water is wasted in huge litres.

In Ashwani Khad, the testing of water got failed recently, resulting in no water supply from this main source of water in Shimla. There have been many cases of water pollution in the sewage treatment of Malyana recently. In the British period, a large tank was made on the ridge to collect water, after which there was no tank to collect the water. Hundreds of tourists and local people roam over the same tank every day. Before the court directions, people were angry over the ill-treatment of water supply in the city. They were alleging that water supply in the VIP areas is being made for more than one hour but to the common people for only for 20 minutes. Now, after the strictness of the court, many hotels stranded without getting more water are taking new tourists or asking them to make arrangements for drinking water themselves. They are also being given half bucket for use.

According to Vineet Chaudhary, the chief secretary of the state government, the reason for the water supply being done in Shimla was that the water sources got dried in the Gumma drinking water source. According to Chaudhary, this time, due to low snowfall, rainfall and high temperature, the problem got deepen.

In spite of this crisis in Shimla, a large number of tourists are coming. Every day around 14 to 18 thousand tourists are reaching the capital city. By June 15, about 35 per cent of the hotels has closed the new bookings. Despite this, the fact is that 50 per cent of the tourists do not come by making advance bookings and they search for hotels after reaching here.

Mohinder Seth, President, Shimla Hoteliers Association, said that the municipal officials had been warned about water problem about a month ago “but they took it lightly and no efforts were made to face the problem. This has hit our business and we have to bear the loss of this negligence of the corporation and the tourists are going away.”

The threat of water problem in the city even reached the court. The Himachal High Court Bar Association boycotted the court proceedings on the issue of water shortage. The Bar Association raised this issue to show solidarity with the Shimlites on the issue. The Association has alleged that there is no shortage of water in Shimla, yet the administration is not making people available with water according to their needs. The association also said that if there was such a shortage of water, then why not there is lack of water in homes of VIPs and hotels. The association has warned that if the situation does not change then a big movement will be launched. The Bar Association also alleged that black marketing of water is going on in the city due to which the people have been affected. Chief Minister Jayaram Thakur held many review meetings in the last few days. It was informed in the meeting that an adequate number of tankers has been deployed to ensure water supply in Shimla Municipal Corporation and at least one tanker has been installed in each ward.

Sushmita Arya, a tourist from Dehradoon, who was staying in a local hotel said that they were provided only half bucket of water for baths by the hotel people. Another tourist Nagendra from Ahmedabad told Tehelka that he had to purchase drinking water from the shop as hotel refused to provide the same.

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