Beating of drums, corner meetings, sit-in protests in Shimla, and appeals on social media have marked each day in the last fortnight over the BJP-ruled civic body's failure to supply adequate potable water in the Himachal Pradesh capital.
Taking up the cause, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has been monitoring day-to-day working of the Municipal Corporation and issuing diktats almost every day in past four days just to ensure equal distribution of water in the city.
Shimla is facing a water crisis since almost a fortnight now, as majority of localities receive potable water once in a week, rued residents. Acting tough, the High Court on Tuesday suspended all construction activity for a week and said no water would be supplied through tankers to VIPs, including judges.
As Shimla reels under the worst water crisis in the recent years, Mayor Kusum Sadrate of the BJP, which came to helm of the civic body for the first time in three decades in June 2017, is away in China for official engagements.
Residents ask tourists to stay away
Residents and environmentalists appealed to tourists to stay away from Shimla till the paralysing water crisis tided over the hill station, reported NDTV. As it is the peak tourist season for the hill town, an estimated 20,000 visitors arrive on a daily basis. The current water crisis has also forced the Himachal Pradesh government to postpone the Shimla Summer Festival, which was scheduled to begin on Friday.
Residents took to social media to express the severity of the water scarcity. Freelance travel photographer Abhinav Chandel wrote on Facebook: "A plea to everyone who loves mountains – it’s about time all of you stopped visiting for a while," while adding that tourists "wait for a few days, until the water situation gets stablised". The post has been shared over 1,600 times.
"The third World War for water starts from Shimla," read another post by Shimla resident and entrepreneur Kavi Khanna on social media.
"Stop visiting Shimla!" is a message that went viral on social media. "The residents are barely getting water to drink, and at a few places, sewage water is being supplied to the houses. And it'll only get worse as tourists throng to the place in large numbers during June," it read.
Meanwhile, environmentalists warned that the water scarcity loomed large not only over Shimla but the entire Himalayan state. Himdhara, a state-based environment research and action collective, on Wednesday said a massive crisis is unfolding in the Himalayan rivers due to the upcoming hydropower projects.
"The water crisis unfolding in the state's various regions, especially Shimla, needs an urgent action plan," Himdhara's Manshi Ahser told IANS. Citing the organisation's Dried and Dusted: A State of the Rivers Report for Himachal Pradesh, she said upcoming hydropower projects, urbanisation, spike in tourism, industrialisation, mining and, of course, climatic change were affecting the Satluj, Ravi, Beas, Chenab and Yamuna river basins.
"If all planned projects in Himachal Pradesh and across the Himalayas are constructed, there will be hundreds of kilometres of tunnels underneath the mountains, through which most of the Ravi, Satluj, Beas and Chenab waters will flow, and there will hardly be any long stretches of these rivers that will be free-flowing," Ahser said.
Officials say the problem aggravated in Shimla, which is getting adequate funds under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), as the mercury rose abnormally high and natural water channels almost dried up.
A notable spike in footfall of the tourists is also blamed by locals for its shortage. Representatives of the hospitality industry told IANS that the tourist arrival was down by more than 50 percent in the past few days owing to the water shortage.
Planned by the British for a maximum population of 16,000, Shimla, now with a population of nearly 2 lakh, requires 42 million litres per day (MLD) water, but is currently only getting 18-20 MLD water.
Irate residents of Benmore area along with BJP first-time councillor Kimi Sood and former Mayor Narender Kataria staged a protest in front of Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur's residence.
Another BJP councillor Aarti Chauhan alone sat on a hunger strike in front of the civic body's office, demanding fair distribution of water in all 33 wards.
Police said four people were detained on Wednesday night after a fight over water distribution in the Kaithu ward.
Beating of drums, a method adopted by the civic body to inform the residents about the arrival of a water tanker, is common these days. The district administration is even providing police security along with the water tanker to avoid any untoward incident.
Locals rue that Shimla is now synonymous with water scarcity - both in summer and winter.
The civic authorities blamed leakages in the distribution network, a significant portion of which goes back to the British days, and diminishing water resources that have been over-exploited to meet the increasing demand for the tourism industry.
"The Central government is also serious on water crisis in Shimla and sought suggestions from the state for solving this issue permanently. We are preparing a proposal in this regard," state Health Minister Vipin Singh Parmar said in a statement.
Chief minister reviews water crisis
On Thursday, Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jai Ram Thakur reviewed the water supply situation in Shimla and sought details from officials in this regard. He took stock of the situation from officers through video conferencing.
Officials apprised the chief minister that the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) received 22.63 MLD water.
The corporation also received 1 MLD of water from Ghandal which was distributed to Krishna Nagar, Ram Bazar, Lower Bazar, Jakoo, Benmore, Engine Ghar, Sanjauli chowk, Dhalli and Mashobra, Bhattakufar and Shanti Vihar, Malyana and Sangti areas as per the time table, they said.
Besides this, water supply through tankers was been ensured in hospitals, educational institutions and public toilets as per demand, the officials informed the chief minister. Thakur was informed that water would be supplied to Kusumpti, Pantha Ghatti, Chhota Shimla, Vikasnagar, Patiyog, Kangnadhar, New Shimla, Khalini and peripheral areas of the city on Friday.
Officials also informed him that water would be supplied to the Gumma pumping station from Sunni through tankers, and it would be provided to Shimla after treatment.
The chief minister said that a submersible pump would be set up between Nauti Khad and Gumma which would ensure 5 MLD water supply. Places have been identified for installing bore well between Giri and Deha, and work has been started, he added.
The areas where water was not distributed on Wednesday according to the declared scheduled has been provided water through tankers on Thursday, he said. Irrigation and Public Health (IPH) Minister Mahender Singh Thakur visited the Giri pumping station on Thursday and issued directions to officers to ensure proper water supply.
Chief Secretary Vineet Chawdhry, IPH secretary Devesh Kumar, Shimla deputy commissioner Amit Kashyap, SMC Commissioner Rohit Jamwal and other senior officers were also present in the meeting.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Jun 01, 2018 09:44:12 IST