Shimla in a hot spot: Water woes wreck 'Queen of Hills'

Residents of Shimla are craving for water, not exactly for the first time. So are the tourists, whose influx has reached an all-time high with the northern states seeing the hottest summer

Shimla in a hot spot: Water woes wreck 'Queen of Hills'


Residents of Shimla, the former summer capital of the British Raj, are craving for water, not exactly for the first time. So are the tourists, whose influx has reached an all-time high with the northern states seeing the hottest summer.

A majority of localities in the picturesque hill station are facing the worst water crisis, getting potable water once or twice a week.

The reason: Most of the water channels in Shimla and its suburbs, which are normally quenching the thirst of the people, have dried up this summer largely owing to the intense heat and deficit rainfall in the past three months.

Locals say for Shimla, which supports more than 450 hotels, restaurants and guesthouses, water crisis is an annual feature, even in winter. They say the problem aggravates with the spike in tourist footfall.

Planned by the British for a maximum population of 16,000, Shimla is now home to 2.47 lakh people with a floating population of 75,000 as per the 2011 Census.

These days as life in the plains of northern India has become unbearable with the temperature hovering over 42 degree in several places, Himachal Pradesh's tourist resorts, including the state capital, are luring visitors.

"It's really pleasant to be here (Shimla)," said Deepak Jindal, a tourist from Chandigarh. "Even the days are pleasant here at around 30 degrees Celsius compared to Delhi's sizzling weather," his wife Gauri said.

"But water is a luxury here, literally. Our hotel is welcoming guests with a caution notice not to overuse water as they say they depend on private tankers for water," she added.

Hospitality industry representatives say pleasant weather in the morning and late in the evening in Shimla, Kasauli, Chail, Narkanda, Kalpa and Manali towns is drawing holiday-makers like magnets.

"There is a spike in tourist arrivals, mainly due to the prevailing hot weather in the plains. Most tourists are heading to those destinations where they can enjoy gurgling streams," an official with the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp (HPTDC) told IANS.

He said Shimla, one of India's most popular tourist destinations, and its nearby areas like Chail and Narkanda, Kalpa, Sangla and Chitkul in Kinnaur district and the entire Kullu-Manali region are choc-a-bloc with tourists.

Currently, the shortage of water is there at almost every hill station, but it's more acute in Shimla which faced the worst crisis in 2018 when there were widespread protests, marches to the Chief Minister's residence at midnight and even interventions by the high court.

A total of 107.63 million litres of water per day (MLD) is estimated for Shimla by 2050. Currently, the town requires 40 MLD that is largely met from two major sources -- the Giri and Gumma streams.

The Shimla Jal Prabandhan Nigam Ltd (SJPNL) is running the city's water and sewerage system. "Due to the prolonged dry spell and deficit water in sources, we have resorted to water rationing in the city. The residents are getting water on alternate days till the availability of water improves," SJPNL Assistant General Manager Anil Jaswal explains.

However, residents of Totu and its nearby areas complain that they are getting water once a week.

The crisis is aggravated in several other overpopulated areas like Sanjauli, Panthaghati, Vikasnagar and Mehli where the water supply is on the third day or later, depending upon the water availability.

So how will Shimla overcome the water crisis?

Urban Development Minister and four-time Shimla legislator Suresh Bhardwaj told IANS, "I am monitoring the situation. Actually the water level at the sources has declined due to rising temperatures."

"We are working on lifting water from the Sutlej river. All the formalities have been completed. Civil work is going on. Hopefully we will meet the deadline. This scheme will end the water woes in Shimla for the next several decades."

With the assistance of the World Bank, a project named the Sutlej Water Supply Scheme with an outlay of $250 million (Rs 1,813 crore) will cater to the demand of the Shimla Planning Area, comprising the suburbs of Kufri, Ghannatti and Shoghi.

According to Bhardwaj, for whom the 24-hour water supply to residents is his dream project and a major poll promise, the timeline of the project for laying a 23.65-km long pipeline from Sunni tehsil is June 18, 2024.

He said the Sutlej Water Supply Scheme will add 67 MLD to the total capacity. "This will be sufficient to meet water demand in the Shimla Planning Area till 2050. The existing water source will continue to remain the primary source of water. The Sutlej supply will supplement the existing sources."

Of the Rs 1,813 crore, the World Bank will provide Rs 1,160.32 crore and the state government will put in Rs 652.68 crore.

Old timers blame the water crisis over the years to losing green cover and natural water streams and springs due to haphazard urbanization, while experts say lack of rains in the past three months triggered drought-like conditions this summer.

Octogenarian Ramesh Sud, who was born and brought up in Shimla, said the British ensured conservation of water sources by restricting human activity and regenerating forests in Shimla's catchment areas.

"The British had dug several wells on Mount Jakhu where the snow is stored during the winter. The wells helped in recharging the groundwater, which enabled spouting of perennial springs in the peak summer. Where have those wells gone?" he said.

The Chadwick Falls, deep inside the Glen Forests in the suburbs of Shimla, have disappeared silently, Sud added.

In the 2018 water crisis, residents were forced to lock their water tanks and the government had to provide security to the employees supplying water.

The civic authorities, responsible for supplying water, blame leakages in the distribution network, a significant portion of which goes back to the British days.

According to the India Meteorological Department in Shimla, the maximum temperature in most parts of Himachal Pradesh is three to six degrees above average these days.

"From June 1 to June 11, the state received a deficit rainfall of 95 per cent, while in Shimla district it is 95 per cent," an official told IANS. The monsoon season in the hill state is from June 1 till September 30.

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